How to Name Your Characters and Avoid Readers

Have you ever gotten stuck when it came time to name a character?

I have.  I’ve resulted to thumbing through the phone book, looking through newspapers, watching TV and just wool-gathering.  Sometimes that works.

I have to admit I’ve been taken to task for some of my character’s names.  Sometimes I’ve backed down and changed them, sometimes a name seemed just too good to pass up.  The main character from my novel FIVE, Ray Kurtz, for example, took some heat from “Heart of Darkness” fans, but I stand by it anyway. 

Are there rules for names in novels?  Well, yes, but nothing really hard and fast.  For example, having the names of all of your characters start with “J” is not a great idea.  Why?  Despite the time, effort and love we pour into our work, not all of our readers will have the patience to figure out that Jamie, Jan, Joe, Jon,  and John are different characters.  They’ll get lost.

You can make up names for your characters, but consider this, how many friends to you have with truly unique names?  …and, how often do they all get together in the same room for tea and scones?

Cute names can be a problem, too.  Robert “Rob” Banks, for instance.  Or one of my old favorite, Helen Fire…  clever yes, good for a serious character?  Not on your tintype.

And this, of course, brings us to SPACE ALIENS.   OK, I got it.  Aliens from another planet are not likely to have names like “John Jones” (with apologies to DCs Martian Manhunter).  But come on, names like K’Lktz’P’B’Frum-mptlla cannot be pronounced by your readers—unless they too are space aliens, and perhaps related to K’Lktz’P’B’Frum-mptlla. 

Image: forums.superherohype.com

But wait, Doctor Scott, you say, if I can’t use cute and clever names like those, and I can’t use all names starting with the same letter, and I can’t be truly alien, what’s a writer to do?

One thing you could do is to use any of the following excellent name generators:

These are just four of the many sites that offer this help.  I like the first one, The Seventh Sanctum best, because it is massive and massively useful.

Then, again, you could just say, “What th’ heck?” and go with K’Lktz’P’B’Frum-mptlla

Froward: Word of the Day

Froward, adj.

Willfully contrary; not easily managed: to be worried about one’s froward, intractable child.

The toddler who lived in the house across the fence from us screamed day and night.  Its cries never sounded like pain or fear, but rather a froward act of defiance.

How will you use froward in a sentence today?

Rewriting or revisioning?

Often in the morning, sitting at my computer, watching the clock, and frantically looking for a topic for the first post, I relent and grab a book from my pile of novels and writing texts.  Sometimes that even helps.

It helped today.

One of my all-time favorite novels is “The Magus” by John Fowles.  It is a wonderful book filled with complex characters and subplots.  It has been called ‘A major work of mounting tensions in which the human mind is the guinea-pig’

One of the features of this book is how long it took Fowles to write, and what he did with the novel after it was finished.

He began writing “The Magus” in the 1950s, originally calling the manuscript “The God Game“.  If you’ve read the book you will know that this title also fits well.  “The Magus” was his first “completed” novel, but his second to see publication. 

It took him 12 years to write and rewrite the novel.  I read it the year it was released, and as said above, loved the book.  But, here is where it gets really interesting.  While the book was published, was both commercially and critically a success, he did not feel it was finished.

Fowles continued to work on the novel and finally republished it in 1977.  I was startled by this, but hurried to purchase it nonetheless.  Once again I was enthralled by the story.  So seamless was Fowles rewrite that I was hard put to find the differences between the versions.  (Of course many years had passed between reading the first and revised versions.)

How does this touch you and me?  Even though the chances that one of my novels will reach the same level of recognition as Fowles’, what he did gives me hope about quality.  One of the fears I have—and it is one that has held me back—is that the work isn’t quite ready to see light of day… that just another run-through will clean up the red herrings, the dead herrings,  the last few typos or logical flaws.  Then I think that no amount of editing and re-reading will ever find all the mistakes in a basically flawed work, I put the manuscript away and work on a new project.

Does this sound familiar?  Surely not all of you will have fallen prey to this, but perhaps some of you?

What Fowles teaches us by the way he handled his wildly successful book is this, just because it’s been published, it doesn’t mean you can’t make it better.

Stephen King re-released his epic novel, “The Stand” (another novel very high on my list of greats).  Not being sure of the quality of our work is a good thing.  Paranoia about completion can serve you, but just so far.

The trick, I think, is to do the best you can, and let it go.  There may always be time for a fresher version.

Your thoughts?

How To Grow Yourself Through Reading

Is that title a bit misleading, do you think?

Of course we grow ourselves through reading, but perhaps there is something we can, as writers, do with more care, with more skill, and in fact to get the result that the Buddhists call, “Skillful Means“.  As a quick note:  Skillful means is simply getting two, or more, for every one you put in. 

I may have given this example before.  Two people work together in the same two-story office.  Both are required to go up and down the stairs the same number of times each day, but there is a difference between them.  One mumbles, stumbles and grumbles on the stairs during every trip.  At the end of the day this is one tired person.

The second person has a mantra that is spoken each time the stairs are used.  “I’m getting exercise”.  Not much as mantras go, but very powerful in result.  At the end of the day person two is full of energy and ready for whatever is next.  All in the mind?  OK, sure.  But I’ll bet you’ve seen examples of this very thing.

