Letter Palettes

A while back, I talked a bit about what you might consider when naming characters, and today I thought I would follow up by expounding specifically on the topic of pulling words out of your—well, making them up.

Letter Palette



When concocting names for characters, places, or objects, we tend to favor certain sounds.  Where we gravitate is mostly informed by the language(s) we speak, and what we’ve come to associate with pre-established words and names.  Certain phonemes build specific impressions in our minds, and we rely on this context to put together fitting verbal symbols for whatever we’re assigning them to.  Whether or not this is typically done on a conscious level, identifying and mapping out your preferences (both general and circumstantial) can be a useful endeavor.

For instance, my general letter palette would look like this:






The first column represents what I feel are the most benign letters, and I use them fairly indiscriminately.  The second contains letters that I like at certain times, but aren’t as ubiquitously usable.  The third holds the letters that I tend to avoid.  When my intent is to give a name a rough or unpleasant edge, however, these preferences easily operate in reverse.  The initial and terminal letters of the word will be particularly prone to these guidelines.

Now, this chart is pretty simplistic, containing only letters from the English Roman alphabet and not taking digraphs into account, but you get the idea.  I’m calling it a letter palette (as opposed to a simply phonetic one) because visual aesthetics are also a consideration – sounds can often be written a number of ways, and their appeal can be tweaked as such.

Making a general purpose palette for yourself can be an enlightening exercise, but they become particularly handy when tailored for specific sets.  If, for your story, you need to create a distinct culture with its associated terminology and members’ names, planning out a letter palette for it can help you quicken the process while maintaining a consistent feel.


So, do you find yourself with particular letter preferences?  Could you define your own general palette?


Bene scribete.


Zero Drafting

Last week, I talked about a writing exercise that helps get my brain working faster when my pace has slowed to a crawl.  After spewing out a lot of nonsense that way, I wanted to see if I could apply that high-output word vomit toward something a little more productive, and eventually gravitated toward my current approach of beginning with a hectically speed-written, gloriously sloppy version of each scene in The Book.  A “Draft 0”, if you will.

The basics of zero-drafting are similar to the exercise, only the goal is to try to follow the points of your story-planning rather than letting your mind lead you at random.  You still write as quickly as you can without stopping; the garbage can be cleaned out later.  I started by only doing ten minutes at a time, taking a short break between stints, then moved on to doing a whole scene at once, and now I’ll do an entire chapter in a single go (usually about a two-hour endeavor).  The immediate results are truly cringe-worthy, but that’s O.K.  No one else has to look at this stuff (…for real, this time!).  It gives you a basic framework to follow for the first legitimate draft; some passages will have to be tossed, but many might only need a little editing, and you may even find that the narrative took a few unplanned but ultimately beneficial turns because of the pressure and spontaneity – ideas that could have been missed if you had instead plodded carefully through the first run with an overfocused mind.

Because of my deep-seated need for precision and my perpetual worry of screwing things up, there’s always a build-up of anxiety before I start a draft 0, but once I get rolling with it, it’s extremely liberating.  Regardless of how terrible it is when finished, it’s still a big step forward in the process of getting the book together, and it actually leaves me with a sense of accomplishment.  That’s not something to take for granted; in a solitary activity like writing, self-encouragement is imperative to sticking with it.

In any event, the issue at core here is the subject of today’s Fish Tip.


Tip of a fishWrite First.  Edit Second.

It has to be some sort of writing axiom.  Things tend to go a lot more smoothly if you get your ideas down first, and then organize them afterward.  If you edit first, and only write down a sentence after you’ve revised it several times mentally, then the process slows dramatically, and you leave yourself at the mercy of the slog (not to mention it will likely need to be edited again, anyway).

It’s a sentiment we’re all familiar with, I’m sure, but it’s something that certainly still gives me trouble.  One of those things that’s easier said than done!


Bene scribete.

Writing Exercise

If, like me, you’re constantly bogged down by the slog, then you probably understand the frustration that comes with, well, writing too dang slow.  In an effort to take the fight to the troublesome pest and kick that writing into motion, I’ve come up with a little exercise (though I’m sure I’m hardly the first to do so) to help encourage getting those words down more freely.

