When a Book Gets Your Job Wrong
Pipetting hand cramps are real. Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash
Have you ever read a book that depicts someone with your job, or at least in your field, and the author gets it totally and completely wrong? That happened to me recently. I work in biotech, specifically we make proteins (for example antibodies) to treat disease. I picked up a book about a scientist who was studying a protein to treat a disease and I was excited. With a pub date this year, the book led me to expect the science would be up to date.
It wasn't even close.
The science in this scifi was more than a decade out of date. I was so thrown off because the other tech was clearly modern (with kids having iPads, hashtags and social media, etc.). The plot was entirely based on the scientist having to do their work the very very old fashioned way. Needless to say, I struggled to enjoy the book.
When I got to the end, I thought perhaps the author had never spoken to anyone about the science. However, the acknowledgement section was full of names--mostly doctors. I don't expect MDs to know HOW antibodies are produced industrially, but I do expect them to know that antibodies CAN be produced industrially. In the end, I suspect the author never spoke to anyone who actually works in biotech today. Or if she did, maybe she didn't want to change her entire plot.
But wait, you say, why didn't an editor intervene? This book was self-published and likely didn't employ the kind of editor who would take it upon themselves to fact check the science. Especially given the author talked to doctors, any line or copy editor wouldn't even think about changing that sort of thing.
So, what did I learn from this reading experience that I can apply to writing? If you're writing outside your familiarity zone, be it a job or another aspect of a person, be sure to speak with people who have the most direct experience with that thing. At the very least, Google recent headlines in that space. Technology, especially biotech, computer/software, and AI, have all exploded forward in the last decade. Even if you're familiar with something, reach out to an expert. Especially before pinning your entire plot on that thing!
Have you ever seen your job or a similar career in a book? Did the author nail it, or totally miss the mark? Let's discuss in the comments!
Wilbur mimicking the cover of The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Photo by Kate Ota 2022
I bought The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass because it’s one of those craft books you see recommended all over the place. That and the feedback I get is pretty consistent: I nail action and dialogue, but I need to add more emotions.
The book was $17.99 from Barnes and Noble. It covers the character’s emotional journey as well as the reader’s emotional journey, which is not necessarily the same. There were action points after each major topic (about 30 total) explaining where in your book to focus, what questions to ask, and therefore how to draw out that emotion.
I read this book in 5 days, which is about my normal pace. It’s 200 pages, and the pages are very thin (I saw the words on the other side of the paper), so it’s a thin book, but at what cost. I did a lot of highlighting, which says a lot about how useful I thought the information was, and I plan to go back when I have time and use those activity suggestions (called Emotional Mastery) to test the concepts in my current WIP. Generally, the suggestions really got my ideas flowing, so I think the inclusion of these in the book was very good.
One downside, despite the many examples for his points, a few went by at lightspeed without examples. The biggest I noted was the claim that words of Anglo-Saxon origin are considered stronger than those of Latin origin. Now, I’m big into etymology, I think the evolution of language is fascinating and I’m constantly googling word origins. However, without some examples, it’s hard to see if this claim holds any water. I found two examples myself: excite (Latin) and amaze (old English, which I guess is Anglo-Saxon) and you know what? They’re pretty similar word choices, arguably synonyms in many cases. Is amaze more specific? Yes. Excite could be interpreted in a few ways. Would I say amaze is stronger? Meh.
Is It Worth It?
For the specific, actionable activities that are listed after each major point is made, I’d say yes. Those will probably be very helpful in drawing out more emotion from me as a writer. Is every word of advice golden? Arguably not. I say, it’s worth buying it used (if you find a copy not highlighted by someone like me) and maybe new, if you receive consistent feedback that you need more emotion in your writing (like I do). If you’re buying it just for the sake of upping something you already feel confident about, I’d say used or ebook versions to save some cash. Overall though, I see why it’s so frequently recommended among writers, and am happy I have it in my stockpile of craft books.
