What’s In a Name? Just About Everything!

Funny this article came through my email blast today, regarding naming your characters. Just in time, right when I needed it.

(As an aside: “Grayson?” Are you kidding me? I would have never come up with such a name. George, maybe, but never Grayson.)

I’m in awe of writers who can come up with witty names for their characters. They’re also the ones with inventive Twitter handles and email addresses. I am notoriously terrible when it comes to character names (and Twitter handles and email addresses – it’s j-l-h-u-s-p-e-k for everything). I usually use something generic and stupid, until I’ve finished the piece and start the first edit. Then inspiration might hit me like a bolt of lightning and I might come up with something more interesting. Maybe. Maybe not.

Now that I’ve finished my second edit of Finding Cadence, I’m seriously considering name changes. The manuscript is almost ready for querying, and I don’t want to saddle my baby with character names that are humdrum. I can just see some agent looking at my query and saying, “Maggie? She couldn’t think of anything besides Maggie?” I must give the name process careful consideration; after all, this book is my labor of literary love. When I first began writing, the original name for Cadence’s two-timing husband was “Tom” – as in my brother Tom. I love you, Brother Tom, but the name is BORING. Then my daughter went away to college and hooked up with an a**hole surfer boyfriend from Marin named Carter. After a bit of drama which included several tickets he incurred on her car and a trip to the emergency room (accompanied by a panicked phone call in the middle of the night), I decided to rename my errant-husband-character CARTER. Fit perfectly, and gave me more than a smidgen of satisfaction to click “Find-Replace” with such wild abandon.

Actually, I labored over Cadence’s name for a long time. I started writing the story without a first name, that’s how bad I was. I wanted a musical inference, and Harmony was too cheesy. (My apologies to anyone named Harmony. It’s not personal, honest.) Melody is Cadence’s sister’s name. Then I opened up my son’s Dictionary of Musical Terms and Cadence popped out at me. Now the name makes so much sense, since she didn’t feel any harmony at all for the duration of the story, and her life’s cadence endured its shares of ups and downs.

I might have to rename “Bill,” Jackson’s (Cadie’s son) roommate. I just don’t like the name, it doesn’t fit the character. The character is a big, lumbering, old hippie type. Smart, laid-back, and mildly attractive. Teddy, perhaps? Jerry? Kenneth? Definitely not Fabian.

In Virtually Yours, I ended up renaming just about everyone. Diana became SKYE, Lori became LAUREN, Scarlett became RHETT. (In that case, there was a gender change as well. Don’t ask me, just read the book to find out.)

By the time I’d penned Oaks and Acorns and Acorns and Oaks, I’d already started with kick-ass main character names. Amberly Cooper. Maya Cooper. Clementine Bartlett. Of course, I’m not happy with the sister’s name. Martina. Don’t like it. I’ll probably change it someday. I also will have to change the name of Amberly’s love interest, Trent, and probably Grandma’s. Don’t like either one.

I tend to draw upon my real life peeps for names, which might be why I’d gravitate toward George rather than Grayson. My choices may be thinly or heavily disguised. For example, Jackson’s girlfriend’s initials are M.T., just like the initials of the Real Life girl I based her on. Or I might name someone after a place I’ve been. Blaine comes to mind.

Come to think of it, I had a difficult time naming both of my kids. We called our son “Baby Boy” and wouldn’t name him until the hospital threatened to not release him without a name. And while I came up with my daughter’s name while she was still in utero, we ended up changing her middle name from George (there I go again) to Cristina. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I wanted to keep the peace.

Perhaps I name my characters lamely because they are just germs of ideas, not full fledged people, at least, not until I take them out for a spin and slap them around a little. I saddle them with emotions and problems and flaws they must overcome. Only then do they somehow morph from a two-dimensional thought into a many-layered organism.

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Nothing Could Be More Perfect Than This Stolen Post

This lovely missive was in my email inbox today, from Michael Larsen of the San Francisco Writers Conference. The sentiments expressed are perfect not only for writers, but for anyone who wishes to live a more perfect life.

Thank you, Michael, for keeping it real, and see you in February. 🙂

A Wish List for Perfect Days

In memory of my brother Ray,

a San Francisco Writers Conference benefactor, who had many of them.

 

If your days were perfect, what would they be like?

