What’s In A Name: Assignment 3



We have reached our final What’s In A Name Challenge. So far, the goal has been to not challenge character tropes or fight against typical naming conventions for certain character types. This time, we are doing just that. The important thing to remember in this challenge is reader perception. Readers all connect to characters differently. If we challenge a common naming perception, we as the author have to make the reader believe that it works.

Villains are an easy way to look at challenging naming tropes and conventions. We all know that Darth Vader, Voldemort, Darken Rahl, Hannibal Lecter, Hans Gruber, and Cruella De Vil are villains. They are all popular villains, and you probably know most of them, if not all. But the point is not to just know who the villains are by their fame. If we look at their names, they scream “bad-guy.” One prominent naming convention in villain names is death and darkness. Look at Darth Vader (dark father), Darken Rahl (darken), and Voldemort (flight from death).

Hannibal Lecter is a little harder to dissect. However, Hannibal does rhyme with cannibal. It is also the name of a Carthaginian general from Roman times. The name’s history doesn’t necessarily have a dark connotation, so we have to rely more on the way the name sounds. Hannibal itself is a strange name, and in this case it does benefit from the infamy of the character. Lecter is sharper and more harsh. When you put the two names together the compliment one another off the tongue. It could be surmised, in this case, that the strange name benefits his character, especially in comparison from the other characters Clarice Starling and Will Graham.

In most cases, the name should compliment the character. It is possible to challenge that ideal, assuming every reader carries the same expectations for the names of villains and characters. In that case, the writer has to make the reader believe that the name fits the character if the name is unconventional.

In this challenge, we are going to challenge naming tropes. If you write a villain character, maybe his name won’t be quite so villainous. The catch is, you have to make the reader believe it. Same goes if you write a non-villainous character with a villainous name. Your success in this will probably come down more to reader perception than any of the other challenges we have done. Some people might hate a villain named Queen Julia, while others might thing it is awesome that she doesn’t have an evil name like Ravenna (note the inclusion of raven in the name).

Let’s look at two more examples before we get into the challenge.

In Bound by Duty by Stormy Smith, the main characters are as follows: Amelia, Aiden, Micah,  and Julia. If I hadn’t mentioned villain Queen Julia above, which name would have stood out to you as the potential villain? Can you pick one? Or are there none you would see in that role? In this story, we don’t get to learn a lot about the villain (to my recollection) but she could have a history or her own story that gives her stock as a Julia. Maybe she wasn’t always evil. For me, as a reader, I had a hard time getting behind evil Queen Julia, though I did quite enjoy the series regardless. You would have to read the book yourself to see what you think, but that is where reader perception comes into it. Where I had a hard time with the name, another reader might not think twice about it.

In The Sword of Truth: Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind, we have a wide array of character names, three of the main ones being Richard, Kahlan and Zeddicus. In a Reddit AMA, a reader asked Terry Goodkind how he chose Richard as his main character when so many of his names are so unique.  Terry Goodkind replied, “Specifically because it was fairly common and I’ve always loathed fantasy names that unpronounceable. I hate stumbling over names repeatedly through-out books. I wanted a name that would be memorable for its simplicity and commonality.” (source)

Terry Goodkind challenged a naming pit-fall of high fantasy: names that are hard to pronounce and potentially pull the reader out of the story as they stumble over it. If I were to say, I just read a book about a guy named Richard, you probably wouldn’t jump to fantasy. It is a very common name. However, he does give Richard a last name that makes it more interesting, and potentially more fantasy – Richard Cypher.  Having such a unique last name does help Richard move more easily into the fantasy genre. The first and last name flow well together and create a more memorable character than just another Richard. However, some readers may still have a hard time accepting Richard as the hero in a high fantasy when he is surrounded by characters with much more unique and even melodic names.



This is a two part challenge.

Part 1:

We are going to revisit the lists that we have used for information over the last couple of weeks (listed below). For this challenge, we will pick a trope, a name, and a location, and write one piece of flash fiction where the name might not match up to the character it portrays.  We are challenging the naming conventions with this. If you want a villain named Princess Flower, you have to SELL it to the reader.

