Writing Tips: Naming Your Characters

Here are some great suggestions for coming up with great names for your characters.

Shannon A. Thompson

2 days until the Minutes Before Sunset release! I’m feeling pretty supercalifragilisticexpialidocious about it all 😀 [And definitely not sleeping due to excitement] And I have one more announcement!

Minutes Before Sunset will be available as an e-book through Barnes & Noble and Amazon for $6.99 on May 1st! Please help spread the word :] The first day of sales is often the most important, and I really appreciate everyone who’s helped (and encouraged) me on here, Facebook, and Twitter. 

I’ve also received an author review for Minutes Before Sunset: “An exciting mixture of paranormal, romance, and page-turning action. Can’t wait to see book 2.” – Raymond Vogel, author of Matter of Resistance, a YA Science Fiction novel.

And the first chapter was published in The Corner Club Press yesterday! You can open an online version of it by clicking here. And congrats to the founder, Amber Forbes

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At what age do boys become dudes? It’s way earlier than you think.

It’s potentially a wonderful philosophical and developmental question. When exactly does a child progress along the path of maturation to become an adult? Is it based on having achieved some level of cognitive development?  Perhaps it is based on crossing some chronological gateway, an age when we magically convert from boy to man? Or perhaps it is based upon having completed some rite of passage?

My toddler today helped me postulate that the progression from boy to man (or as I will refer to it from now on: dude) begins at the moment when a boy begins to seek a girl’s attention, and thinks that doing stupid things in public is necessary to attract said girl’s attention. Evolution to dudeness begins so early. My dude has only recently edged past 2 years of age. He has never been overly fond of the swing on the playground. He certainly tolerated getting lifted onto the kiddie seat and pushed a few times, but he would clamor to get off within a few swings. Until this afternoon.

We were playing around in the park when a little girl, perhaps no more than a year older than he is, was hefted up onto the baby swing. My boy’s head immediately snapped up from where he was industriously filling in a hole in the sand some other kid had fastidiously dug out moments before. His eyes were suddenly different. He dashed the twenty meters separating him from the only other toddler’s swing seat in the park screaming “Papa, swing!” at the top of his lungs. I obligingly lumbered along and plopped him down into the seat.

I pushed him gently, no further than his usual tolerance would allow me to. “Papa, higher!” he chirped.

What? I actually had to ask my wife for a confirmation, since I could not conceive that he even knew the word.

“Papa. HIGHER!”

Sure, kid. Whatever. I gave him a stiffer push, sending him soaring up to about chest height.

“PAPA! PAPA! HIGHEEEEER!” He insisted stridently.

Huh? I then noticed that he kept peering over to the right at the little girl. Her dad was pushing her a little higher than I was pushing my boy. Sorry, my dude. He was most definitely deep into dude mode at this point.

He was rapidly returning from the far point of his oscillation. He began screaming as the seat touched my hand: “Pa…” The words cut off as I shoved harder than I ever had shoved my little dude before. Careful what you ask for, kiddo. He soared on mighty scything arcs that reached ever so slightly above my head, giggling and chortling gaily all the time. Every time air resistance threatened to lower his apex below that of his companion, he would instruct me to give him another boost.

This swinging stuff is harder work than it looks. I eventually started to tire. Thankfully, the little girl’s parents thought it was time to get her home to toss her in the bath. She had not made it five steps away from the swing that my little dude began to think that swinging was no fun anymore. Off he went.

Yep. Biochemistry at its finest.

Meet Atom Bot

Atom Bot. Likes long walks on the beach, a romantic tuneup, and bashing evildoers.

Atom Bot. Likes long walks on the beach, a romantic tuneup, and bashing evildoers.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to focus my wandering mind by doodling during meetings or other events that need my mind to be focused for a prolonged period. These doodles usually end up in a notebook, but tonight they are on my computer thanks to a good phone call, and a conveniently handy graphics tablet.

Atom Bot spilled out on the page with a variety of other nonsense, but the basic shape eventually caught my eye, so I quickly refined it and added some colour to make him pop. Not too shabby. I guess I should make more calls.