Have you read The Emotional Craft of Fiction? What was your favorite piece of advice? Is there another book on improving emotions in your writing? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Trying a New Format: Screenwriting
Above: The main screen for WriterDuet, the online screenwriting website. I've been very happy with the free version.
Below: Several versions of The Screenwriter's Bible.
Readers of the blog may recall my short story The Undoing of Maggie Jinkowski, which won first place in the short story category at the Hampton Roads Writers Conference in 2019 and was recently included in the Kitsap Writers Group Anthology. I was recently asked if I'd be interested in adapting it into a screenplay format. Not a formal offer to produce it or anything, just gauging interest and seeing how it goes. I decided to give it a shot.
One of the resources recommended to me was WriterDuet, a website which already knows the right formatting for a screenplay and will help guide you in writing it. It made the basics super easy and you can use it for FREE. You can also export your project from the website to Word or a PDF. Highly recommend if you're looking to get your feet wet in screenwriting but worry about getting bogged down in formatting.
Another resource I tried out was the Screenwriter's Bible. It's a big book and has resources for almost any stage of screenwriting you're in. From format to best practices to story telling. It was very helpful in explaining to me how to do some of the more complex strategies I wanted to use, like flashbacks and voice over. There are many editions of this book out there, so don't feel pressure to buy the latest, an older edition will get you started just fine.
Between the site and the book, I have a pretty nice draft of my story that should work in a visual format. The hardest part was translating Maggie's thoughts to something an audience could see or hear. It helped a lot that I'd read some screenplays before, so I was familiar with what the final product needed to look like. Next step: sending the draft to my friend who showed interest and seeing what he has to say!
Wish me luck!
Have you ever adapted a story for the screen? Have you ever written an original screenplay? What resources helped you the most? Let's discuss in the comments!
Is It Worth It? The Anatomy of Story
Wilbur loved The Anatomy of Story so much, he kept rubbing his face against the cover. Photo by Kate Ota 2021
I picked up a copy of The Anatomy of Story by John Truby months ago and let it languish on my shelf. I thought I’d read once I was done editing my current project or maybe when I started querying. However, as I started prepping for NaNoWriMo (during which beta readers will have my current project) I realized I should take a look to see if this book would influence my Preptober.
This approximately 400-page book is $18.99 for the paperback.
It’s like going from Save The Cat and The Story Equation and taking the next step in writing mastery. It includes character creation, setting, theme, and twenty-two story beats. There are numerous examples throughout as well as worksheets.
The story beats are a bit save-the-cat-ish, but those were hardly the best part of the book. I appreciated the analysis of character creation and scene setting that’s explained before plot gets brought up. The way different elements are discussed on a symbolic and thematic level was mind blowing. I even found I’d used some of the techniques on accident (probably from reading so much—hence why you need to read a lot!) and with some tweaking I could make it look very purposeful and deep.
I hadn’t seen many of the major examples (Tootsie, Casablanca, and The Godfather were most referred to, and I hadn’t seen The Verdict either) but they were clearly explained. I had seen some others (It’s a Wonderful Life) so it was helpful that most concepts were explained using multiple examples.
It’s a dense book. I tried to read it on my morning commute and fell asleep a couple times. You really need to be awake and committed to reading it. However, it’s dense with knowledge and supremely helpful.
Is It Worth It?
The price was great for the amount of information and length of the book, in my opinion. If you’re a person who likes to highlight and flag craft books, then the paperback is for you. If you aren’t a highlighting type of person, then go with the e-book version to save some money.
I recommend this book if you’re looking to up your plotting skills. If you aren’t a plotter, I recommend a little more clear-cut plotting book first (like Save The Cat). It’s also not about basic sentence mechanics (for that I recommend It Was The Best of Sentences, It Was The Worst of Sentences) and while it covers character, I think you need a baseline of character building first (such as understanding want vs need; I recommend The Story Equation).