But what, you ask, has this got to do with reading? 

Image: dharmagallery.blogspot.com

Glad you asked.  Try this:

Make two lists of books.  List one would be the books you would take to the beach, or to read under a tree, or on a comfortable chair in your home—for enjoyment.  These would typically be books in the style you like to write.

The second list should be books that keep you current.  Non-fiction should be high on that list, but current novels out of your genre would also be good.  These books are the type that will keep you up to date with events, with science, with philosophy, and those things in life that go into making a good novel, but are perhaps not what you would choose for the top of your reading list.

Now.  The secret.  Trade off between the two stacks.  Yes, I know, it will make your fun reading stack grow, but it will also make your knowledge, understanding, and your ability to involve what you learn in your stories grow as well.

So, you ask, is this really all that necessary?  No.  It isn’t.  But the fact is, it is a program that will pay you big over time.

All I ask is that you think about it.  ))

Your thoughts?

Concupiscent: Word of the Day

Concupiscent, adj.

Lustful.

Elmo experienced concupiscent feelings while staring through the dealership window at the new pick-up truck.

How will you use concupiscent in a sentence today?

Are You Ready for November?

It’s in the air.  Can you smell it?  November is rushing toward us, it’s cheeks puffed out, panting and with a wild gleam in its eyes.

And why?  Because on the first day of November a remarkable annual occurence begins.   Yep.  NaNoWriMo, AKA National Novel Writing Month.

It began in 1999 with just 21 people pledging to write (at least) the requisite 1667 words per day to complete a 175-page, 50,000 word novel.

I didn’t hear about this until 2002 when a friend from work suggested I also join this amazing thing she’d just heard of.  She talked me into it, and I jumped in with both feet.  Speaking of feet, my friend’s got cold, and she quit about two days in.  

Image: nanowrimo.org

Well that made me feel good in an ugly, off-hand way.  I was stronger than she was.  I pushed on.   Ah, but here the story turns south.  See, despite the best of intentions, after a solid week of good productivity, I missed a day.  Man, talk about bummed out.  I hadn’t kept my word (even if it was only to myself).  I got so depressed about missing one day (which could have been easily made up, mind you) that I missed another.  And that was that.  I did not make it to the end of the month, and I (clearly) did not make the 50k word goal.  Sigh.

Then 2003 came along and I thought, “what the what?  I’ll give it a try.”

And that, boys and girls, is the rest of the story.  Yes, I completed the challenge in ‘o3, and I’ve completed it every year since, and sometimes by as much as 110k words (there is no penalty for going over the goal).

This year will be my 8th time to take part, and I’m looking forward to it eagerly.  I’ve got my new novel, “Wizard’s Blood” very briefly outlined, and I’m anxious for the scheduled excuse to put some things aside in order to devote a minimum of 1667 words a day to a new project.

So, why am I telling you this?  Because I want YOU to come and join me on this journey.

Here are the basics:

There is no fee.

There is no prize (you are competing against yourself)

You do get to see how others are doing, and you get a daily graph of your own work.

At the end you upload your book to the NaNoWriMo site, they count the words, and then they delete the file.

For the last couple of years a POD publisher has promised a physical copy of your book for free.

By joining you get to be a part of something huge, something tremendous.  Last year over 165,000 people signed up and better than 30,000 made the 50k word goal by midnight November 30th.

I think you’ve got what it takes to do the same.

In case you forgot, the URL is www.NaNoWriMo.org

Now, go sign up!

Experimental Fiction: The Non-Genre

 
I’ve heard the term “
Experimental Fiction bandied around of late, and I realized that I didn’t know what it meant.  So, I did some looking, and one way of defining Experimental Fiction is by contrasting it to mainline, or literary fiction.  In Literary fiction the reader expects characters that are believable, characters who act in a natural way, with attitudes and needs that the reader can relate to.  Literary Fiction features plots that can be resolved in a decisive manner, even if the resolution is somewhat predictable.  Literary fiction typically has a linear storyline, and is narrated in traditional ways. 

Experimental Fiction, on the other hand, breaks some or all the rules of Literary Fiction.  The problem with Experimental Fiction, as I see it, is the difficulty the reader has wading through the pages.  Rambling, unstructured un-stories peopled with characters with unpronounceable names, and unfathomable drives, are hard to identify with. 

In many cases Experimental Fiction is totally without plot, without a coherent story. 

While I have found some books of this sort titillating at first, my inability to follow often moves me to put the book down. 

Perhaps the trick to Experimental Fiction is to write short bits of it.  Short stories, dialogues, “out-there” essays.  Maybe the trick to understand it, and to make it work, is to do it in small bites. 

Interested?  Take a look at some recognized works of Experimental Fiction:   

Image: heroictimes.wordpress.com

 

Ishmael ReedMumbo Jumbo
William S. Burroughs – The Soft Machine
Kathy Acker – Blood and Guts in High School
Carole Maso – Aureole
Jean Toomer – Cane
David Markson – This Is Not A Novel
Gertrude Stein – Tender Buttons
Ben Marcus – The Age of Wire and String 

To be fair, I’ve only heard of two of these,  and have finished neither of them, but I’m interested.  I’m intrigued. 

What do you think?