Blackbird Interactive has got my attention now

I’ve been hiding in a cave for the past little while and missed any news relating to a game design company in Vancouver called Blackbird Interactive. Something popped up on Twitter about a cool trailer for an upcoming free to play real time strategy game called Hardware: Shipbreakers.

Boing! I have no real idea what these games are about. I can certainly surmise that this is a case of Salvage: Code Red in space, but the trailers still don’t reveal a whole lot. When the pedigree of the makers is taken into consideration (some of the folks who made Homeworld), then this is probably something worth paying attention to. They still seem to have their touch. Simple colour palettes with simple, yet incredibly aesthetic imagery, and clean visual design have made for a beautiful set of trailers.

I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more from BBI.

Selling articles through fear: please stop now

Gizmodo put up an article titled A Slo-Mo Mouse Eye View of a Barn Owl Swooping In For the Kill Is Terrifying . I’ve included it here below for ease of reference.

Terrifying? Really? I don’t think I heard any of the people appearing in the video once refer to the owl or the footage as anything that instills fear. How about: “beautiful”, “graceful”, “amazing”, “wonderful”, or any other positive adjective that can be found in the English language? Trying to paint the clip in terms eliciting fear is disingenuous and most likely very far from the producer’s mind when they made the video. What it does is tap into the concept of trying to catch the audience’s attention to generate views through gripping a primal, visceral aspect of human psychology.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a different article on the same site from the day before, by a different author: Get a Terrifying, First-Hand Look at What It’s Like to Ride a 15-Foot-Tall Bike. There it is again. Terrifying. I’ll let you be the judge of whether this video is terrifying:

There certainly is cause to feel a certain trepidation at first, maybe some butterflies in the stomach, but we soon see that everyone is having fun. Being so high up gives a new point of view on the world and hopefully brings a little joy to all involved. I can certainly question the biker’s wisdom by choosing not to wear a helmet, particularly with some of the hazards encountered en route (cars deciding to push around the traffic wardens and the kite string incident), but none of these qualify as sources of terror in my book.

Indeed, let us explore the definition of terror for a moment:

terror |ˈterər|
1 extreme fear : people fled in terror | [in sing. ] a terror of darkness.
• the use of such fear to intimidate people, esp. for political reasons : weapons of terror.
• [in sing. ] a person or thing that causes extreme fear : his unyielding scowl became the terror of the Chicago mob.

The hostage crisis at the school in Beslan in September 2004: tragic and terrifying. A pack of zombies trying to claw my door down at midnight to munch on my brains: terrifying. Climbing 300 feet up a sheer cliff when you realize there’s an avalanche coming down the mountain at you: terrifying. Flying in a plane when someone looks out the window and asks: “excuse me, but is there supposed to be that much smoke and fire coming out of the engines?”: terrifying. Finding out someone has brought to life a T-Rex and has now accidentally set it loose through your back yard: terrifying. A global crisis where the inhabitants of a planet blindly savage its natural resources and pollute its environment in a bid to enrich the few at the cost of the health and safety of the entire world: starting to sound pretty scary. A bird swooping gracefully through the air to get some food : not so much. Some dude pullinga circus stunt in the street: Um. No.

Our society is fixated by the use of superlatives. Everything has to be more extreme, more awesome, more epic than the last. If it is not, we have been conditioned to believe that it must be worthless, and definitely not worth our time or money. I know the phenomenon of using fear to market items and ideas has been around for a long time, but when fear is used this blatantly and with such negligent frequency to qualify menial or even positive aspects of life, it loses all of its meaning. It devalues the events which do indeed qualify as terrifying by diluting them in a sea of lesser issues that are lumped in by them. We become  hypersensitized to fear, and learn to be afraid of everything, taking dramatic actions to protect ourselves from the dangers we perceive to be lurking everywhere, rather than embracing the unique and exhilarating opportunities that life holds for us.

