Monday, August 30, 2010

Repost...The Name Game

This is a post from June 1st. I was having another conversation about character names and thought I should post this again.As a writer, I’m always on the lookout for character names. Sometimes they just jump out at me and I jot them down on whatever’s handy. At other times, I have to search for a good name. Most of the time main character names jump out at me. I’ll see or hear a name and think, “ohh, I like that.” Even if I don’t have a character for that name yet, some names are just meant to be heroes and heroines.

Usually I have to hunt for a minor character’s name. Working in a doctor’s office gives me an ample supply of all different types of names. We get every ethnicity, every social class and every age…well, as I work at a Perinatal Center, we don’t get every age, but we did have a 51 year old patient last week! I’ve never used someone’s whole name from work. I mostly nab a last name and make up a first name, or vice versa.

I subscribe to David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—if you aren’t signed up with this, do so. His advice is golden and I’ve learned a lot from these daily tidbits. The other day the Kick in the Pants was about character names, which is where I got the idea for this post. Mr. Farland talked about a movie he watched that he couldn’t enjoy because the names distracted him. In the end, he issued this warning:

“As an author, you’re going to be tempted at one time or another to play games with names. There are a number of traps that you can fall into here, but they’re really all the same trap: your name can call attention to itself and thus distract the reader, pulling him or her from your fictive universe. Be careful!”

There’s a fine line between finding a memorable name and coming up with a name that will make your reader scratch his/her head and think more about the name than your story. Admittedly, I was very confused by most of the names in Harry Potter when I started reading The Sorcerer’s Stone. While I became enthralled with the book, I really got tangled with Dumbledore, Hermione, McGonagall, but especially Hermione.

I guess my point with this example is, if you are going to have odd and hard to pronounce names in your book, you better make sure the story can handle it. Personally, I’m a fan of common names with a slight twist. The MC’s in my current work in progress are Sayra—which most Americans would pronounce somewhat like Sarah, but her Cuban parents would pronounce it Say-ra, giving a little roll to the R—and Chaz. I almost named him Chad, but liked the slight difference the Z made.

So tell me, what are your favorite types of names, and how do you come up with characters names?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Signing Guilt

The other day, while spending a lovely week visiting my parents in Delaware and the beach in Rehoboth, I stumbled across a book sighing. I was in the mall with my mother, waiting to get a new tire at Sears and we stopped in a bookstore—as we can never pass one up.

It was a small store and seated right at the front was an author signing for her first novel. Immediately, I wanted to go over and pick her brain, give her praise and just bask in the glow of her new release euphoria. Someone was speaking with her as I entered so I walked the store, waited while my mother purchased a few novels and as we were headed out, Mom and I stopped to speak with the author.

She was perfectly nice and very enthusiastic about her new novel. I really enjoyed speaking with her. Oh! And she told me she designed her cover. I know it’s rare for authors to have this kind of control, but she said her publisher put her together with a graphic designer and the image on the cover is what came from her mind. How awesome is that? I didn’t ask if she was agented, or self-published, but I should have…sorry.

I didn’t buy a copy of the book. From reading the back, I didn’t think the novel was going to be for me, but also, I was in a bit of a cheap mood because I had to shell out $113 for a freakin’ tire so shelling out $20 wasn’t something I was excited about at the moment. I know that’s not the author’s fault, but I think if it hadn’t been for the stupid tire—taking away from my vacation money—I would’ve bought the book even if I never read it.

So now I feel guilty. I know this is ridiculous because I can’t be expected to buy a novel every time I stumble upon an author signing copies of their books. As a writer, aspiring to sit in a book store and sign/sell copies, I feel like I should’ve supported her.

What do you guys think? Have you been in this situation? Did you buy? If you didn’t did you feel guilty about it?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How Do You Write A Book?

I was asked this question the other day and for a moment, I didn’t know how to answer. Sure I know how to write a book, I’ve completed five of them so far, but when you actually have to explain the process, it can be daunting. While at the beauty salon on Saturday, I was editing my current manuscript. The girl doing my hair was young and thought I was a teacher (I get that a lot when I'm marking my manuscript with a red pen—once I was asked if I was an actor going over a script-lol).