Your list will be different, but it might include:

Inside

  • having harmonious personal and professional goals that motivate you to do whatever it takes to achieve them
  • putting short-term goals in the service of long-term achievements with enduring value
  • living as simply as possible, as if every day were your last
  • knowing what enough is and earning it with daily effort
  • loving what you do so much you don’t notice time
  • balancing

–desire and necessity

–giving and having

–time and money

–thought and feeling

–comfort and the need to create and serve

–serving others and yourself

–sitting and moving

–screen time and the rest of your life

–work, home, and leisure

–ownership and access

–sound and silence

–planning, flexibility, and spontaneity

–imbalances created by the need to focus on an activity

–yin and yang 

In the World

  • filling your days with challenges that inspire your creativity
  • seeing opportunities in change, problems, and the unexpected
  • earning and enjoying the respect, admiration, friendship, and support of everyone you know
  • expressing gratitude through giving and service
  • having time and money to devote to the people, ideas, projects, and organizations you’re passionate about
  • learning about what excites you and what you need to know
  • laughing and making others laugh
  • making decisions, knowing that that money, technology, and other forms of power are useful tools but destructive masters
  • meeting your responsibilities as a citizen of a neighborhood, city, state, country, and the world
  • transforming anger about problems into positive action
  • needing no contact with the legal, medical, or corporate world, government, or large institutions, except to try to improve them
  • being able to work anywhere
  • helping strangers who can’t help you
  • celebrating your achievements

At Home

  • waking early, after an uninterrupted night’s sleep, next to your beloved, knowing the best way to use the day and eager to start it
  • having a home that has charm, character, and a garden, and that  is filled with love, light, color, art, music, and books, and that enlightens, entertains, and inspires everyone who enters
  • spending time with a family that is a source of love, renewal, encouragement, and wisdom
  • loving and needing the joys of domesticity but not letting them lessen your courage, discipline, and determination to pursue the dreams you were born to fulfill
  • sharing simple, varied, beautiful, colorful, delicious, nutritious, locally produced food
  • having a spiritual practice that brings you peace of mind
  • being at peace with your significance in 400 billion galaxies
  • living in a place that’s safe, good for raising children and provides privacy, diversity, a sense of community, natural beauty, a creative environment, access to culture and kindred spirits, local and independent sources of products and services, effective schools and government, full employment, freedom from want, a climate without extremes, planned growth that enhances the quality of life, community involvement, and the freedom to live as you wish
  • renewing your sense of wonder at the beauty and grandeur of nature
  • reading books you love without being disturbed, with Bach or Mozart providing the  soundtrack
  • working in your garden growing the fruits, vegetables, and flowers
  • using only what you need and minimizing waste
  • exercising your mind and body
  • understanding the value of people, information, and experiences and giving them the attention they deserve
  • having patience with others and yourself
  • being debt-free and saving for the future you want
  • experiencing no form of marketing
  • doing all you can as well as you can and expressing your gratitude for the day
  • making love as if it were the first time and the last
  • renewing yourself with sleep that begins the moment you snuggle your beloved

What makes a day perfect is subjective, but unlike this list, it’s likely to be simple. May every day be as close to perfect as you can make it. Like a rose, you were born to bloom. Now is the time to start doing whatever is best for you and becoming who you were born to be. As Anne Frank wrote: “It is never too late to start doing the right thing.”

Please feel free to share this list. I hope it inspires you and those you love to make a list and share it. This list will always be a work in progress, and I’d like to learn from yours. Many thanks for your time.

Michael Larsen

NaNoWriMo Brief Tip #4 – Carry a Notebook

We’re heading into the final stretch for NaNoWriMo 2012, so if you haven’t made it to the 50K mark yet, you only have a mere 24 hours or so to get cracking. Still, this is a good tip, and if you don’t already do it, think about it for next year.

Always, ALWAYS keep a notebook on your person during the month of November. You might not always be in close proximity to your computer and the wonderful word counting abilities of the NaNo web site or Word. You might find yourself in a place where there is no electricity. In that case, a small notebook (and pen) can be an invaluable tool in the writer’s toolbox.

Back in the day, I used to only write in long hand, as my typing skills were less than prolific. Now everyone knows how to type, including my six year old niece. But there are some places where I can’t take technology. These include the doctor’s office and the symphony floor. However, you might be hit by inspiration in one of those two places and have a few minutes to jot down a hundred words or so. (Hint: I also keep pen and paper near the bed, in case I wake up similarly inspired.)

When staring 50K words in one month in the face, you have to bolster your word count every chance you can get.

I raise my glass to you, fellow writers. Here’s hoping that your NaNoWriMo dreams will come true.

NaNoWriMo Brief Tip #3: It’s Not a Race Against Others!

Sorry for the week of absence, but my father doesn’t turn 80 every day. I had to go to Colorado to celebrate.

Back to NaNoWriMo: It’s been a wild NaNo this month. The first time I tried (in 2007 I think), I gave up by Day 10. The second time, I got to the 50K mark, as the third time. (I think. Who’s counting?) This time I started out with a bang, took a few days off, resumed with a bang, and then managed to add a few hundred words each day. (How? I’m not sure.)

