Tag Archives: research

Thoughts on Writing – Researching Real World Languages

At my day job, one of my jobs is to organize composite images. Think: class pictures composed of individual student pictures. I start with a basic form, input the data on that form, sort through a list of classes already in the database, make sure the correct names are in the the right fields, and that the grades are formatted properly for the group pictures. I also scan the names of teachers and students to make sure that the apostrophes are in the right place, “Jr.” has that period at the end… etc. That’s the simplified version, but needless to say, I get to see a lot of names (which is great when you’re trying to brainstorm name ideas).

Today, though, one of the other composite creators called me over, baffled by the names in the grade field: AnangoonsagMiigwanensag, and Noodinensan. (Yes, I wrote these down so I could look them up later).

I was baffled, too. While we see a lot of Spanish names, these words weren’t familiar. Problem was, we have a particular format we try to follow when creating composites, and we weren’t sure how to place them. It’s not uncommon for preschools to have grade names like Infant Sunflowers, but this particular job has less information than usual to go off of. However, we suspected they had meaning to the school using them, so we didn’t want to simply remove them from the grade field.

My first suspicion was German (probably because of the double “i” in miigwanensag… but that really didn’t look right. And the words definitely weren’t French or Spanish.

We glanced through one of the classes, hoping to get an idea from the pictures, and several of the students looked like they might be of Native American descent.

Okay, cool. That gave me a way to narrow down my future search if the search returned several hits.

I wrote down the three words, and then once I got home, did a Google search.

Needless to say, it actually narrowed down quicker than I expected.

There aren’t a lot of results for anangoonsag (I’ve got six results from my Google search), but Google immediately came up with an Ojibwe-English dictionary translation page. The translation read: “star: ~little”

Now, I noticed earlier that two of those words end in “nsag,” so I wondered if this might be a suffix of some kind (for “little”).

A few more searches, and I suspected anangoonsag did indeed have something to do with stars. Once I plugged in the other words, Inarrowed down the idea that these words were from Anishinaabe, a language of the Ojibwe/Chippewa people. I used Wikipedia to get a quick overview (Note: Wikipedia is good for overviews, but I wouldn’t advise relying on it for accurate information), and found that, according to Wikipedia, the Ojibwe are the second largest of the First Nations, and historically, they are known for their birch bark canoes and their use of cowrie shells for trading. (This reminded me of history classes I had back in grade school, so this struck a “ah-ha!” connection point with me). I was also curious about their legend of the Wendigo.

Fascinating, how three unfamiliar words can start a bout of research.

Still curious about what those words might mean, I looked for search results that included the word (or a part of the word) and mentioned either Ojibwe or Anishinaabe. I found this site, which has a wealth of information, including a note on diminutive terms. This was important, because I found both -an and -ag.

But these weren’t suffixes. It seems (if I understand the chart correctly), that these are just parts of the particular word. The chart for diminutive terms shows (and includes the pronunciation for) the basic singular form of several words, then the singular “small” form of the word, then the plural form of the word, and then the “small” form of the plural word.

Based on my (relatively quick) searches, I think the three words have something to do with “star” (anangoonsag), “wind” (noodinensan), and “feather” (miigwanensag). There may be more to each word, such as a suffix or prefix I haven’t discovered yet, but still, it’s a starting point.

If I planned on using these details while writing fiction, I would want to delve more into the words and their various forms to make sure the form was correct–or as close to correct as I was going to get.

At the same time, I’ve got more information than I had before, and now I’m curious to know more about the Ojibwe language and culture.

If you find something that your curious about–a word, a myth, a culture–do a quick search. You might find that you want to learn more about it. 🙂

Have you ever come across an unfamiliar word, searched to learn what it meant, and become fascinated with what you found?


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Thoughts on Writing – Using Foreign Languages In Your Stories

Recently, I’ve been making edits to The Multiverse Chronicles. It’s a pseudo-steampunk fantasy story, and it’s very much not historically accurate. We’ve got dragons, dinosaurs (all right, all right, I know pterosaurs technically aren’t dinosaurs, but still), dirigibles, magic powers, a dragon queen who rules over Britannia, an Industrial Union of Prussia that makes automatons… The list goes on.

Still, we want to have occasional nods to reality, and it’s nice to know which parts of history we’re butchering before we actually butcher it. Since the world is supposed to (vaguely) resemble our own world, we’ve been trying to add flavor through various means, and our latest method has been to insert little snippets of other languages where appropriate.