What's Up with Secret Identities?
Masks, but not those masks, are a staple of secret identities. (Photo from Unsplash by Julio Rionaldo)
It’s been a while since my last trope discussion, so I thought it was time for another! This week I researched a super popular trope, secret identities. Get it? Super. Like super heroes.
Where Did This Start?
I started by reading about secret identities on TV Tropes. There are about thirty-two related tropes, including someone falling in love with the hero identity, or loving the hero and hating the secret identity (or vice versa), and more. So many tropes that the original idea of secret identities must be incredibly old.
Indeed, it is. You can see secret identities in fairy tales, like Cinderella (at the ball, though in most versions this identity doesn't get a name) and Beauty and the Beast (the secretly beautiful witch who turns the prince into a beast), and Mulan (in the army). TV Tropes cited a medieval Scottish story, Roswall and Lillian, as an example in which a steward steals Prince Roswall’s identity and plans to marry Princess Lillian. Roswall, of course, succeeds in getting the Princess in the end when his secret identity (which is his original one: a prince) is revealed. Even in Greek myths, gods would hide their identities and interact with humans. Technically speaking, secret or hidden identities are such an old concept in storytelling that we can’t quite pinpoint a true origin.
What about a secret identity for unsanctioned acts of heroism? That’s more specific. One could argue Robin Hood was almost there, but since it was clear to everyone involved that he was Robin of Loxley, his identity doesn’t qualify as secret. Let’s look at some others:
Superman (aka Clark Kent) made his first appearance in a short story, The Reign of Superman, in 1933, published in a science fiction magazine. Most people know him better from his second appearance, which was in 1938 in Action Comics #1 from DC Comics.
Zorro (aka Diego Vega) made his first appearance in 1919 in a series of magazine instalments later brought together as the novel The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley. Zorro got his first movie in 1920 (a silent one, but it still counts!)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (aka Sir Percy Blakeney) appeared in a play named for the hero in 1903 (and novel in 1905) by Baroness Emma Orczy. The Scarlet Pimpernel saved aristocrats from being beheaded by mobs after the French Revolution made that seem pretty fashionable. His public persona is a rich, stylish, but seemingly useless man that no one would suspect of being a swordsman. Is saving rich people terribly heroic? I suppose it would be to the rich people. At least the concept is right for my purposes here.
At 1903, The Scarlet Pimpernel is the first clear example of a character consistently using a secret identity to perform acts that are heroic. I was surprised to learn this secret hero genre was pretty much solidified in the literary world by a woman author. Hats off to the Baroness!
Why Have Secret Identities?
After that deep dive, I asked myself why did these characters hide their identities? Modern heroes do it to avoid their enemies and/or protect their loved ones. Older heroes did this as well, though there was often an air of vigilantism to those stories, where the secret identity would suffer legal consequences if they were found out. Other, less vigilante-focused instances of secret identities also protected characters from social consequences (Cinderella, Mulan) or allowed more freedom (Mulan, Zeus). Still others weren’t the character’s choice (Roswall). Plenty of character motivations available to meld or co-opt for your own story.
Should Your Characters Have Secret Identities?
It’s all dependent on your plot with this one. A super hero book may obviously require a clear secret identity to be effective. However, going undercover in a crime novel, using a fake ID in a contemporary novel, or masquerading a monster as human in a horror could all also qualify as secret identities. The most important thing is to be sure your reader can follow with what’s going on. If you don’t clearly connect identity 1 to identity 2, your reader may not know who’s behind the metaphorical (or real) mask and get completely lost. While a TV or movie has the actor, or at least their voice, to help guide the audience, you have to be more deliberate. One trick is to ensure you don’t introduce an entire team at once, but build it slowly to allow the reader to remember who is who.