In addition to being a member of the Romance Writers of America (PRO member, in case any of you have forgotten), I’m also a member of the local chapter, the Greater Detroit Area RWA. (I will admit that I’m a terrible member. I’ve been to one meeting in three years. That’s because meetings are late on Tuesday. Late is bad; Tuesday is worse.) One of the members threw down a NaNoWriMo challenge. She will buy dinner for everyone who makes it. There are occasional emails where we are to divulge our word count. There are only three and a half days left, so we’re all scrambling.

My brief tip for today is to remember: NaNoWriMo IS NOT A RACE AGAINST OTHERS!

I say this because it’s easy to get caught up in competition, especially when there are so many others in the program. And if you come in close, that’s great! (Last year, I exceeded the word count by Day 28; I’m not sure about this year.) And if you give up midway because of family emergencies, sickness, or lack of interest, that’s fine too! At least you tried.

I think it’s great that they give the winners a cyber pin. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make it. Give yourself some kudos, because just trying is HUGE.

Believe me, I know.

Critique and Rejection

How apropos that this article from Query Tracker landed in my email inbox today. What do they call it? Kismet?

A couple of days ago, I received a critique on the YA story I’ve been working on forever. I had begged my Editor for Life for said constructive critique, as I had never written anything in the genre. (Usually, Mr. ED provides me with written direction as to development and an opinion on whether the story will fly, but not this time. This time, he and his fellow editor oohed and aahed and implored me to hurry up and make the changes and submit the novel to an agent, post haste.) But since I insisted, he passed my draft to a reviewer.

When the review came back, he prefaced the email by telling me a few things. One, he doesn’t agree with the assessment. Two, Nameless Reviewer reamed me a new “b***hole,” or two.

Still, I’m no shrinking violet. I encourage critique, especially if it is constructive. Plus, I asked for it.

And the review? Scathing doesn’t quite describe what I read.

And guess what? I survived it.

Nameless Reviewer brought up several good points. One being that my technology was dated. Yes, yes it is. I started writing this novel in 2008. That’s four long years ago. I rushed to complete it because I wanted to finally finish it. It was the one piece of work that I already had 50K worth of words and was closest to finishing.

There were other technical issues that I totally agreed with. She reviewed my first draft. My first drafts are typically horrible, if not downright obnoxious. Especially true of a first draft that took me four years to finish. And I tried too hard. When I wrote the beginning, I had ‘dumbed’ down my main character. Teenagers these days are rather savvy and more sophisticated than what my character exhibited in the first few pages of my book.

However, I have to disagree with her on the rest of it. She thought it was an unbelievable tale and that my character was unlikeable. I am in contact with 14 to 18 year olds all day long. I see what’s going on. My teenage character is rather spoiled and not very likeable. I wanted to portray her as such in the beginning, because in the end she finds her better self.

Plus I based the character and her antics on my Real Life daughter and her friends. My Real Life daughter can come off as 1. spoiled, 2. bitchy, and 3. not very likeable. But my Real Life daughter can be very compassionate, is fun, smart, and talented.

Why do I blather on about this?

Well, for one thing, I’ve sent out queries and I’ve been rejected. I’ve submitted my work for various contests and have had mixed results. Some people like what I write, and some people don’t. Similarly, I feel the same way about some novels. There are too many books out there, and I can’t expect to like every one, or to have everyone like my work.

I like what Jillian Medoff said about writing as an art. It is an art. Like any artist, writers build their body of work. They grow and learn new concepts; they build a gallery of pieces that (hopefully) show a positive progression of improvement. I’m thinking of a gentleman I know from the Michigan Silversmith Guild, who is holding his 50 year retrospective in Kalamazoo. He was not proficient at metals when he was a college student, but what he creates now is nothing short of stunning and amazing.

Critique is not meant to tear down, but to point out various avenues not apparent to the artist. This is my take. Rejection can only be felt by the beholder, not by the artist. If you feel torn down and rejected, it might be time to start working in earnest.

The Importance of Continual Learning

Writing is a singular activity. It’s a solitary obsession. Sitting down to write a story or an article or a novel is not a team sport. The writer, like any artist, takes what I call are the little poofs of inspiration out of his mind, tempers and tests and does the fandango with it, before finally placing the art in a spot where others can see and experience.

We writers feel an inexplicable urgency to get the words out, sometimes with success, others not at all. Sometimes the work is solid, but needs a gentle, guiding hand. Other times, it needs a cattle prod and a machete.