For example, one of the end scenes of the Multiverse episodes involves a group of airship pirates. The name of their dirigible is mentioned, and the name is supposed to be in German.

Of course, neither Isaac nor I know much of anything about the German language, which is a recipe for potential issues.

In this particular scene, Isaac wants the name of the ship to roughly translate to, “The Spirit of the Iron Vulture.” The first step to renaming this in German was to use Google Translate.

However, from our experiences with Spanish classes in college, we know that online translators aren’t necessarily that reliable. So, whenever I try to name something or use a word that isn’t English, I may use an online translator to start with, but I will usually run it through multiple translators, and then take that translation back from the target language to English to make sure it translates correctly both ways. (I’ve had a few interesting translations when I tried that particular method, as the translator might have had the right word, but not the right meaning). I also try to look up whether words should go before or after one another, if there might be any changes to how the word looks based on what it’s modifying, and anything else that might be different in that language.

For Spanish, this isn’t quite so difficult because I’ve had a few classes, which helps me know what to look for. Even then, I’ve had a beta reader correct my Spanish grammar, and that was helpful to getting the sentence right (I had the wrong verb form).

For German… well… I don’t know German.

I’ve picked up a couple words here and there from Hogan’s Heroes. (Not exactly conducive to knowing how a language works).

I really wasn’t sure what we were looking for in naming conventions, especially since the name we wanted had the “of the” portion. Then I remembered that a friend from college had studied German, so I figured he might be a someone to ask. I sent him a Facebook message, and he was able to offer quite a bit of help.

When in doubt, ask someone with more experience than you.

When Isaac first chose the name, he ended up with “Der Geist Eisengeier.” (Note: If your ship’s name has “the” in the beginning of it, don’t forget to translate that as well). With a bit more checking, I ended up with “Der Geist des Eisernen Geier,” but it seemed a bit of a tongue twister (which I probably pronounce wrong, anyway, since I don’t know German pronunciation rules). Anyway, we asked if it would be feasible to shorten the latter to the former, but our friend pointed out that without “des” (of the), we would end up with a really long, run-on noun. He suggested “Der Geist Des Eisengeier” as a compromise, though he pointed out that German ships would often have longer names.

Isaac and I chose the compromise (Der Geist Des Eisengeier), though knowing about the longer names factor definitely makes using the full name a more feasible option.

As a writer, half of the process of story research is knowing what to look for. In this case, I suspected the language rules might be different from English, but I didn’t have enough knowledge on the subject to know where to begin. At this point, asking someone who does know (or at least has more knowledge than you) is a good way to find a decent starting point. This can be used for language, culture, special procedures, technology… anything. Of course, the more you read, the more you know when you should conduct research, and the more likely you’ll catch where you might have problems before a reader does.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. 🙂 Have you ever had issues with adding words from another language into your manuscript?

(Another good example of doing writerly research can be found at Thrill Writing, a blog where the author interviews various experts about specific topics which are helpful to fiction writers.)



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Ice Bucket Challenge

All right, so a close friend challenged me and my husband to the #icebucketchallenge . Granted, I tend to be skeptical of these things, so I decided to do a bit of research.

This is what I found.

Information about ALS: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/amyotrophiclateralsclerosis/detail_ALS.htm

Interesting fact: Lou Gehrig was a baseball player whose career (and life) was cut short by ALS

ALS Organization: http://www.alsa.org/

Information about where the donation money went last year: http://www.alsa.org/about-us/financial-information.html

Concern with challenge: Ice Bucket Challenge is a fad, which means that it will go out as quickly as it came… and with it, research dollars that they need on a steady basis: http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/ice-bucket-challenge-cash-raised-cant-fill-hole-als-research-n186356

Decent post about why the Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t a bad thing: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-hicks/how-is-the-als-ice-bucket_b_5697924.html

Related post from the wife of a man with ALS: http://www.bostern.com/blog/2014/08/15/what-an-als-family-really-thinks-about-the-ice-bucket-challenge/

In the long run, we decided to make a donation. Not much, but hopefully it’ll help fund their research. And regardless if that research is able to help ALS treatment, research can sometimes find cures and treatments for other diseases, if indirectly.

If you haven’t had a chance to look at what ALS is, I encourage you to do so. Even if you can’t donate, and even if you plan to avoid cold buckets of ice water, a little knowledge can go a long way in helping solve all kinds of problems.