It’s fairly simple.  Take a character from your story, pick a starting place or incident, and then write without stopping for ten minutes.  Without stopping.  Don’t correct mistakes, don’t touch backspace, don’t think too hard, just follow the flow of your thought process.  Write whatever pops into your head, as quickly as you can; if your mind is only a sentence ahead of your hands, you’re doing great – you might be surprised what your brain will come up with when you force it into high gear.  It doesn’t have to be canonical, it doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t even have to make sense, so long at the end of those ten minutes you have something that vaguely resembles a chunk of narrative (I’ll usually get around 500-600 words).  The best part is that you can tell your self-consciousness to take a hike, as you never have to show these to anyone.


So here’s one of mine that I’ll show to everyone.  (>^-‘)>  I started with the primary protagonist from The Book, put her next to a river, and everything else just came as I typed.

  The vermillion dragon lay peacefully next to the riverbed, organizing sticks in a star-like pattern, setting the end of each one next to the middle of the one before, at a slight angle so that the entire design would be saw-like. The last one was imperfect, so she began again.
  “Um…hello?” a gentle voice appeared beside her.
  Xenasi started, turning her head to look at the one who invaded her solace. It was a deer.
  “I am a deer,” said the deer.
  “I see that you are…” she said warily. “Though I’m not sure why you can speak.”
  “I am the kind of deer that can talk,” he said bashfully.
  “There is such a thing?”
  “Before you stands proof that there is.” He slumped down into a sitting position. “I have a problem.”
  “Why would you approach a dragon with a problem? Would it not occur to you that I might rather eat you than help you?”
  “It occurred.” He squinted and wrenched his face and looked away. “But I thought that you wouldn’t.”
  Xenasi blinked. “I…I guess I already ate. What should I call you?”
  “Malbulous,” the deer sighed.
  It was a ponderous name. Though it seemed unlikely to be the source of his problems. “What is this problem that you would approach a dragon to help?”
  “Well,” the deer whapped a hoof against the ground in frustration. “Well, my super-awesome-doe-girlfriend left me.
  “And…what? Why…um…what?”
  “She left me for another deer. A stupid buck whose antlers are way too big and he’s probably trying to compensate for something with them. So, anyway, I want you to eat him instead of me. He is bigger than me, so you’ll have a much more satisfying meal. I promise.”
  Xenasi had just told the deer that she had already eaten, so she was not sure how to respond. I suppose I could stash the carcass for later. “I suppose I can help you. Where is this other buck?”
  “Just down the river a way,” replied Malbulous. “If you hurry, you can probably catch him. He’s probably just…getting all over my doefriend.” He got up, but only so his subsequent sulk would have more room to express itself.
  “What about your girlfriend? Do you want her alive?”
  “Of course…”
  Xenasi stood and shook off for some reason. “What are you prepared to offer me for this favor?”
  “The tasty body of that stupid doe-stealing buckhead. Remember?”
  “Well, I thought getting that would just come out of doing that,” the dragon nonsensed.
  The deer began to gallop away. “This waaaaaaaay!”
  Xenasi narrowed her eyes, but spread her wings and took flight, easily outpacing the deer and making her way down the river, eyes searching for the other buck of whom he spoke.
  It was only after a few minutes that she came across him, getting all cuddly with the doe who was once with Malbulous. Unsure of why she was cooperating, Xenasi swooped down and lunged at the unsuspecting buck. The buck jumped in fright, and tried to dart away, but was not so fast as the approaching dragon, and came to meet his end below her claws and between her teeth.


That’s the kind of thing that I end up with when I do these.  Just a stupid little passage written spontaneously while barreling over the slog.  I hope it goes without saying that it’s not an accurate representation of the character or my finished writing.  (>^-‘)>  Or would have gone, as I just said it.  You know what I mean.

Anyway, it’s something that helps me loosen up a little when I’m feeling brainclogged.  What kind of techniques do you use to battle your inhibitions?

Next time, we’ll take a look at extending this exercise into zero-drafting.  Until then, bene scribete.