I told her it was a novel. It’s funny, people who have no clue about writing automatically say, so when is it being published? They have no idea how many steps it goes through before it hits the shelves. Anyway, this girl asked about writing. Her exact question was:

“How do you write a book? I mean, how do you fill up 200 pages telling a story, because when I tell a story it takes about five minutes so how can that fill up a whole book?”

Well, I sat for a moment, because I’d actually never thought about it like that. Yes, when you're telling a story to a person, it should only take a few minutes to regale them with a specific event during your day. If it takes 200 pages to tell someone about the screaming match you had with your boss, no one’s going to be listening when you’re done, and they might brain you with a hammer.

My answer to her was this:

“Well, when you tell a story to a friend it’s usually like, ‘He said this, and then I said that, and then he said this, and then I slapped him.’ The end. So yeah, that should only take a few minutes because really, when you’re talking to a friend and telling a story, no one wants to hear all about the interior of the room, (except if that’s what the story's about) unless a piece of furniture is going to get thrown. But when you’re writing you have to describe everything—or most everything.” (Here I gave her an example as the other beautician entered our area).

“You wouldn’t write, Charlene said, ‘how do you want your hair?’ and the patron said, ‘curly.’

You’d write…Charlene led Mrs. Peterson to the styling area and gestured for the older woman to have a seat. She ran her fingers through Mrs. Peterson’s hair, checking its moisture, looking for damage and signs of a dry scalp. She swiveled the chair slightly, so Mrs. Peterson could look at herself in the ornate mirror mounted above the station. ‘Did you have a style in mind?’ Charlene asked. Mrs. Peterson pressed her lips together, tilted her head from one side to the other and said, ‘I was thinking of something with a lot of curls. It’s getting cooler out, and the curls should last.’”

I explained to the girl doing my hair that a five minute conversation could take up five pages in a book when you add in scenery, expression, dialogue and emotion.

Truthfully, I always thought this was common sense, but I see that I was wrong. It’s common sense because I’m a writer and most of my friends are writers so we just know the basics of writing. There are so many people out there who don’t have a clue so I guess it’s our job to educate-God help them-lol.

I find the deeper I go into this world of writing, the more I’m called upon to answer question. I like it, because I want to explain what I do. Nothing frustrates me more than people who don’t have a clue about what I do, but want to give me advice because they knew someone who published thier book of poems. So all those people out there who have question, if I’m able to answer, I will every time. Sometimes, though, no matter how clear I am, they still walk away scratching their heads.

Do you all find it easy to explain what you do—the basics of writing and how you string together words to make a sentence, sentences to make a paragraph, paragraphs to make a page and pages to create a novel? I thought it would be easy, but I was actually kinda stumped. If you have a better explanation/example by all means, leave it in the comments!

Monday, August 16, 2010


I’ve been reading quite a few books that give the villain’s/antagonist's point of view. Usually, I don’t mind this, or at least, I never minded until recently, but lately, it’s been getting on my nerves.

I know what they say, make your villain three dimensional. Give them more shades of gray as opposed to just black and white, and to do that, you have to get into the head of the villain. But what I’m finding is a lot of telling. The problem with giving the villain’s pov is we have to learn their neurosis, there insanity and their motives all without making the novel all about them. What I’ve been getting lately is a three to five page narrative in the mind of a sociopath and it’s no fun being in there, especially when we’ve left some good and interesting characters to take a trip down the rabbit hole.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good demented character just like the next gal, but the rules for villains are the same for any character, show me don’t tell me. I’m finding that I don’t remember any of the information about the antagonist that was dumped on me, so it’s almost pointless to have it in the book.

J.K. Rowling was a bit brilliant with her construction of Voldemort. We first learn about him through fear of his name. Then we fear him because of dastardly deeds of those who are still loyal to him. When we finally get to see Voldemort, live and in person in book four, we are terrified by then. Not everyone will have four books to build up their antagonist, but maybe you’ll have four chapters to show us fear, show us henchmen, show us the end result of one of his/her tirades, and then bring on the villain.

I think about this whenever I’m writing my antagonist and trying to make him/her as shaded in gray as possible, as well as showing their motives and not telling them.

How do you construct your antagonist/villain?