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“Research That Makes Good Fiction” – Guest Blog – Natascha N. Jaffa

We have a guest blogger with us today, Natascha N. Jaffa. Hopefully you’ll find her advice helpful, whether you’re considering trade publishing or self-publishing. 🙂


Natascha Jaffa dedicates her experience to helping writers grow through her editing firm, http://www.spjediting.com/, which she considers the best job in the world. When she isn’t editing, you can catch her snowboarding, rock climbing, or training for her first Ragnar Relay. She’s an active PRO member of Romance Writers of America, an editor for SoCal’s Mystery Writers of America chapter and is published in suspense and romance as Nichole Severn. Writers can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.





“Research That Makes Good Fiction”

Natascha N. Jaffa

No matter what genre you write, accurate research pulls your readers into your story. Plotting, formatting, world-building and character research are just four items on a list of many that make your reader unable to put that book down.

Plotting research. A lot of writers write by the “seat of their pants” and that works for them. Others plan every detail of their work, following a close outline, but, no matter how you plot (or don’t), there is a basic guide to follow in fiction.

This includes A) introducing your reader to your character’s ordinary world, B) diving into adventure, C) accumulation of bad things happening, D) answering the call to adventure, E) gathering friends and allies, F) the point of no return G) things falling apart H) your crisis or “black moment”, I) resolution, and J) your happy ever after.

In all actuality, your plot should look something like this: 


Larry Brooks has an excellent book you may want to check out called Story Structure Demystified or you may want to look into Martha Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer for more info. Her site http://www.blockbusterplots.com/index.html has actual video of her lessons if you don’t want to read!

Formatting research. It’s a simple idea, but there is a lot of information to sift through in regards to what should be included in the header of your MS, where page numbers should start, the actual font of your MS, and what the title page should look like and include. Authors use their own formatting in a lot of cases, but that’s because they’re allowed to. They’ve become accustomed to what their editor is expecting. Therefore, we must research. Find a copy of Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino. It will answer those questions whether you’re submitting a short story, a full novel, or an article to an agent or editor. Remember, the more professional your MS looks, the more professional you look.

World-building research. I’ve read so many manuscripts, especially paranormal, in which the writer doesn’t take the time to actually build the world they’ve created in their book. Readers want to know an era’s/world’s clothing, language, mannerisms, government, architecture, atmosphere, customs/traditions, and culture. Nailing down the details is what keeps your reader engrossed in the story and believing they are right there with your character.

Regency is a huge in the market right now and it requires a lot of research. This means reading history books, watching films in which the era is correctly portrayed, finding other novels in the same time period as your book and learning new words. Unless you’ve done your research, readers will see exactly how much time you took to get it right.

A word of warning: world-building research can become addicting. Never research more than you need to write about or you’ll never finish the book!

Character research. Characters make the book. This is the reason readers will pick up yours, so make them believe your characters are real. This includes setting your character’s goal, motivation, and conflict and not just for your protagonist and antagonist. Every character has an agenda. This is what drives your plot. Tell the reader what, why and why not. A great resource I recommend for every fiction writer is Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Her tips will make your character multi-layered and believable.

You also need to paint a picture of your characters for your readers. A lot of writers actually find a photo that best suits their purposes and refer to it often to keep their descriptions clear throughout the book.

You as the writer need to know your character inside and out. Their job, their likes, dislikes, relationships with family and friends, favorite foods and everything else you can think of. Some are a little easier than others to construct, but either way, it must be done. Maybe you have a protagonist who is a cop. The best way to learn about your character and step into their shoes is to interview a cop. Find out how that officer spends his day, how many years of training he had to go through before he was allowed on the force, what tests he had to take. When it comes to the simpler things, Leigh Michaels has a great list of questions to ask your character in her book On Writing Romance.


There is a similar warning here as with world-building research. Don’t get too into your interviews or studying. Learn just enough that you can confidently portray your characters to your readers and not have to stress about inaccurate details.

Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, Carolyn Jewel’s historical romances and even Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series are all great examples of well-researched fiction. These authors have taken the time to get the details right in their plotting, formatting, world-building and character development, drawing readers into the story and not pushing them out by focusing on incorrect information.


Well, there you have it! That’s all for today, but hopefully you found something useful. Thanks, Natasha, for joining in. 🙂


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