That, or come up with new adjectives that allow us to provide much needed context and contrast to the upper tier of emotional reactions. If that’s the case, I’d like to coin the term “übspazrificating” for the media to start talking about really scary things. That should help them sort their priorities out and use the word only when it is really needed.

You heard it here first, folks.

On toddlers and sarcasm

Sarcasm. It turns out kids just don’t quite get it.

Our son was fresh out of the shower, cleanly bundled in his pajamas and sitting on my wife’s knees as she was brushing his teeth. He suddenly began to wriggle his nose and make funny faces. Before either of us could react, he smeared his gooey goobers all over her forearm.

“Oh, thank you for wiping your nose all over my arm, dear.” She announced glumly.

Smoosh! He smothered his nose across her sleeve another time.

“Thanks. I really needed that.”

Sluuurop! A trinity of slimy streaks adorned her arm.

“Gah! I don’t really mean it. Stop wiping your nose on my arm!”

The puzzled look that washed over his face was priceless. It almost screamed “But mommy, I’m just giving you what makes you happy!”

I guess we’ll need to keep working on the concept of sarcasm

Feeding the Beast is harder than it appears

Feed at your own risk

Feed at your own risk

“Hey kiddo, what do you want for a snack?” I ask as the time to feed the beast inevitably lumbers around.

“Snack!” He replies, a wide smile beaming.

“I got it. That’s what we’re going to do, have a snack. But what do you want in it?” Clearly, he hasn’t figured out that I need explanation as to what individual components he desires that I put into the conceptual container that is a snack.

“Snack!” He repeats just as excitedly as the first time.

“No, no. What. Do. You. Want. To. Eat. As. A. Snack?” Maybe if I go slower he’ll understand.

“Snack!” His mouth drops open and his eyes sparkle.

I take a deep breath, and scramble to find another approach. “Do you want an apple?”


Success. I’ve got a decision. I reach into the fridge and pull out the shiniest, reddest, and most delicious apple I can find. “Non. Pas ça!” Not that. Say what?

“But you just asked for an apple, why don’t you want it any more?”

“Pas ça!”

I can’t hope for much more clarification, so I rummage around the bin looking for something else to appease his hunger. The once chatty toddler is rapidly transitioning to something darker, brooding. His lips begin to pout, his brow furrows, and he tucks his chin down to his chest. Absolutely frightening. When he gets this way, it does not take much to push him over into a ranting tantrum monster. Must find a solution quickly, or risk unleashing a horror that I will be hard pressed to deal with all afternoon.

Aha! “Do you want a banana?” I offer hopefully.


“Pas ça!” freezes my movement as I pull the banana from the bowl on the counter. Gah!

“How about an orange?”

“Orange!” His voice is strangely chipper has he calls out the last. I may have found what he is really looking for.

“Papa! Pas! ÇA!” He emphasizes each word with increasing vigor.

I am at a loss. Why is he not happy with any of the items he appears to endorse a heartbeat before? I kneel down to look at him straight in the eye. “Hey, guy, what do you want for a snack?”

“Snack.” His voice is even, but there is a slight quiver at the end, foreshadowing an imminent explosion.

“Are you repeating everything I say?” I ask.


Oh, boy. This is going to be a long day.

The finances of independant game design – Hitbox Team postmortem

Dustforce (www.dustforce.com)

Dustforce (www.dustforce.com)

The Hitbox Team financial postmortem provides a candid overview of one independent game developer’s financial status one year after the launch of their game, Dustforce. It is a rare opportunity to gain a glimpse into such typically closely-guarded aspect of game design. Anyone who is interested in game design needs to keep an eye on the business aspect of their project, since it does no one any good to have to can a project and dissolve the design team because there isn’t enough money to deliver a finished product. It is nice to see some concrete figures. They will doubtless prove invaluable to other indie developers as they tackle the challenge of bringing their visions to reality.

The key takeaway: if you’re indie, you’d better not be in it for the money. Design games because you love to, and you want to bring a unique experience to others. If you do a really good job, you’ll make enough to allow you to do it all over again.