  • Movie Star
  • Jock/Cheerleader
  • Evil villain
  • Gallant Hero
  • Romantic
  • Nerd
  • Uneducated/Hillbilly
  • Emo Kid
  • Loner
  • Boy/Girl Next Door
  • Damsel in Distress
  • Mad Scientist
  • Village Idiot
  • Swashbuckler
  • Artist


  • Caesar Frayne
  • Jane Anderson
  • Ron Evans
  • Garron Amos
  • Victor Reyes
  • Lillian Cross
  • Poliquin Vane
  • Sarah Francis
  • Paul Marcus
  • Davion Meadows
  • Wilmer Kaine
  • Emmaline Cooper
  • Andrea Sullivan
  • Charles Hall
  • (or, use one of the methods from Challenge 2 to make up your own character name)


  • An orchard
  • A lighthouse
  • A castle tower or castle dungeon
  • A slaughterhouse
  • An attic
  • An underground storm shelter or apocalypse bunker
  • A high school prom
  • A hair salon
  • A used car dealership
  • A fishing boat
  • A hotel room
  • A condemned apartment building
  • A Vegas stage show
  • A cemetery

Part 2:

Let’s take a quick recap of some of the characters we have come up with over the last couple of weeks.

  • Mr. Whiskers, AKA Silverstreak, a gallant hero (who is a cat)
  • Charles Hall, butcher and aspiring author
  • Lady Amelia Rothburg, damsel in distress
  • Sarah Francis, a reporter trapped in a storm shelter.
  • Wilmer Kaine, retired  agent with a dark past.
  • Poliquin Vane, a silky, imprisoned thief
  • Ron, the used car salesman, or the man on the hunt for a used car to buy
  • Niven, the damsel in distress.
  • Vance Walker, the movie star
  • Dylan Osbert, the swashbuckler
  • Lillian Cross, novelist
  • Caeser Frayne, ghost reverend who greets the dead
  • Percival Blake, a construction worker hearing voices
  • Rose, the romantic.

I would say these names are all pretty fitting for the characters they portrayed in each flash fiction piece.  Now, pick one of the characters above (either one of your own or someone else’s) and drop him/her into a new scene (chosen from the list from Part 1) that contradicts the original character’s perceived story. Write a scene that makes the reader trust this name as a character in a scene where the perception of the name might not naturally fit.


As you read each participants posts and comment, take the following questions into consideration :

  • Did you believe the character fit in the situation they were in, if you take their name into consideration?
  • What was your perception of the name chosen, and were you able to look over that to see the new story?
  • We should all still be utilizing the things we learned during the POV challenge, so make sure voice any observations you have on whole as well, not just the name.






Experience: Morning Writing Session

As I sit in the park working on Solidity, just north of a hedge separating the grass from the graveyard, no less than 6 crows pecked their way through the dappled shadows, calling out and back to their companions amongst the headstones. It seems fitting as I write a scene from a story about ghosts, graveyards and ravens. Would it be creepy to move my camp into the cemetery? This morning has a vibe. #inspirationiseverywhere

© Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015

Inspiration: Travel

I have always loved to travel. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do near enough of it in my life. Sure, there are the short weekend trips, but I want to explore the world – venture into new places, wander the remnants of past times that have been so hugely inspirational to my writing. Someday, I want to travel for the sole purpose of finding things to write about. Someday.

In the meantime, I will settle for whichever opportunities arise to take me somewhere new and I recently had such an opportunity. Last year, my dear friend Lindsey moved from the West coast to the East coast – quite literally, Washington State to Washington DC…ish. I have never really thought about traveling to the East coast save the obvious New York City venture, but with Lindsey stationed there and knowing that she herself had not had much of an opportunity to explore, I thought it would be a great chance to have a real beans, explore the world adventure with a good friend. So we did.

Over the course of a week, we dipped our toes into the plethora of wonderful things to explore between Washington DC, Baltimore and New York City. I am not much for museums or zoos, or aquariums, or even guided tours of anything. I like to get out and walk, discover things that you might not see from the window of a bus. I like to be immersed in a new place, taking in the sights, smells and sounds so different from my home in Montana. We planned our trip as kind of an introduction to all of these great places, and now when I go back, we can explore those we liked the best in greater depth. We did a lot of walking. A lot. Just exploring the National Mall in DC we walked at least 7 miles in one day and still didn’t see everything. New York City much the same. I could write about this trip all day, but instead I will show you a little of what we saw.

Washington DC

We spent two days in Washington DC. The first we wandered the National Mall to take in as many monuments as we could. We only missed out on a couple as we wanted to beat rush hour getting home – something that can turn a 20 minute drive into 3 hours. The second day we visited Arlington Cemetery and the National Cathedral. I would love to go back to DC and explore more of the monuments and get off the beaten path a bit and away from the tourist. I am pretty sure there were as many tour buses as there were cars.


Walking up to the Capital Building. Unfortunately, the rotunda was under construction, but still impressive.




