Wednesday, November 15, 2006

No Commonplace


When the gray hag of indecision hunkers beside my chair, I research.
When the flame of inspiration burns slow and sullen, I research.
In northeast England, above the valley of the river Wear, rises Hamsterley Forest.
Either in or near that forest, buried deep in the detritus of centuries, lies the ramparts of an iron-age fort.
Iron age. Sword age. Wolf age.
They close the park at dusk in Weardale.
Weardale.
Does the autumn mist hang heavy there and the branches weave like bones unfleshed above the track?
Weardale.
Some suggest the word survives from a Celtic name.
River of blood.
Weardale in November.
November is the blood month.
The hair starts rising up all over me.
Weardale.
What if.
What if it was Weredale?

You see what happens when you set your imagination free, to run unfettered, sniffing out possibilities, nosing down associations.
To hunt.

We pay attention - or should - to the titles of our books, to the choice of our character's names.
Do we pay enough attention to our place names?

29 comments:

Carla said...

Well, I'm a place-name nut as you know, so you're preaching to the converted in my case :-)
Bear in mind as your imagination takes flight that 'were' in Old English just meant 'man', and didn't have the paranormal connotations it has today. (Though the modern connotation might well be a good hook to hang a story on).
I just looked up Weardale in the Dictionary of Place Names, and it says that 'Wear' is probably from the Indo-European root for 'water', the same root that underlies German Wasser and Russian vodka as well as English water and wet. The Roman name for the river was Vedra, from the same root. 'Dale' is Norse for valley. So sadly it probably just means 'water valley' or 'wet valley'. How boring. But the scholars might be wrong :-)

Bernita said...

Um, yes, Carla, I saw that.
More than boring. The River Wear - the "water water."
The scholars, however, sometimes do not agree.
I did not take the time to run down the claim of Celtic attribution for the bloody water association - because I was doing just that - letting my imagination take flight - which was the point.

kmfrontain said...

That name, Weredale, has all the markers of a plot bunny creation. (Backs away shaking, shot gun in hand, shells loaded with silver pellets tumbling from fingers.)

Yep. Good name could actually motivate a good plot, or even grab a reader enough to make them start reading. (Fires shot gun, misses, runs like hell.)

Are you using Weredale in a story now? (Say yes! The bunnies will chew off my toes if you don't!)

Research is also what I do when I can't write. I like research. So many odd things pop up.

Bernita said...

~laughing~
Not sure if it's a true plot bunny or not, Karen!
'Tis intriguing, is it not?
Can almost see the opening lines...
Feel free to breed the little bugger though.

MissWrite said...

What a cool post. I do try, but I think in that aspect I tend to fail when it comes to really cool 'place' names. Names that are fitting. Boy 'weredale' really conjurs a fantastic image.

JLB said...

Place names always grab my interest... I really enjoyed your musings - they are a wonderful rendition of what rattles through my mind as I try to stratify the name of a place in some spectrum of meaning.

Moving across the country has really accentuated this experience for me - back in Washington State, there was a familiar trend in naming, with so many names connected with the Pacific Northwest and Coastal Native Americans. But here in Pennsylvania, I'm perplexed by names like Tredyffrin, Perikomen, and Conshohocken. Their roots are all new to me, and sometimes they seem as foreign as if they were half a world a way.

As for your question about the names of titles and characters, etc. in writing - this is something to which I devote considerable attention. For me, it's not just the names and their meanings/symbolism/appropriateness that are significant, but also how the name feels on the tongue and in the mind - does it hang the reader up, or draw the reader in?

Bernita said...

Thank you, Tami.
Just a thought, the index of an atlas might be of help.

Exactly, JIB, thank you muchly for expanding my meander.

Ric said...

Weredale. Does conjur up a myriad of thoughts.
I - in the manner of Stephen King - set all my stories in the fictional town of Errol - which was the name of my hometown before Mr. Brown bought half the site and renamed it after himself - and named all the streets running north after his children - before the railraod came through. One of my beta readers caught the reference in my last book - which was doubly satisfying.
Oddly enough, the one single thing that determines a main character name is how easy it is to type.
Anyone else do that? Lloyd is difficult. Tom is not.

Bernita said...

"how easy it is to type..."
Obviously not an affliction that deters writers of fantasy, Ric!

If I may say so - without sounding defensively picky - the OE word for man is not "were" but "wer" or "weres," according to my glosses. "Weras" is the most frequent plural.

writtenwyrdd said...

