Google Your Words

Real actual writing advice today!

You know how when you’re writing fantasy/science fiction/imaginary whateveritis, and you make up words? Names, little language phrases, stuff like that?

Google them.

Always, always, always Google them I am not even slightly kidding.

For example… remember the Powerpuff Girls? The clearly-made-up city of Townsville? I was born in Townsville. It’s on my birth certificate and everything. Townsville, Queensland. It’s named after the guy who financed the settlement, Robert Towns. I am not making this up, I swear. (Incidentally, it’s a hole. Don’t go there.)

The beautiful and you-should-absolutely-watch-it Studio Ghibli movie Laputa: Castle In The Sky was shortened to Castle In The Sky for US release. La puta, get it? Yeah, not so good, and never mind that it’s a perfectly innocuous name taken from Gulliver’s Travels. Make sure you’re not swearing in a language you don’t know!

Incidentally, even within the same language, dialect differences can make an innocuous statement into a filthy joke. For example, in Australia, ‘root’ is a synonym for ‘fuck’. In Canada, there is a store chain called ‘Roots’ (There’s also a ‘Roots Kids’. You can imagine our reaction). I don’t know if it’s still there, but the Outback Steakhouse used to have a dessert called the Chocolate Thunder From Down Under. I ask you, who names a dessert ‘synonym for poop’? People who don’t speak that dialect, that’s who. The dessert was not half bad, though. (Yes, of course I ordered it, how could I resist?)

Of course you should always be careful when throwing in words from languages you don’t know, we all know that. But be very, very careful about your made-up words, too. They may not be as made-up as you think, and while ‘Koorva’ may sound like a nice fantasy name, Google tells me that it’s ‘whore’ in Ukrainian.

Don’t assume that this is something editorial will pick up, or that you’ll remember to check some other time during rewrites! Getting the words right is your job, so play it safe. Google your words, guys. Every one.


I Want To Art, Show Me How

I saw a post on Tumblr the other day that prompted a genuine double-take, and I’ve been on Tumblr long enough that the day-to-day stuff like Johnlock fanart and pony-slash no longer prompts this reaction. At the time I double-took, then moved on, and I’ve no idea where to find the post again, but it has stuck with me.

The post ran, if I recall correctly, something like this: “Hey, can someone tell me how to draw? I want to make fan-art! And money from commissions would be super handy!”

…. what?

I thought this was an exclusively literary phenomenon. Someone with no clue and a ‘great idea’ bounces up to an established writer and prattles ‘Hi, I’m going to be a great writer, got the best idea ever, tell me the secret to writing popular novels! Or maybe you could write it down for me and we split the take 50/50, what do you say?” To which established writer says ‘….what?’ Because how do you even start with a question like that? ‘Well, get a pencil and some paper and go for it, also HELL NO’?

Anyone can draw, insofar as they can move a drawing implement of some description around on an appropriate flat surface. I draw smiley faces and shapes and flowers for my two-year-old all the time. But I am not under the impression that people will pay me to do so, or even that my stick figures are interesting to anyone but my own kid. (And possibly other kids. Two-year-olds aren’t art critics, mostly.) By the same definition, anyone can write, given said implement and said flat surface, or a keyboard attached to a computer. That doesn’t mean that anyone  is ever, ever going to want to see it.

Writing and drawing are arts, yes. But the ability to do so well is a craft. One that requires honing. Learning. And ungodly amounts of practice. I look at the stuff I was writing ten or fifteen years ago and cringe. The stuff from four or five years ago I still think is pretty good, but it could have been better. And I’ve written a lot in that fifteen years. Between NaNoWriMo, fan-fiction, and attempts at original work, I’d roughly estimate my output at about 1.1 million words.

And most of them were awful! Really, really terrible! Although I ran across a 12 year old poem not long ago which did not actually entirely suck, so that was nice. And I think I’m now reasonably good at writing, though still nowhere near perfect.

So yeah. If you want to know how to draw, or write? Take a pen and paper, or a pencil  and paper, or a tablet and stylus, or a keyboard or whatever. Make 1,000,000 lines or words. Then get started on the next 1,000,000, ’cause that art’s not going to make itself.