That’s it for this trope discussion. Who is your favorite hero with a secret identity? Have you written any secret or false identities in your work? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Here are some sources for more reading on this topic:
TV Tropes article about Secret Identities
Wikipedia article summarizing The Scarlet Pimpernel
Wikipedia article summarizing Zorro
Wikipedia article about Action Comics #1
More about Baroness Emma Orczy
Book Review: The Last Neanderthal
Clue's best impression of the book cover. Photo by Kate Ota 2021
Content warning: incest, infant death
I don't typically do so many book reviews in a row, but in five weeks of commuting, I've read five books. Nearly six. So, you'll be getting book reviews for a while. I'll do my best to switch it up next week!
The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron is an adult dual POV book. The first is one of the last living Neanderthals (we’ll call it 40,000 years ago) and the second is approximately modern day.
The main POV belongs to the Neanderthal, Girl, who, as the title suggests, becomes the last Neanderthal, or at least one of the last. And you know that fact as her family dies off in various accidents. She is left with one adopted sibling, who you realize pretty quickly is not a Neanderthal. She must take care of him as they attempt to find other Neanderthals.
The second POV is a modern researcher, Rose, who races against her pregnancy to finish a digging up a Neanderthal skeleton. Her chapters were few and far between, but showed the problems that modern women still face in the workplace, especially academia. Rose also had marital strains with her long-distance husband.
I had a couple problems with the book. The Neanderthal chapters went a little too far on the altered linguistics for my taste. There was also little dialogue, which the author gave evidence for, but it made it a less enjoyable read. I also did not appreciate the incest scenes. Yes, it probably happened as that species died off. No, I don’t want to be entertained by it. Rose’s modern POV didn’t get enough page space, even though it was interesting. I supremely disliked Rose’s relationship with her husband.
The book covered the discoveries about Neanderthals (through its pub date, 2017) very well. It felt more realistic to my understanding than other pieces of media I won’t name. It also seemed to do justice to the realities of an archaeological dig and the slow pace.
Overall, it was fine. It felt realistic, but maybe too much so with the incest. Readers who are interested in ancient humans or archaeology may enjoy it. It would probably appeal to fans of Clan of the Cave Bear (lots of parallels between the two). It is not for you if incest or infant death is triggering or not your taste. It’s also not for you if you want high action or a quick pace.
Have you read The Last Neanderthal? Did you enjoy it? What other Neanderthal books are worth reading? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Word Count Anxiety
If you get too anxious about your word count, take a moment to go outside and enjoy the weather. Unless you're in the current heat wave. Photo by Kate Ota 2020
I follow a lot of agents on Twitter and whenever they do an Ask Agent, they usually get a question concerning word count. Often, it’s very specific to what that author is writing and they are worried about over or under writing. “Will it hurt my chances of getting an agent?” they always ask. Sometimes they say “George R.R. Martin got away with it, why can’t I?”
Let’s look at typical word counts, why there are typical word counts, and what an agent will do if you miss the target.
What’s The Right Word Count?
I took the lowest and highest word counts offered from five different sources to find out the approximate window for the most common genres and age groups.
Sources: manuscriptagency.com, litrejections.com, self-publishingschool.com, bookendsliterary.com, writersdigest.com
Genre Word Count Window
Short Story: 500-8,000
Adult Commercial/Literary: 60,000-110,000
Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy: 50,000-150,000
Adult Romance: 40,000-100,000
Adult Historical Fiction: 80,000-120,000
Adult Crime/Thriller/Mystery/Horror: 40,000-100,000
Young Adult (all genres): 50,000-100,000
Middle Grade (all genres): 20,000-55,000
Picture Book (all genres): 0-1,000
Some of those windows are very wide because these sources didn’t necessarily all agree about how low or high you can go. Writer’s Digest had the most restrictive guidelines, while the self-publishing school had the broadest.
Why Do Word Counts Matter?