The statue of Lincoln is impressive. I honestly didn’t realize how huge this monument actually was. I also wondered how many people take the time to look away from his giant figure to take in the stained glass windows on the ceiling.


One thing I loved about DC was how it could make you feel like you were not in the middle of a modern city. Yes, this is a monument, but it looks like something from another time. The beauty of these structures truly left me in awe.


Speaking of stepping back in time, probably one of my favorite places was the National Cathedral. It reminded me much of Notre Dame, both in its size and grandeur. The attention to design and detail in the architecture of churches has always drawn me in.


And if an epic church in the middle of DC wasn’t enough, we stepped back into the gardens which truly could have existed in another world. It is amazing the things you find in the city when you take the time to look.


The Memorial Amphitheater near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers is another impressive beauty. It’s presence, however, was dwarfed by the vigil of the guards at the tomb. We witnessed a changing of the guard, and it was a truly beautiful, humbling experience.


We had grand plans for Baltimore. Both Lindsey and I love to read and had hoped to visit the Edgar Allen Poe Museum as well as his grave site. Another point of interest was the George Peabody Library. We didn’t make it to any of them. Baltimore has been in the news a lot lately for not-so-great things… but we figured we would give it a shot. The Edgar Allen Poe destinations aren’t far from the Inner Harbor and the Library is on a college campus. We both figured things would be peachy, but after trying somewhere to park near the E.A.P. grave and circling around the block multiple times through some rather unsavory neighborhoods and by more than a couple people who seemed highly entertained while talking to themselves and wandering in circles on the sidewalks, Lindsey and I high-fived ourselves for our decision to head out to Ft. McHenry, the only place on our venture where she had been before and somewhere that she knew to be safe. Who knows, we probably would have been fine, but we just had that super uncomfortable feeling that things weren’t totally chill. Ft. McHenry was great though, and we strolled around the Inner Harbor Area for a while too. I can’t deny that Baltimore wasn’t my favorite place. But we gave it a shot. And I have a soft spot for boats… especially old piratey looking ones, so the day wasn’t a total loss.

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New York City

I am not going to lie. I could gush about New York City for days, and we were only there for 8 hours. I absolutely loved it. I would go back in a heart beat. I could spend a month there and never get bored. Of everywhere we went, the Big Apple definitely had that culture shock  aspect to it. In Montana we don’t have cities. We don’t have skyscrapers. There are less people in the state than Manhattan Island by itself. And it was incredible, even if 90% of the things that we wanted to see were hidden behind scaffolding. It just gives me an excuse (not that I would ever need one) to venture back there again. It was a whirlwind trip that started and ended with a 3 hour train ride, included trips on the subway, a stroll through central park and down 5th Ave. We were rained on, terrorized by a homeless man and Lindsey was pooped on by a pigeon (the latter two in the first hour we were there). We tried some good ol’ New York Pizza, ate dinner at the top of the tallest building in the Western hemisphere  – on floor 102! – and I had the two of the most disappointing lattes I have ever tasted. There was no excuse for the one beneath the Rockefeller Center, though the one in Penn Station wasn’t terribly surprising. Regardless, it was a day to remember and a fabulous finale to a week of epic adventures. (I apologize for the weird order of the pictures. For some reason the ones I captioned decided to sit somewhere other than where I told them to… )



It rained the entire time we were in the city. By the time we reached the top of One World Trade center, I wasn’t sure we would be able to see anything at all. We timed it just right, though. Clouds moved in and out. Sometimes you could barely see the buildings right below us and then there were moments like these where you could see all the way to Times Square.


Lindsey and I grew up listening to the Beatles. We spent hours listening to their music. It only made sense that we would visit the John Lennon Memorial in Central Park. Our teenage selves would never have forgiven us if we didn’t.


A perfect way to top off the day. Sweeping views of the city, a fancy dinner and a glass of wine.

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We survived. It was an epic week long adventure and much needed reunion between friends. I can’t wait until next time!

Inspiration: Hiding in Plain Sight

Inspiration is a wonderful gift, often inspired by the most unlikely adventures. I so happened on one of those adventures yesterday morning as I drove to work. A hot air balloon had taken residence on the horizon, not an uncommon occurrence during my morning drive. It was further to the south than it had been recently, and I seemed to drive right towards it. As I watched it meander over town, I also took in the super-moon, still glowing behind the morning haze and was struck with a photo idea (I am also a photographer, if you didn’t know). How cool would it be to be able to capture the moon behind the hot air balloon? The moon is hard to photograph because it often lacks perspective. Throw a hot air balloon into the mix and bam! Perspective.

