Monday, February 22, 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name

Guest blogger, Tracy about naming characters. Sounds like she's another eclectic writer.
A Rose by Any Other Name – What You Call Your Characters.

In my newest novel, Bride of Tranquility and the first book of the series, Tranqulity, one of the four main characters is a waitress named Average Jones. I’m currently working on a young adult science fiction novel that involves a set of twins named Mary and Elizabeth. And for a detective novel that I have outlined, my primary characters are a pair of partners named St. James and Dean.
In case you haven’t guessed, I have trouble picking character names.
Choosing the right character name is very important for a story. Names are a basic part of us, given to us at birth like a label sewn into the tapestry of our soul. So when you give a character a name, it tells the reader a little bit about your character.
For the television show Supernatural, the creator chose the names of the primary characters, Sam and Dean, because they sounded like Sal and Dean, the characters from Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. Like Sal and Dean in the book, Sam and Dean of the show are always out on the road, searching.
When author Timothy Zahn needed to pick a name for a smuggler and fallen bounty hunter for the novels that were to be the re-launch of the Star Wars Universe novelization franchise, he chose the name Mara Jade. Mara is a word that means “bitterness,” and Jade is a name that means “fallen woman.” Both words described his character’s status and personality.
Average Jones, the first resident of Tranquility that you meet in the series is named ironically. Because each character in Tranquility has an unexplainable superhuman ability, they are anything but average. Even though Average’s name implies that she is ordinary, as the name for a woman, “Average” is a little bit exotic. In naming Average, I hinted at what readers can expect from the town of Tranquility – a strange mix of both the ordinary and the bizarre.
When you are looking for a good name for your characters, there are some excellent resources out there. Phone books are a great source for contemporary names. But you should avoid them if your setting is fantasy or period. The name Wendy was invented by the author of Peter Pan. If you write a medieval fantasy, then naming your heroine Wendy will seem strange.
Literature or historical accounts written during the time period that you are writing in is another good source of material. Henry, Margaret, Rose, Elizabeth, Mary, Jane and Edward were all popular names that people of all stations used in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods, thanks to the monarchy of England.
When naming a character, you want your story to stand out. In order to do that, you should avoid using the same names in genre fiction that are over-used already. Although it’s trendy to give babies differently spelled names now (Traycee instead of Tracy), you should resist this for naming your characters.
A final naming trap to avoid is to give your character an unpronounceable name. Worldbuilding fantasy and science fiction authors are prone to overusing accent marks. Apostophies, glottal stops, accent marks. (Why yes, Mr. Tolkien. I am looking at you).
Remember, you want your character’s name to either add something to the story, or at least be wearable. The last thing that you want is for a name to throw a person out of the story. Once you’ve lost your reader’s attention, it is hard to get it back.
If you think you have a good name for your character, try it on for size. Wear it around for a few pages. Try reading it out loud. Do the first and last names run together? You may want to end your character’s first name with something other than S to avoid possessives like Silass’s. And you may want to avoid ending a Given name with the same letter as a surname. Try reading Liam MacDonald out loud, and it may sound like Liamacdonald.
And remember, if you don’t like it, you can always change it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

More of My Way -- Rough draft

Once I have my six points planned it's time to begin. I start a rough draft feeling sick. Don't ask me why but I know I am never going to get the story down. I take the chapter sketch and then begin with sort of an outline. Then I begin. After doing the opening paragraph about ten times. This is a delaying tactic. My object is to get the story down as fast as I can. This draft is done partly in pen and partly on the computer. Some people do a book in a month and have a lot of pages. I do the rough draft in a day per chapter so my time varies. This is writing only a mother could love. Seriously, there is some dialogue, some stage direction and whole scenes done in one short paragraph or even a single sentence. I might write, they make love her viewpoint or they make love his viewpoint. She finds the body. There is a magical confrontation. Much depends on which genre I'm working on. There are no emotions, very little motivations. This draft probably ends up at about one quarter to one half of the book. Not many people work this way, but it works for me. I must know where I'm headed before I can made the story and the characters work.
The book I'm coming close to finishing began this way to the consternation of my critique group. I've never read them rough draft before. This story also had several changes, sort of major ones, during the rough draft. My hero had an older nasty brother. He remained the same. He had a younger sister who was supposed to be the new pharaoh's wife. Somewhere during the rough draft I knew this wouldn't work. He had to have a younger brother who would not be the pharaoh but something different in another book. This story also started out to be just a single book but during the rough draft this became a trilogy. At the end of the process I had about 25000 words of what looks to end up between 75000 and 80000 words. What I began with is not what I started with but I knew there were other drafts to do where all the problems would be solved.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

More of the planning

The next two points are the ones I consider most important. They are what and why. What does each character want and why do they want it. The why has more than one part. Not only why do they want it but why can't they have it. Since each character in a story wants different things for different reasons and why they can or can't have their desire are also different. These play an important part in the road map I draw to get from the beginning to the end of a story. Each scene has a component of what and why. What is the purpose of the scene and why a character is chosen to tell the scene. While planning my current story I realized several things and some of these didn't occur while I was doing the rough draft but came earlier in the story. At the onset the heroine wanted three things that seemed impossible. When she is given the chance to obtain one of her wishes there is a twist. She must leave her world and travel to an alternate one never to return to her world. There became a big why. Why would she choose to go. After figuring out why her other two desires were not obtainable, I had the reason she could accept this. Her real desire became the desire to live. Thus ended the first scene. The hero had other desires. He is a man of ancient Egypt, not the one we know of but one that is similar in many respects. He wants to follow the god Horu. His father has given him to the priests of an alien god, Aken Re. He desires to run away but something is keeping him from doing this. He needs to figure why, especially when a large hawk appears with an amulet naming him as belonging to Horu. The hawk is different from the hawks he knows since it often flies at night. The hero has his first desire and that is belonging to his chosen god, or does he? Does his father's command have more power than the hero's wishes.
This kind of what and why was taken while I laid out the road map for my story in a chapter synopsis which often changed as I wrote the book.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More of My way

Now that I've given my characters their names I need to find more about them. Turning to one of the many Astrology books I have on my shelf, I decide what Sun sign each character will have. For those who will be major players I also find a Moon and a Rising sign for them. This gives me the Inner person, the emotional person and the face they show the world. Here's a bit about one of the characters. Tira is an Aries with a Cancer Moon and an Aries rising sign. This double bit of Aries can make her prone to leaping before looking, a love of martial arts, a deep sense of justice. The Cancer moon gives her a love of old things and a deep need to find someone to love. Betrayal really does a number on her. I then do this with the other major characters, usually the hero and the villain, if there is one. Not all books have bad guys but I do love creating them. That's part of my twisted mine. Then I look at physical descriptions, Other characteristics will develop as I'm writing the Character draft.