If you started a book with "November is the month of blood and here I am in Weredale," I'd be reading further!

ramir said...
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Sela Carsen said...

Gods, yes. The historicals I've played with have had the place names based on other places I lived or visited. Taking the names back to their roots and thinking about the cultural influences prevalent in the area.

Although, sometimes, the names just show up. Robichaud just sounded right.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I'm not much for place names...but it's little things like that in a book that sometimes make the difference and add a whole new dimension to what your reading!

That November line is a great beginning for a book!

Bernita said...

Does lend itself, doesn't it, Writtenwyrd?
The OE "werwulf" - the man wolf.
Of course, the term didn't necessarily mean a shape-changer, but possibly one who ravened like a wolf.
My approach is usually myth-busting - to debunk vamps and weres- but this sets off a tempting train of thought.

Sometimes Sela, inspiration is all you need.

Depends on the type of book, Bonnie, but places may have associations or histories one might tap to subtly enhance.

Steve said...

Will you follow up on the story? I for one would love to see where it goes.

Gabriele C. said...

For me, place names means lot of contradictory therories as to where the dang places are located - at least in the early Roman Empire books. Kalkriese for at least part of the Battle in the Teutoburg Forest (which obviously meant a larger part of woodcovered area in Roman times than today) is sufficiently documented by archaeological findings by now, but I still have to find convincing theories for the battles at the Long Bridges and Idistaviso. And was Hadiminis (Hedem√ľnden) perhaps Varus oft-quoted summer camp?

And where in the Scottish highlands is Mons Graupius, the battle where Talorcan's ancestor fought Agricola's army, a legend in my novel? Which way took part of the Ninth Legion when it was lured into the mists of the mountains by the Selgovae?

S. W. Vaughn said...

Ooooh -- this post gave me chills! What a haunting name. I can hear it in my head now...

Yanno, I don't think I've yet to make up a place name. I've always set everything in real places. I did have to name a pseudo-city for my WIP, tho. I'm calling it Elysium, and with good reason. :-)

Robyn said...

Good Lord. The second I read Weardale I went right where you did- Weredale. I can hear the wolves howling with the wind outside my window.

spyscribbler said...

No, I don't. But I will now!

Bernita, you make words beautiful. I love reading your blog!

Bernita said...

Ah, thank you, Blogger, for letting me back in...

Don't know yet, Steve, the idea only came upon me yesterday afternoon, and there are several ways the story could be treated...

Interesting you mention the Ninth, Gabriele. Noticed when I was researching Bishop Auckland and environs that the Ninth is believed to have built Vinovia just north of town around 70 AD or so, long before they disappeared from records along the German frontier.

Bernita said...

There are so many interesting places names to subvert, Sonya, I wonder why anyone bothers making them up!

How does an opening along the lines of "He heard the howling begin..." strike you, Robyn?
~heh, heh~

Sweet of you to say, My Spy. Thank you.

Gabriele C. said...

Bernita, the source material about the Ninth is such a contradictory mess I'm sure the Romans tried to cover something. No other legion has been in three places at the same time. :)

And where the sources are a contradictory mess, the writer can have some fun.

archer said...

Mordor is pretty good. Also Aintry. Deliverance would't work as well if that cracker had said "You ain't going to suburban Huntsville or its environs."

anna said...

They close the park at dusk in Weardale. Delicious. makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. me too! I'd be reading further.
Fascinating thought travels Bernita

Bernita said...

Yup, Gabriele. I wouldn't be at all surprised, thinking of the list of church land charters I've seen designated as "fraudulent."
A logical plot, based on the possibilities of human nature may well be as close to the truth.

You're right, Archer. I remember place names that resonate the story.


They close the park at dusk in Weardale.
You know, Anna, that line would also make a good opening!Thank you.

nancy said...
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December Quinn said...

I totally want to go there, now. And when I do, I will send you a photo, Bernita. :-)

I, too, love the idea of "Weredale" and what might happen there. Maybe once there were weres, but that was a long time ago, and the town's always lived in the shadow of what happened then...ooooh. Go write it!

writtenwyrdd said...

If you haven't seen "Brotherhood of the Wolf" you might want to. It is a period werewolf movie, and really moody. It was the first thing I thought of as I read this blog post.

Bernita said...

It's a fascinating place, December, just below the Wall. And there's the church at Escomb, and the Pollard Brawn, and...
Please do.

Thank you for the suggestion, Writtenwyrd!