In this debate, people will always mention the exceptions. Harry Potter, Song of Ice and Fire, Gone With the Wind, and Lord of the Rings consistently went higher than recommended word counts for their genre or age group. You’ll also notice they made a lot of money or were written a long time ago. While you should believe your work can also succeed, you cannot bet on others believing that too before they read it. And getting someone to read a 90,000 word novel is way easier than getting them to read a 300,000 word one.
Readers expect certain things from books. They want a happily ever after in a romance, they want magic in fantasy, and so on. The same is true of word count, even if readers can’t name a specific number. They’ll see a book on a shelf or a page count online and make the decision right there. Their negative reactions could range from “That’s too short for how much the book costs” to “That’s so big I’ll never finish it.” You want to hit the sweet spot in between.
What Do Agents Do If You Miss the Target?
To have the broadest reach with your book, people have to be willing to pick it up—and that starts with agents if you’re going traditional. Agents don’t have an infinite amount of time to read, and the further outside your expected word count, the less likely they’ll read your book. If you are below the expected count, you may be in trouble too. Either way, the agent has to think about how much work your project needs before it can be sent to publishers. All that work is before anyone gets paid, and agents need to eat too.
Remember when including your word count in your query that you round to the nearest thousand. Even if that means rounding up and thinking you’ll get in trouble. There’s wiggle room in word counts. If you’re 1,000 words outside the ideal, they’ll probably be okay with that. That many words are easy to add or delete. Once you get beyond 5,000 outside the window, you may be in trickier waters. Agency websites may specify this more, so be sure to peruse the whole website before querying.
Right now, my WIP is dancing at the upper edge of the Adult SFF category count, so I’m looking at ways to trim words. I may need to kill a few darlings to feel more confident about my chances of landing an agent. Perhaps next week I’ll go over some word-saving methods.
Have you ever written wildly outside of an expected word count? What’s your favorite book that breaks word count expectations? Or maybe, what’s a book that broke word count expectations to the point you refused to read it? Let’s discuss in the comments!
My mom would know what this flower is, but I don't. Photo by Kate Ota Germany 2013
Happy Mother’s Day!
One trope of MG/YA books is a dead mother (if not also a dead father). You’ll also see this trend in movies for young people—specifically Disney. So where did the trope come from and why perpetuate it? I decided to do a little digging.
Where did this start?
My first instinct was that this trope is drawn from fairy tales. I took a class on Grimm’s Fairytales in college and almost every birth mother was dead, often replaced by an evil stepmother. (Though, shockingly, not Snow White. Per the brothers Grimm, her bio-mom was the murderous queen.)
Many academic papers have been written about the dead mother trope, both about modern and historical works. One paper summarized quite a bit for me and presented earlier theories as to why this trope exists: the high mortality rate in child birth prior to modern times (about 1% to 1.5% of mothers died during child birth in the 1600s and 1700s), socio-economic and family structure changes in the US since WWII, and Walt Disney’s bad relationship with his mother. The feminist take is that removing the mother character and forcing the father to step into her place makes the father look great and devalues the work the mother used to do to keep the household running, since Dad can do it all himself.
Short version: it’s sexism.
Why Kill Mother Characters?
Well, parents who do a good job parenting will often prevent the sort of dangerous adventures that make MG/YA exciting. There are some stories in which parents are alive but separated from the kids, like because of a boarding school (the Weasley parents in the Harry Potter series) or war (the Pevensie parents in the Narnia series). Either way, it’s easier if the parents can’t jump in to prevent disaster.
MG and YA also explore the themes of growing up and experiencing the world yourself (to a greater extent in YA, of course) which requires the removal of that parental safety net to emphasize that theme. And let’s face it, from a traditional-nuclear-family-type perspective, who is most likely to notice kid shenanigans and do something to stop it? Mom. (No offense, Dad.)
TV Tropes offers the theory that dead parents are the only purely good parents in entertainment, as the others need to be stand offish or absent for plot reasons and therefore come off as terrible people. The dead are held in higher regard. It’s an interesting theory, but there are plenty of flawed dead parents in entertainment, too. And the trope page didn’t discuss mothers specifically.
