Writing: Randomocity

I found a new toy today. It’s a wonderful tool and a perfect example of how the internet (and technology in general) is both making our world an easier place to live in and making us lazier in the process. Let me elaborate.

While on hiatus from the Fallen series, I have been world building for an epic fantasy I plan on writing after the Fallen saga has reached its conclusion. And I’m going all out. I have a map that’s bigger than my desk with the entire world (all 6 continents, 4 oceans, 7 seas, and 16 countries worth) laid out in a geo-political collage of colors, landmarks, cities, and territories. I have over 100 pages of notes on different types of flora and fauna, geographic locations and climates, characters, cultures, and religions. I have a fledgling outline for the first quarter (give or take) of the first book. And I have a three ring binder full of the beginnings of two distantly related languages.

The scary (and wonderfully exciting) part is that I’m not even close to done. šŸ˜‰

It was in the process of doing research for my map (I’m new to both art and cartography) that I stumbled across this site: Fantasy Mapmaking 101. The author did include some good tips for beginning mapmakers, but I was most interested in this page: the Random Name Generator. [[edited to add: apparently this portion of the site has been taken down]]

At first I simply thought it was kind of nifty, but not something I could use. The names the generator pulled out were based on the Elvish and Orc languages by J.R. Tolkien and are therefore kind of specific in the sound of the words they were capable of producing. But then I noticed this note at the top:

You may edit the JavaScript in this HTML document byviewing the source, and saving it to your hard drive.
Change the letters in each of the arrays you will find, and
voila!, a personalized name generator!

The angles began to sing and the clouds parted for a beautiful ray of sunshine (which was miraculous occurrence indeed considering it was around 11:30 pm) as I frantically called my friend.

“How do I do that?!” I demanded.

Being more than well aware of my eccentricities by now, he pointed me in the right direction. Then, with only a few more (polite) demands for direction, I altered the appropriate elements, turned the source code back into an html document, and opened my own personal name generator for the first time.

Someone please bless the owner of Fantasy Mapmaking 101. Seriously.

I have since created a specific name generator for each of my languages and will create new generators for every language I create after this point as well. Which got me thinking…

What would I have done without this tool?

I would have slogged through countless pages of notebooks and scrap pieces of paper scribbling random combinations of the letters used in the languages until I came up with a couple dozen words that were pronounceable and sounded like words. I would have practiced coming up with these words and probably would have eventually become passably good at creating coherent random strings of letters. But now?

My excuse is that my brain is extraordinarily linear and that limits the possibilities for randomness, that, in the end, I would be stuck with a certain type of word, a certain grouping set, and languages that were far too similar to one another. But I know myself too well for that. My own laziness is using this as an out. I’m letting myself off the hook because I’ve found something that I can personalize that can do the job better than me.

Do I feel guilty for using it? A little.
Is that going to stop me? Nope.

It’s food for thought, though. People have been saying that technology is a crutch for years. Parents bemoan the fact that children are becoming incapable of doing simple math without a calculator, disorders and addictions centering around technology (Blackberrys anyone?) have already been accepted by some psychology groups, and I can’t remember the last day I didn’t wake up and head straight for my laptop. In most cases I’ve argued that our intelligence is not being dumbed down, simply altered. Our social consciousness is evolving and so are the skills and knowledge we use on a daily basis. But what about people like writers who thrive on mental capacity and creativity? How will technology alter the way we work?

No one can say for certain (I know I can’t), but it’ll be interesting to see which way this one goes.

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