Just because writing is singular doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. In fact, writing is such an encompassing task, I would recommend not flying solo. Since writing can be such a lonely business, it’s important to reach out for help in honing your craft. Even if you have an advanced degree in literature (I don’t), there is an importance in constantly learning.

I am not so full of myself that I believe my stories spring from my subconscious ready for an agent and a three-book deal.

It’s helpful to network with other writers. Some might even offer help by way of beta reading or critique. (Writers are busy and I wouldn’t ask; but if someone offers, I’ll probably take them up.) Even if they don’t offer personal critique, the writers I know have offered me a wealth of information on the skill of writing.

The fledgling writer should seek out classroom situations, whether traditional or not. There are always places where you can take classes, like colleges and even some community ed programs. But even if you have no time (like me) for a regular class room schedule, join a local writers group or an association where members will offer critique.

If you can’t make it to a class room, there’s a wealth of information online. Online classes offer the freedom of working at your own pace, while keeping you on a schedule that’s easy to manage. Thanks to the local president of the RWA who turned me on to the site, I joined Savvy Authors. Savvy Authors is one useful web site, featuring articles, contest leads, and classes and workshops. I’ve been in the Donald Maass’s The Breakout Novelist Workbook Workshop since the beginning of the year. I’ve had the book and the workbook for ages; it took the online class to provide the impetus to actually do the exercises. There’s plenty of critique and ideas, coming from writers from all over the globe.

In the past, I’ve also taken Jeremy Shipp’s classes online (Twitter @JeremyCShipp), and I would highly recommend taking it. So, I don’t write in his genre (mystery/fantasy/horror), but I’ve successfully applied his exercises to what I was writing, so successfully that I’ve used my exercises to spawn bits of other stories. I also enjoyed the class so much, I took it twice.

The amount of information out there is staggering. No matter where you turn for guidance, no matter which classes or workshops you take, there is always a value in education. As writers, we alone shoulder the responsibility for our growth and advancement.

Novel Update: Virtually Yours Forever

Somehow, I have managed to carve out six entire days of writing in the last week.

I’m not exactly sure how this is possible. I’ve spent the last two and a half months running around southeastern Michigan like a headless chicken. But look, today is August 24, and our summer rush’s days are numbered. Pretty soon, we’ll be back in a peaceful, nearly coma-inducing rhythm and we can catch our breath.

As for writing, it helped to have the husband in San Francisco for four of those days. Once I got into a groove, and after he returned, it was fairly simple to keep up the forward momentum. I retired each day for a few hours of diligent editing.

Most of the story is already there. I wrote Virtually Yours Forever during NaNoWriMo last November, after spending a summer devising plot lines for my sequel. I opened the file up for the first time in late July. The first week of August was spent mapping out scenes on color coordinated 3″ x 5″ index cards.

Of course, this meant first having to construct color coordinated 3″ x 5″ cards, because in this modern age, office supply stores are loathe to carry them. While there, I also snagged a pretty notebook – on sale – in order to further map out my plot and characters.

I have to say, it’s kind of a mess. VY4ever is 30 chapters long, and with seven major characters, it’s a gargantuan effort to keep everything straight. When I write during NaNo, I write like a crazy person. I don’t self-edit, I don’t look back. I just want to get the words down and worry about the execution later. As with the first book, I spent each day in November writing from one character’s point of view, which gave me a lot of material until Thanksgiving.

(The bride and groom’s wedding is scheduled for November 29. Between the 22nd and the 28th, the Virtual Mom world begins to unravel.)

Well, such a frenzied pace shows in the writing. It took a week of reading the first draft before I figured out what I wrote. During the excavation, I noted some pretty interesting and twisted dialogue I’d completely forgotten about. This edit is all about weaving the individual stories together. Then it’s off to my Editor for Life, and he can figure out the gaping holes or inconsistencies.

I’m old-school, so looking at two open Word files on the same computer screen drives me crazy. Add to that mess my 3″ x 5″ cards littered all over the living room floor. After three days, I had confetti everywhere, and I’d lost two pens and one fine point Sharpie. I was certifiable and my eyes were permanently crossed. It occurred to me (in the dead of night) to highlight what I’d used in the old draft, after placing it in the new so I wouldn’t get lost.

Yesterday, I made it to Chapter 15, meaning I’m halfway there. Halfway there in six days. I can only hope I can make it the rest of the way in six more, but that would be tempting the fates. It’s best if I tell myself now that it’s not going to happen, and pray that it might.

(I don’t know what I’d do if I had to work under real deadlines. As it is, my ED is a little behind on the last project I sent him, so all in all, we’re probably even. That’s what counts.)

I’d like to be able to tell you that VY4ever will be ready for release next spring, but that, too, would be tempting the fates. But I’m working on it.