As I was driving down Main Street in an area where I couldn’t really pull over, I turned off and began chasing the hot air balloon, hoping for an angle from a side street where I could capture both balloon and moon. The path I followed led me steadily closer to work, and as I tried to calculate where the balloon might be heading, I parked at a park off of a side street. I couldn’t see the moon, but one would serve nicely as a new banner on Facebook.

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Not entirely satisfied with the pictures, I kept driving, calculating, and driving. A few blocks away I knew of an entrance to a walking trail that weaves through the old residential part of town. I wouldn’t have to go far down the trail to come to a clearing where I might be able to see the balloon and moon without obstruction.

I had found the trail a year or so ago and have been fascinated with the location ever since.  It makes me think of some hidden grove I might find next to a castle in Europe: old, twisting trees that reach out to shelter the trail, a babbling creek, aspen grove, tall grass and even golden field (minus the utilities plant it butts up against, of course).

I have been down the trail a few times and while always in awe over its beauty, nothing ever popped into my head that was story related. For some reason, yesterday as I chased down a hot air balloon, it happened.

After I determined that the chase had been futile – the sun and moon had almost lined up and the moon was mostly lost behind the clouds and sun-fire – I took my time walking back to the car, taking in the trees around me.

Almost immediately I remembered a scene I wrote a couple months ago in Better to Pretend: Cory leads Jenna down a shaded path to a clearing – a hidden oasis in the horrible town that is Elbin.

I couldn’t tell how long we walked. It felt like forever, but it always does when you are going somewhere new and exciting. I just about asked him how much further when the trees broke, revealing a shimmering pond ringed by cattails and tall water grass. On the far side was a gigantic tree with sweeping limbs and dangling branches that dusted the ground with the slight breeze. It looked like something out of a fantasy novel, the whole place almost glowing in the moonlight.

“You should see it in the winter,” Cory said, and I could tell he was watching me.

“The big tree over there looks like the Womping Willow with all its leaves gone, like in the scene where Harry and Ron crash the car. I assume you’ve seen the movies, anyway.”

As I took in the trees around me, I realized I had stepped into my own little oasis, and while the trees don’t look exactly like the womping willow, they certainly serve the purpose of illustrating what I see in my head. I could picture where the rope swing would hang, where the bench might sit… I was almost like walking into a scene from my novel. Can’t get better than that.

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And who wouldn’t want to take a walk down this trail?


All I had was my phone, so I don’t feel like the pictures really do the place justice. But, I will definitely be going back, next time with notebook in hand. Somehow writing about characters in a place where I could see them hanging out feels like an important thing to do.


I’ve Always Been a Writer

I still remember the first time I wrote a story. It was in 2nd grade and we had just finished reading a book called Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel. The teacher instructed us to create our own adventure for Frog and Toad and the story I wrote was so long that she offered to type it up for me so I could illustrate it properly. I think I still have it somewhere, buried away in a box labeled “Katie’s School Stuff.” I don’t have to dig it up to remember the exhilaration I felt at creating a story of my own (though I’m not going to lie, the illustrations were terrible.)

Putting words to the page has been a lifelong adventure for me. Notebooks were filled ramblings of my imagination year after year. I never went anywhere without paper and pen. I still don’t, though paper and pen have been replaced by iPad and keyboard with a side of coffee.

There is something about getting lost in minds and actions of a character and a good story that puts a smile on my face and a warmth in my heart. I grew up wanting to be a writer, and here I am.

For a long time, I kept my writing as distant from real life as possible, writing stories of princes and castles that were a far cry from my every day reality. I created worlds purely by imagination so no one could read them and judge me for my perspectives. I was afraid to truly put myself into my stories, and while I wouldn’t be opposed to being carried off by some fairy tale hunk, I certainly wasn’t going to write anything with me as the main character.

I am not sure at what point it happened, but I came to a realization that it is okay to pull ideas from real life. I still wouldn’t write myself into a story, but I am more than happy to write about a place that I visited as a kid, or how it felt to get my first kiss.  I used to fight tooth and nail to avoid writing anything about myself (seriously, ask my high school English teacher)  and yet here I am, writing a blog. Who would have thought.

Reminiscing aside, I want to welcome you to my page and I hope that you find as much joy in reading my thoughts and stories as I enjoy writing them.  I have discovered over the years is that I LOVE to talk about my writing. This page gives me an outlet for that. Here you will meet characters, share in their adventures, and hopefully in mine as I finally sit down and get these stories out of my head and onto the page.

Until next time,


A photo given to me at my high school graduation with a note scribbled on the back: “We knew you when.”