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Fairy Folklore as Inspiration for Writing

From what I’ve seen, every culture has folklore involving fairies or other spirits, and they make great inspiration for all genres. Although serious usage may require more research than a St. Patrick’s Day writing prompt. Whether you need fresh ideas for types of magic (worldbuilding), ways to frighten people, or even human behavior, fairy stories have a lot to offer – as many writers have found before us.

While we no longer think of them that way, the idea of elves and dwarves commonly used in the fantasy genre are rooted in much older superstitions about faeries. And going back to take a look at the concepts of those creatures (especially ones that predate modern fiction) can help give you a fresh look at the genre’s tropes. I especially like looking at older books about beliefs of the time because the perspective is very different from what you hear now – well, that, and a good number are free on Project Gutenberg.

For example: The Fairy Mythology by Thomas Keightley and Witchcraft and Superstitious Record in the Western District of Scotland by Mawell Wood, M.B. Those books focus on celtic faeries and superstitions, but if you search “superstitions,” you’ll see a plethora of options from a variety of cultures. You probably know some of them already (like the myths from Ancient Greece), but there are plenty more to discover. Some are dark and terrifyingly powerful. Others are surprisingly vulnerable and fragile. And since stories of these creatures were originally told orally, there’s often varying accounts of what each creature can do, likes, hates, etc.

Which leads me to my favorite part of using fairy mythology as inspiration: there is simply so much fodder that 5 authors could use the same faeries as inspiration and get 5 very different worlds, characters, and stories out of it. Make that 5,000 authors (and I’m not even sure that’s hyperbole). Seriously, though, if you take the old ideas and make them your own, there is unlimited potential for exciting new stories.

Every try it? Which fairies or spirits inspire you?

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Even Authors Pick Apart People’s Plots: Terry Pratchett & Dr. Who

“You can't remember the plot of the Dr Who movie because it didn't have one, just a lot of plot holes strung together. It did have a lot of flashing lights, though.” - Terry Pratchett Quote

Ouch! Burn!

For all that we’re liable to be on the receiving end, writers aren’t always the nicest about pointing out other people’s plot holes. In reality, writers can be really harsh critics (kind of like how teachers are generally awful students, and doctors make bad patients). Since writers know more about writing (we assume), they can find more flaws.

Of course, a little empathy and kindness never hurts when talking about other people’s works. We all make mistakes, and the harsher you are on others, the more eager they’re going to be about pointing out your mistakes.

Then again, Terry Pratchett generally had something witty to say when someone pointed out flaws in his works, too: “There are no inconsistencies in the Discworld books; ocassionally, however, there are alternate pasts.”

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Baby Naming Resources for Expectant Authors

Any time someone walks into my office, there’s a 9/10 chance that they’ll take a look at my bookshelf, see a baby naming book, and say, “Something you want to tell me?” (The other 1 out of 10 times, the person walking in isn’t a smart aleck.)

Yes, I have a baby naming book on my shelf. Actually, it’s the same one my parents used way back when. I picked it up in high school to name a character for a story, and it’s been on my shelf ever since (with permission). It’s a great resource for male and female names from various cultures. You can get one at any book store to add to your personal writing library (support your local bookstore!).

Or you can look online.

There are all kinds of baby name sites. In fact, there are so many that there’s no point in me listing them here for you. I don’t even use the same one each time. Instead, I google the type of name I want (for example, “name meaning trickster”). Then, I look at however many websites I have to until I find what I need.

I’ve found that when I’m searching for a name with a certain meaning, different sites pop up than when I want to explore names from a specific culture. There are even sites that list the most popular names from different years (which can be useful if you want to set a story in a specific period). Starting with a search engine rather than a single site keeps me from missing potential names – it even pulls up forums where other people have asked for and gotten suggestions for names for characters.

Long story short, baby naming books and websites aren’t just for expectant mothers. They’re extremely useful for writers out to name characters – or worlds or devices. Whatever you want, really. Not just babies.

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Double Meaning & Truth(s): How to Lie without Lying

If you need to hide a truth in a truth, double-meaning is your best friend. I know that doesn’t sound like it makes sense, but I promise it actually does.

A double meaning (also known as a double entendre) has a pretty accurate name – it’s when a statement or action has multiple meanings (or truths). The only part of the name that’s misleading is “double”: you don’t have to stop at 2. And you probably won’t want to – but we’ll get to that.

Now, let’s say you have a scene in a book where a character has to tell the truth, but you need that truth to serve multiple tasks. First, it needs to have an interpretation that the reader (and possibly the characters) can believe in. The sort of truth that gives them an understanding of what’s going on and what’s going to happen. Let’s call that Truth A. Truth A could easily be a plot option that you might’ve considered and decided not to go with (They’re often more predictable or obvious, but they don’t have to be.).

Then, you need that same statement or action to tell a truth that can lead to a whole different interpretation of the plot. Truth B. That truth (or possibly even Truth G) is what is really happening. By giving the reader a more obvious truth to focus on, you can keep their attention off what’s really going on – lead them astray without actually lying. Most of the time, you don’t want to straight-out lie to the readers: you simply want them to interpret the facts differently than you intend to at the end.

Think about how theologians can argue about interpretation – if this word actually means that, it changes the entire meaning! That’s the sort of opportunity you want to set up. But it’s not enough to set it up. You also have to set it up in a way that emphasizes certain truths over others.

Like a stage magician, it’s all about misdirection. In film and television, for example, they do a lot of misdirection with camera shots. The audience puts emphasis on different characters and actions by the amount of camera time they get (and the angle, focus, etc.). A great example of that is the pilot episode of Firefly. By emphasizing certain characters over others, they make you think  you know who leaked the information simply because that’s how most series would have slipped you clues beforehand (Important characters get more camera time. Duh.). By breaking those rules, Joss Whedon misled the audience and surprised a lot of people who aren’t used to being surprised by tv anymore (admit it).

In writing, you can swing the interpretation the direction you want with the same basic technique of shifting the focus. Some authors even have their characters dismiss Truth A to reveal Truth B beneath – and to disguise the fact that Truth C is concealed under that. It can get very complicated, and it takes a very sneaky brain to trick someone with a truth. Luckily, we have a very sneaky language (rife with double meaning) to help us out.