Posted in General

Naming Characters

Naming things is hard work. Kids, pets, places are all examples of this, and characters are no exception. In some cases you can get away with just using a placeholder name until you can find the right name for the character. Nonetheless, when you’re hunting up a name, there are a few things to consider.

The most obvious might be that your character’s name is appropriate to the genre. Although this seems like a no brainer, it is something to consider, especially for genres like historical fiction where you’re constrained by particular time periods. You can’t exactly name your character Yosemite Sam if you’re dealing with Spain in the 12th century without raising a few eyebrows. There are definitely places where bending the rules around names are allowed and thoroughly encouraged (I’d personally say fantasy and sci-fi are the top two examples of this, but please keep in mind I don’t have facts to back that up). Even within those genres however, there are still generally excepted naming conventions and rules that apply.

When looking for a name also keep in mind the meaning of a particular name. We all know Belle means beautiful, and in the case of our favorite Beauty and the Beast Princess, and it suits her well. There’s no need to question what her role is. She’s the beauty, and she’s there to tame the beasty. That being said, also keep the flipside in mind: it’s not all that often that characters get to choose their own names, so a name laden with lots of meaning might also place a lot of expectation on a character. While that can be used to help you flesh out a character’s family life and backstory, depending on how well-known the meaning of that name is, it can also mean your readers bring expectations to the table with them.

In the cases where you need to name characters that are related to another, consider family patterns. Often parents want sibling names to go together nicely (Mary Kate and Ashley Olson; Chris, Liam and Luke Hemsworth; Jaden and Willow Smith; Fred, George and Ginny Weasley; Sokka and Katara). There’s always exceptions of course, but when naming siblings consider choosing a soft rule to go by, such as a specific number of syllables, or that each one contains a certain letter pairing such as double a or an l and an i. Those letters may not need to be together, but they’ll help give a cohesiveness to the group of siblings as a whole. This doesn’t need to be a hard and fast rule though, sometimes names sound nice together without any sort of pattern. And of course, sometimes names within families just don’t match each other.

Also to consider with family names is the generational aspect: sometimes names get reused and varied. A real life example here being that my middle name is Jean and my grandmother’s name is Jeanie. One of my uncles also shares his first name with another family member. That’s all on one side of my family. There are plenty of unique names for certain, but repeating a name from a generation or two ago is an option in some cases.

Finally, when naming character consider the region and heritage you’re working with. Although again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, many names can be handed down to someone because of a heritage, and most especially with last names as these often are handed straight down from parent to child.

 

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Posted in General

The Revision Process

One of the biggest things I struggled with when I started taking writing seriously was the revision process. By nature and default, I write the story without a plan and let it go where it will. Coupling that with the fact that I’m constantly getting new ideas and I’ve taught myself to write a rough draft pretty quickly. I have a constant stack of rough drafts that I’m pretty much always adding too. The big problem for me is that when I’m ready to move from rough draft to next draft, I always feel like I’m staring at a pile of words and wondering where to start.

Writing being what it is and being so highly subjective, there isn’t going to be a guide on ‘do this next’ that suits every writer every single time. However, while trying to figure out where my revision processes was the slowest, I ended up with a list of steps I usually take. While this won’t necessarily fit every person, if you’re wondering ‘what next’ this might give you some ideas of your own on where to head next.

Notes are a huge thing for me. Before I actually start editing, I read through the whole draft and make notes about edits I want to make. Usually I do these by hand and have my own short-hand for it (+ to add something, – to take it out, ~ for changing something completely). This way I can get a good overview of where I’m at and where I want to be.

A Character List is the next step. I do this so I don’t forget anyone, and so I can mark down who is playing for the protagonist, the antagonist, or themselves. Typically I leave enough space that I can jot down what their goal and motivation is. This makes it easy to see if I have hidden conflicts I haven’t touched on, or if I have solid reasoning for two characters to be opposing each other.

Because I use outlines only after I’ve done the first draft, Plot Breakdowns help me check to make sure my conflicts and resolutions don’t have gaping holes in them. Although I’ve used the standard plot structure (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution) to do this before, I’ve also found another method focused on the conflicts rather than the events that works better for me (I’ll cover that method in another post, so keep any eye out for it!).

With my characters and plot done, it’s time to make the Outline. I try to do this based on memory of the rough draft and with the information in the plot breakdown and from the notes. This makes it easier to limit extraneous scenes from the rough that either didn’t pan out or that just don’t fit in with the plot properly, as well as give myself a roadmap of changes I need to make while rewriting scenes.

Once all of that’s done, it’s time to tackle the next draft. At this point I actually create a new document and work side-by-side the original. This way if I come across a phrase or sentence I like, I can copy and paste directly into the new draft while cleaning up any questionable word choice as I go.

This doesn’t hold true on every single project I’m working on. Series are a little more involved because I also need to make sure the series arc itself makes sense and progresses. On occasion I’ve also come across a draft that needs a lot more work than just listed above–things like just finding the main plot, changing or reducing the number of view points, possibly even revamping the initial idea. In this case I may have to just work off the notes I’ve made and rewrite most if not all of the initial draft.

Posted in writing

Plot: Loss of a Beloved

Sitting in direct opposition to the recovery of a loved one, the loss of a beloved is a situation that relies heavily on emotions and motivations from your characters. You can check out the full list of plot scenarios here.

  • The witness sees the death of a kinsman.

Most often there is an executioner of some form to kill our kinsman, but in some cases death might occur from circumstances your witness predicted. The roles here are fairly straight-forward, even with the addition or exclusion of the executioner.

As straightforward as the roles are, this one still deals heavily with emotions, specifically those experienced during grief. Although the death itself may be a plot point, the reaction (or reactions) it causes are going to be heavily character motivated, regardless of whether it is a main plot or a minor one.

Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Choose Your Words

We all know words matter. This is especially true when we want readers to feel a particular way about a character or setting. After all, the trap-laden maze isn’t described as a happy place. It’s described in a way that ensures you figure it’s out to kill you, possibly in terrible ways. The same goes for characters. Want the villain to be someone the readers don’t like right off the bat? Your first description of them is your most powerful tool, use it wisely.

That however, isn’t always easy to do. Word choice can have a massive impact on how these descriptions come across. Finding the right words can make the difference on how a setting or character comes across.

As an exercise: Below is a series of words, one for characters and one for setting. Use three or more to describe a character, and at least five to describe a setting. (You’re also welcome to add more to the list!) Then go find the antonyms of your chosen words and swap them out without changing anything else about what you’ve written.

Characters

  • Youthful
  • Jovial
  • Assertive
  • Optimistic
  • Cooperative
  • Well-dressed
  • Compassionate
  • Clean/Cleanly
  • Wrinkled
  • Rotund

Setting

  • Lush
  • Rocky
  • Downpour
  • Steamy
  • Crowded
  • Odorous
  • Sparse
  • Noisy
  • Dry
  • Icy
  • Echoing
  • Moist
  • Stale
  • Cramped
  • Dingy