In The New York Times, S.S. Taylor theorized authors kill one or more parents to reassure themselves that if they died, their own real children would also find a way to be okay. A bit of therapy, in a way.
Of course, that’s all been mostly about orphans, or at least when both parents are missing. But plenty of stories off Mom and keep Dad (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid to name a few). You’ll notice in these movies the father-child relationship tends to be fairly strong or develops as part of the emotional arc of the story. In fact, before Cinderella’s dad dies, they’re very close in most versions. Clearly, one way to justify or emphasize a father-MC relationship is to get rid of Mom.
Let’s circle back to the evil stepmother trope. This villain was typically jealous, cruel, and destructive toward stepdaughters. (We don’t see a ton of classic stories about stepmothers and their stepsons, but I’m sure they exist.) A biological mother was theoretically less likely to be this negative with their child. However, a stepmother had power/influence over the main character and would potentially be willing to treat them poorly. Since the intended audience was children, and getting deep into the psychology of why a parent may be cruel could be difficult for that audience, substituting in the stepmother may have been a shortcut to explain the bad behavior. This is a trope/cliché that’s certainly past its prime.
Should You Kill Off a Mother Character?
It depends. It’s a very old trope and teeters on cliché. You could use it to give your story a fairytale vibe, especially helpful if you want that feeling but aren’t doing a direct retelling. Fairytale retellings have been hot for years (I’d point to the start of the trend being Cinder by Marissa Meyer), but to stand out in this crowd, I’d recommend subverting as many tropes from the original tales as possible. That includes dead moms.
Contemporary stories probably don’t need to rely on dead moms, anyway. With the recent economic crises and the feminist movements of the late 1900s, many families have both parents working. Don’t kill off the mom, just make her busy. Historical settings may have more flexibility here, since, as I mentioned before, the maternal mortality rates were terrifying for most of human history. (And they’re still not great in the US, honestly, especially for women of color!)
I guess my advice is in general, no. Don’t kill off your mother characters unless there’s a very clear, specific reason she must be dead. Test your creativity and find another way to let your MG and YA characters explore their worlds. You may come up with an idea you like even more and bonus: one less dead mom character.
Here are some sources for more reading on this topic:
Etymology in Writing
Wisteria gets its name from the American anatomist Casper Wistar. Photo by Kate Ota 2019
When I was a kid, any time I asked my dad about what a word meant, he’d start with the word's origin, the etymology. Never a dictionary-fresh definition. He had me look at the word as a thing that was built and created over time, not a stagnant object. It used to drive me nuts. “Just tell me what incongruent means, Dad!” And yet, by the time I took the ACT and SAT, I knew all sorts of random word parts and guessed my way through words I’d never seen before, to excellent scores I might add. To this day, if I hear a new word, I wonder about the etymology. It’s the most common thing I google.
When I was teaching anatomy, I constantly emphasized word parts for my students. If I had continued teaching (they didn’t even offer me health insurance, so you see why I quit) then I would have made my students an anatomy word-part cheat sheet to keep for the semester. Things like osteo referring to bones, myo referring to muscles, and chond referring to cartilage would have made the list.
This has obviously helped me as a reader. But can etymology help writers? Unfortunately, it can’t help with mixing up very similar words in your writing (like lay vs lie) because their etymology is also very similar. (Trust me, I checked. That was the original idea for this post but it went nowhere.) However, etymology is a huge help in worldbuilding. Let’s look at some examples.
Spells in Harry Potter
Most of the spells in Harry Potter have a Latin origin (a few are Greek). This does two things: one, it helps make all the spells have a unified feel; and two, it helps the readers guess or keep track of the spells’ meanings. Since HP is middle grade, it also helps the young readers learn some classic word-parts.
