Friday, March 26, 2010

The Best Tool an Author Can Have

Writing is one of the most difficult art forms. Sure, sculpture is more physically demanding, singing more painful, and torture requires a costly membership to the Republican Party, but writing is harder to master. A good author must fight against writer’s block, which can end an author's career before it has started. Writer’s block is even more of a danger to the authors of speculative fiction.

Speculative fiction is a genre where the author attempts to imagine a world different than our own. It encompasses a great number of subsets of fiction (science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, slipstream, furoitica, Kirk/Spock romances, etc.) and requires the author to constantly invent new and interesting worlds. However, building a world with a new and unique culture is difficult and many an author has stopped writing because he or she couldn’t figure out something small, like the steps of a magical dance or the name of a tree with healing bark.

Sometimes authors throw out temporary names to use that have the feel of what they want, and plan to go back later and replace it. Unfortunately, that can cause writer’s block as well. For example:
The ship Mighty Iceberg plowed through the vastness of space, deep in the Foggytown nebula. Captain Testosterone entered the bridge. He had spent all night with his wife, the lovely alien Empress Booty Call performing the sexual ritual of Getting Nasty. Oh, I give up.
What a speculative fiction writer needs is a quick source of original names for things and people, and I have discovered that source. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the IKEA catalog.

IKEA names all of their products with strange words that they claim are Swedish, but I’m pretty sure were invented by someone with alien vocal chords. (Vattern Lovskar? Unni Trad? You seriously expect me to believe humans made up those words?)

Here’s my advice: get one of those full-size IKEA catalogues and keep it handy while you write. Then, when you need a name, flip through the book and pick a random name. You may even find the catalog inspires you to take your writing in new directions! For example:
The KAKTUS ($20.85 while supplies last) plowed through the vastness of space, deep in the ALVINE SPIRA nebula, renowned for its comfort and stain-resistance. Captain KVART, a sturdy man with adjustable arms, entered the bridge. He had spent all night with his wife, the lovely alien SPOKA (whose green/white skin perfectly accentuated his cabin) performing the sexual ritual of the MALM headboard with matching bedside table.
Give it a try. You’ll love the results.

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