An Eclectic Collection – Some non-standard resources for writers

February 28, 2013 in Resources, Services by JM Strother

The Google search box with the search term, resources for writersVisit just about any writing site and you are bound to find links to resources for writers. Nearly all these sites include the standard links one would expect: Duotrope Digest, for potential markets; Writer Beware, and Predators and Editors for markets and scams to avoid; links to dictionaries, thesauri, style and grammar guides; the ever popular Query Shark, and the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). These are all valuable resources, but you probably already have most of them bookmarked. This article focuses on some less obvious links that I have found useful in my own writer’s journey. Many of them may not interest you at all, but I hope you will find at least one or two useful.

Bear in mind that I write mostly fantasy, science fiction, and mystery, so many of these links will be heavily skewed in those directions.

It is essential to come up with character and place names that truly work well with the genre, mood, and setting of your story. Baby name books tend to fall flat, unless you want all your characters to sound like typical middleschoolers. A good map or gazetteer works well for place names if you are writing in a contemporary setting, but if your story takes place off world they are fairly useless. You can create names that fit your story from whole cloth if your have the flair for it, or you can use some resources that tie in to your overall atmosphere.

For fantasy characters and settings I like to use related root words from the medieval or dark ages. There are several good sites steeped in Old Norse or Angle-Saxon, both of which meld nicely with my ideas for good high fantasy. One example, the University of Texas Linguistics Research Center, has dictionaries/word lists covering many early Indo-European languages, to include: Armenian, Classical Greek, Hittite, Old Irish, Old Norse, and Sanskrit to list just a few. Browsing through these is bound to generate something you can use.

You may be familiar with my “Dragon Gates” stories. These are fantasy stories with a medieval, Far Eastern flavor. When trying to come up with good names to match the mood I invariably turn to Zhongwen, a website dedicated to the etymology of Chinese characters. The English to Chinese translations can be explored for appropriate words to fit the tenor of the piece.

There is nothing like actual science when writing science fiction. Some of my favorite sites, both for names and getting the science right, at least mostly, are NASA and astronomy sites. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a wonderful online tutorial called “The Basics of Space Flight” which I highly recommend. Likewise, the NASA Astrobiology Program has a terrific website which can be mined for all kinds of information. And, of course, the ever growing lists of exoplanets make for tantalizing destinations.

When writing mysteries I like to get the lay of the land. I feel it adds a layer of authenticity to the tale I have to tell. While there is no substitute for on-site reconnaissance, I’m not particularly rich, thus a quick flight to the locale in question is usually right out. However, Google Maps, Bing Maps, and Google Earth can provide me with the details I just might not get right otherwise. I’ve also found state conservation agencies a godsend when trying to get the local flora and fauna right.

Of course all the characters in your latest noir can’t be named Sam Spade, nor is it likely the 85 year old woman your gumshoe talks to is named Madison or Courtney. It helps to know what names were popular in the past, something the baby name books are not likely to tell you, unless you happen to have an amazing historical collection of them on your bookshelf. Genealogy websites are good for finding period names, but tend to cost money. However, many states offer valuable free services you can mine for age appropriate names. I use the Missouri Digital Heritage website. Just type in a surname then scan down the list to the time period of interest to find given names that fit the bill.

There really is no end to the amazing resources one can find online to match just about any given genre, for fiction or nonfiction. My main recommendation is to try to stick with free sources that have some credentials. Just typing in “resources for writers” in a search box is likely to send you to sites with products to sell. While there is nothing wrong with that, other than thinning one’s wallet, Government and academic sites pull the most weight with me. They are far less likely to be honey pots simply trying to draw you in for a sale.

Do you have any favorite resources you’d like to share? Mention them in the comments below. We’ll put together a more comprehensive and permanent list of resources to add to our top menu in the near future.
~jon

The New Collector Is Up

January 17, 2012 in Community News, Friday Flash, How-To, Notices, Services, Tech by JM Strother

Frday Flash BadgeWe are making a few changes here at FFDO to try and keep the site fresh and exciting. We just launched a brand new Collector courtesy of Tim VanSant. We think you will like it better than the old TikiWiki tracker we’ve used thus far in that it looks much more crisp, is easy to use, and has a couple of new options.

The new features of the Collector are four fold:

  • There is a new field to indicate if your story is part of a series. While we encourage you to write stand alone stories we know many of you write serials and we’re fine with that. Now you can tag them as such when you list them.
  • There is a new field to indicate if your story is narrated. Some of you do podcasts of your stories, which I really enjoy. The new Narrated flag will mark such stories making them easy to find for those who enjoy listening. Both these tags will eliminate the need for you to append such information to your titles, making for a cleaner look.
  • The Collector is now interactive in that once you enter your story details it gets listed at the bottom of the page. This will replace The Master List on the old tracker.
  • All the entries go into a new database. Tim hopes that this will eventually make specific searches possible.

We realize that some of you do not want to wait for the Report to come out and prefer to browse The Master List on Friday or Saturday in order to find and comment on stories in a more timely manner. Listing the stories at the bottom of the tracker as they are entered should help quite a bit in that regard. As of now Tim has it set to list stories added within the last six days, but he may fiddle with the settings over the next couple of weeks for best effect.

And the new database should help people find your old stories as it grows over time. All the more reason to add your links to help create that long tail we always hear about. If someone reads one of your stories and likes it they could search for your name and find all the rest, thus driving more traffic your way. We hope to incorporate the stories from the TikiWiki database sometime in the future as well, but some technical issues will need to be resolved before that happens.

Another improvement enabled by the new Collector is that the entire Friday Flash Report will now be much more automated. The old process was semi-automated thanks to Susan’s good work, but there was still a good deal of drudgery involved. Truth be told, that is why the Report was often late on my part, it simply became a burden to face each and every weekend. Now Tim has it much more automated, so hopefully he will not feel overburdened anytime soon. It also means that the Report will be much more timely than it has been of late.

The staff here at FFDO really appreciate the writers who participate in Friday Flash, be they regulars, debuts, or one-time posters. We strive to keep the site vibrant and alive and are always open to suggestion on how to improve things. If you have any questions on the new Collector, or have any suggestions you would like us to consider please feel free to leave them in the comment section below. You are the best writing community I’ve ever been associated with. Thank you for your ongoing support and participation.
~jon

The #FridayFlash Report – Vol3. #7

July 18, 2011 in Friday Flash, FridayFlash Report, Services by JM Strother

We had 59 stories stories this week ranging from Literary to Steampunk, and about every genre between. We also had 4 debuts. Please welcome Nickie O’Hara, Marcel Swagers, Kwee Lewis, and AnnMarie to the Friday Flash community. I hope you all find the place warm, welcoming, and worthwhile (I do love alliteration).

Speaking of worthwhile, there are now even more reasons to sign up for Friday Flash Dot Org. Last week ED Johnson announced the first of our new services — the Criticize Me critique group. It is a private little corner on the Internet where you can post things you don’t want to be considered published in order to get some meaning feedback on them. All registered members here can sign up.  Simply click on Groups at the top of the page, then click on Criticize Me and request membership. Once we determine you are not a spammer we will approve your request and you’re in. Simple as that.

Thanks again to everyone who participates in Friday Flash, either as a reader or author.
~jon Read the rest of this entry →