Crucio: the unforgivable curse causing intense pain. This is from cruciate, Latin for a cross shape. And guess what the cross was used for? That’s right, it was used to torture and kill people, most notably Jesus (there’s a lot of Jesus allusions in HP.)
Lumos: the light creating spell. This comes from lumen, Latin for light, and the Latin suffix os, to have.
Every Day Words from Shadow and Bone
Shadow and Bone (book one of the Grishaverse) by Leigh Bardugo was recently adapted into a Netflix series. (I quite enjoyed it! Though there was a lot of racism thrown at the MC, which wasn't necessary.) The main nation, Ravka, clearly has a Russian feel. One of the best ways this is accomplished is through the words.
Grisha: the people who have magical powers. This comes from the Russian name for Gregory, which means watchful and connects to the biblical Grigori. Since they’re a type of army/defenders, being watchful makes sense.
Otkazat’sya: the people who aren’t Grisha. It’s actually the Russian verb for to abandon, that Bardugo co-opted into a noun (which is a process called nominalization) and added the Russian suffix -sya. Bardugo added this suffix to other words in the book as well, even if the rest of the word was less Russian. A neat trick to keep the vibe of a place without totally copying the language or confusing readers for whom Russian is not familiar.
Names in Avatar the Last Airbender
Anyone who has seen the show will tell you Avatar is set in an Asian-inspired world. Specific cities and countries are more closely tied to specific Asian nations, and this is done through architecture, art, music, and names. Not a lot of words were made up or derived from and added onto, like the last two examples. Of course, Avatar had the advantage of being a visual medium first, so the art helped sell the overall vibe more than language needed to (like it would in books.)
Dai Li: the secret police in the city Ba Sing Se. This comes from Chinese. Dai means to wear, and Li refers to a hat, specifically the pointed top and wide brim shape these characters wear. But the name has more meaning than that. Lieutenant General Dai Li was a real person in the Chinese government in the first half of the 1900s. He led a secret military police and a paramilitary fascist group. He was extremely feared and his 50,000 agents were more than spies, they could also be assassins.
Zuko: the initial antagonist and eventual example of redemption. The Chinese meaning of this name can be failure or loved one, which is perfect for the character himself, as those were the two paths he saw for himself. However, it’s notable that other languages also lay claim to this name. The Filipino origin can be translated as angry or surrender—which both still work for the character. I found another origin from Zulu, where it means glory. Again, it still matches the character, if you focus on season 3.
Clearly, looking at the etymology of the words in your fictional world, from spells to everyday terms to names, can give the world a sense of unity through linguistics, or add a sense of differentiation between multiple locales within your world, should you use more than one language base. Digging into the etymology of these examples was super fun for me and I learned more about the worlds as well. Building meaning into your fictional terms is a great Easter Egg for fans to enjoy beyond the story on the page.
Have you ever played with etymology in your worldbuilding? Did you stick to the familiar (Latin, Greek, Germanic) or go somewhere farther from English? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Sources in case you want to dig deeper:
Harry Potter spell etymology
Leigh Bardugo talks the etymology in Shadow and Bone
Avatar the Last Airbender etymology
The pictures are all not mine!
The Rural Setting Thesaurus
Wilbur's never been outside, so this book was full of new information for him! Photo by Kate Ota 2021
Part of the same series of helpful thesauruses as The Emotion Thesaurus and The Occupation Thesaurus, The Rural Setting Thesaurus is by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I loved The Emotion Thesaurus so much, and felt the same about The Occupation Thesaurus so I knew this would also be worth the price.
Much like the other entries, The Rural Setting Thesaurus started with some information about why the contents of this book will matter to your book. Although it did go off into seemingly less related topics like similes, metaphors, and hyperboles, it circled back to setting. This book is incredibly helpful to those still suffering from white room syndrome and if you're writing about a place you've never been. I think this book is great because not everyone has the means to travel to the wide variety of included locales (ex. desert, mountains, and beach) and now have the opportunity to describe it as if they've been there.