On being judgemental – why I could never sit at an Iron Chef’s table

I don’t really watch TV. I am too busy scouring the world for ideas and inspiration, and I find most of what is on television these days to be of little value.  That’s a personal belief and not a judgement on those of you who do enjoy watching the picture box. If it provides an uplifting moment to an otherwise dreary day, makes you laugh, or you find some measure of education in its offerings, more the power to you.

I do get collateral exposure to the telly’s contents when my wife does watch it. She’s a huge fan of all the home renovation, decorating, and cooking shows out there. One indelible impression that I have been left with is that I would be a terrible cooking competition judge. When I see the likes of Mr. Ben-Israel or Mr. Steingarten slam into people who have put their hearts out on their plates, I have to grant them some measure of respect, despite their frequent appearance as insufferable jerks as they render judgement upon the people that stand before them. Were I in a similar position, the moment one of those dishes would be laid out on the table in front of me, it would disappear in a puff of cake shrapnel or splashes of savoury sauce. “Omnomomonomonom!”

Artist’s rendition of Max Shields as a Food Channel judge.

Before the cameras would have had time to pan back fro the Chairman for the chef to explain his magnificent creation, only crumbs would remain on my plate. I like food, you see. I’d probably beg forgiveness the first time, and ask for seconds that I may properly judge. But after the third or fourth time, they’d probably be on to me, so I’d be reduced to picking food off of the other judges’ plates for a while. Even though I’m a nice guy and not really one to degrade the people that hand me food, I am a right proper savage when someone tries to take something away from me without my permission, particularly when food is at stake. Any attempts by the other judges to keep me from accessing their plates would be met with vicious snarling, drooling, and a flashing of fangs. Hungry wolves have got nothing on me.

You think he’s scary? Just you try and take food away from me!

This may somewhat affect the panel’s ability to provide a full review of the meals that have been laid out before them, but I think I can handle that with a “too right!” to one and an “attaboy!” to the other competitor, perhaps an invite out for a beer after the show, because if you’ve put food on my plate, you’re awesome in which way I look at it. We can all be winners, so long as you feed me.

Viewers would probably be more entertained as a wrestling match ensues behind the table, which would probably be good for the show, too. It’s all about the ratings, baby!

On babbling toddlers

My son is reaching the “I love to talk continuously and not let anyone in on the conversation” stage. He loves to try new words out, and has a surprisingly wide range of vocabulary for such a little fellow. His mother and I have about a 70-80% success rate at deciphering his lingo.  At some times, he manages to chain two, three, or even four words together to form a rudimentary sentence. This has greatly contributed to reducing his frustration levels, as he can now more effectively convey his wants and needs.

Our luck drops off tremendously the more he gets excited. If we have the misfortune of waving anything that even remotely resembles chocolate in his general direction, or when he’s in one of his multiple “I want to play outside” moods of the day, his communication degenerates into a series of gibberish gobbledigook that he repeats on an unending loop at an ever-increasing rate. Most recently, he has taken to producing a stream of “Passesay! Passesay! Passesay!” This may be his way of saying “Parce que c’est” (because it is), or something entirely obscure and unknowable to we of the adult kind. What is certain, is that he can go on his single-word tirade for several minutes on end without regard for whether we are actually responding to his need or not.

Have I mentioned his mood swings? He can switch from a happy babbling kid to an utterly devastated, teary-eyed wreck, and back in the blink of an eye. His conversation in these instances sound something like: “”Passesay! Passesay! Passesay! Waaauguahauuuahhahahahhwaaaaaaaaa! Snif! Passesay! Passesay! Passesay!” Sheesh!

It is also neat to hear him try new words out altogether. Sometimes, these are an effort to replicate something we have said earlier in the day. Other times, I think he is an experimental linguist. This evening, he shouted out “Tamura jump!” before hurling himself off of his bed and laughing. Visions of some crazy Japanese extreme sport show immediately came to mind.

Maybe I can make a few bucks off of this kid by turning such inspired ideas into reality. Diapers don’t grow on trees after all!