Edit 08/17/10: OMG! I can not believe I had PROTAGONIST all throughout this post. It was like my brain had shut off and only now did I realize, "Dummy, you meant ANTAGONIST!" Thanks to all of the people who said nothing because you knew what I meant. But feel free to correct me in the future-guh!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tit For Tat

Taking criticism is often a hard thing. I know this, you know this and anyone who opens themselves up to have their work viewed knows this. I have thick skin, within reason, and I don’t usually fly off the handle when someone gives me tough love…if it is in fact, tough love.

I used to post my work on forums to make it better. Queries, first pages and so on, but now I don’t. Too many eyes come with too many opinions. Many of them are contradictory and some of them are down right insane. That’s the problem with opening yourself up to strangers, you never know their qualifications.

Just recently I forgot my rule and posted a bit of my work on a forum. I really don’t have a problem weeding through the nit-pickers or the flowery-critters and honing in on the true advice that will help me. And like I said, I have a thick skin, but what I’ll never have a thick skin about is someone who wants to tear apart my work because I gave them a less than glowing crit. Payback, so to speak.

I’m never mean-spirited with my feedback because it’s not helpful. I’ve had mean-spirited comments before and even though there was some constructive criticism hidden in there, I couldn’t see past my anger to the true meaning of their comments until much later.

In this situation, I think I was honest and asked the questions I had of the work. Not to be mean, but to give the author something to think about. Coming back and reviewing my post only to place snarky comments about what an agent will and won’t want to see, is ridiculous to me. If you’re not an agent, not even an agented author then you can’t say—with the emphatic certainty that this commenter had—what an agent will or won’t want to see. I felt like the comments were a blatant attempt to get back at me for the comment I left. Of course, I can’t prove this so really the point it moot.

Actually, my point is this; I’m not trying to bad mouth writers forums. They are awesome and have helped me in so many ways I can’t begin to count. But understand when you post on them that not all criticism will help you, not everybody has your best interest at heart and you may walk away more confused than when you started.

End Rant

Have any of you had similar experiences? How did you handle them?

Monday, August 2, 2010

How Much of You is in Your Characters?

As writers we often place bits of ourselves into the characters we create. Some part of me can be found in everything I’ve written. But only parts, otherwise I’d run the risk of having one fully fleshed out, three-dimensional character and a host of copycats.

My sister just finished reading my latest novel. The first thing she said was that she understood my MC so much. She loved her voice, her humor and she got her insecurities. The reason this resonated with my sister is because it was very much ME. My MC and I are polar opposites physically. She’s tall, slim and of another race than I am, but her personality has bits of me that I think my sister picked up on.

My MC is attractive, but doesn’t really know it. She’s a bit immature, doesn’t really know what to do with boys, and likes to work on cars over being dolled up. When I was 12 I thought nothing of playing games, climbing trees and being a kid. While other kids my age were out discovering boys, I wasn’t.

In the 7th grade, there was a girl in my class who was really nice, but really quiet. One day she sat on the bench while I ran around being chased by my silly friends. I asked if she was okay because she didn’t look well. She stood, perhaps to get away from our loud laughter, and I noticed her pants were undone. I pointed that out to her—being the helpful child that I was—and she promptly told me that she was pregnant and couldn’t close her pants anymore.

I was FLOORED! I feel terrible about it now, but at the time, I stared at her like she was a circus freak. My mind was SO far away from sex, pregnancy and anything close to it, that I didn’t know how to act around her anymore. This may sound weird but, even though I didn’t lose my virginity until 5 years later, I’d lost some innocence that day. At the same time—looking back now I see that—I tried like hell to hold onto what was left.

My struggle for innocence stayed with me so that by the time I was sixteen, all of a sudden, I wanted a boyfriend. I’d spent the three years between 13 and 16 having lots of boys who were friends—and yeah, most of them liked me as more, but I was clueless—to suddenly wanting a boyfriend and feeling like I’d been left at the starting line while my friends had been running for a few years.

This is what my sister picked up on from my MC. It seemed so real to her because I knew exactly what my character was feeling and going through. I didn’t consciously write with the idea that I’d take something from my adolescence and put it in this character. I honestly didn’t notice it until my sister pointed it out.

So tell me, how much of you do you put in your characters?