Each entry covers the expected/typical/possible sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures and sensations found in the setting. It also lists possible sources of conflict the setting can cause in a scene, people commonly found there, related settings included in the book, notes and tips specific to that setting, and a setting description example.
Before you think that you don't have any rural settings in your novel, this thesaurus includes what I'd consider suburban settings as well, such as rooms in a house and a classic American school's various rooms. There are also rural sights and natural locations, as you'd expect. The Urban Thesaurus listings are included in the back, and while the content doesn't crossover too much, I think some of those locations can crossover into rural or suburban settings as well (such as bakery and parking lot). So if you're looking for one specific location, be sure to check which book may have it first. (Or get both, I bet the urban one is worth it, too!)
Like my Occupation Thesaurus post, I'll be creating my own entry. This seems to be encouraged, as there are more settings on One Stop for Writers (which I reviewed before.)
And now, I present my unofficial contribution to The Rural Setting Thesaurus
Location: Corn Maze
Tall stalks of corn, mice, birds, bugs, other groups of people, map or overhead photo, ladders or lookouts, weather, hay bales, signs or arrows, broken stalks where people have passed through, muddy or gravel covered paths, people getting angry, scared children, actors (if it’s themed), scarecrows or other spooky or themed props, employees or farm hands, parking lot, ticket booth, snack stand
Screaming (fear or happiness), laughter, arguing, wind shaking the corn stalks, bugs buzzing, mood music (if it’s themed), chainsaws (if it’s themed or a horror novel)
Various snacks available (most likely fall foods like apple cider, apple donuts, pumpkin spice, roasted corn, popcorn), wet earth, ripe corn (very subtle), smells from nearby farm fields (apple orchards especially are often nearby)
Various snacks available (most likely fall foods like apple cider, apple donuts, pumpkin spice, roasted corn, popcorn), NOT the ripe corn on the stalks (this is often against the rules)
Textures and Sensations
Wind whipping corn stalks against them, clinging to friends out of fear, fear, muddy ground sucking at shoes, rocks in the path, cold air, surprise from running into other people or actors, confusion, disorientation, defeat, excitement, corn silk running through their fingers
Possible Sources of Conflict
Arguing over the best path to take
Getting totally disoriented and lost
Arguing over whether to quit
Arguing over whether to climb the ladder/look out to find a way out easier
Getting surprised/scared by a rival group or actor
Racing with another group
Losing the group one started with and ending up alone
People Commonly Found Here
Teens and young adults, families, Halloween lovers, fall lovers, people from other communities, farm hands, maze employees, parents outside the maze waiting for their kids, actors in the maze
Related Settings that May Tie In
Farm, orchard, barn, county fair
Setting Notes and Tips
Corn mazes are usually only available in October, maybe in late September/early November depending on the area and weather. They can be themed, not just a scary Halloween maze, but can be themed around various charities, school mascots, or local lore. Some places with corn mazes offer more than one, of various difficulty levels. They’re most common east of the Rockies and west of the Appalachians in the US, but there are plenty close to the coasts, too. They usually have rules, such as don’t eat the corn, don’t cut through the corn, and don’t touch the actors. However, each one will vary. Almost all will have employees walk the maze before closing to ensure no one is stuck inside (however, this was not done when my friends and I got lost and we were almost locked inside.)
Setting Description Example
Jessica clung to Ashley as the girls’ steps squelched on the thick muddy path. Corn rose around them, higher than they could reach on their tip toes. Long strands of silk waved over their heads, as if alerting the chainsaw wielding actor to their location. The buzzing of the saw sent a chill down Jessica’s spine, but they’d been inside so long, she no longer trusted her sense of direction. They came to the end of a tunnel and had to choose. Left or right. Or perhaps backwards. The glint of a chainsaw turning a corner to the left made the decision for her.
There are lots of great settings in the thesaurus, but I'm sure many more that could be added. Got any ideas? Let's discuss below!