Book Setup

Creating Character Names

What’s in a name? Contrary to what William Shakespeare wrote in Romeo & Juliet, a name can say a lot about you. Certain names have certain associations or ideas linked to them. A character’s name can excite, terrify, or bore a reader (can you imagine Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes sounding interesting if their names were Roger Wilkes or Hugh Liddell? I can’t). There’s a reason why parents obsess so much over a baby’s name. They know that, one way or another, the name they give their baby will have an effect on it. And as the parents of our characters, we authors go through a lot of work to decide on names for our characters.

Occasionally though, we end up stuck for a name. We can’t think of one, no matter how hard we try. And if it’s an important character, we can’t proceed until they have a name. So what do we do? I have some ideas on what to do in these situations:

1. Use a name dictionary. Plenty of bookstores carry books filled with the most popular baby names, as well as names you’ve never heard of and names you didn’t think could ever exist (ever hear of Grunka? Neither have I, but apparently it’s a girl’s name in Sweden). You can even find dictionaries for names that are sorted by region, by what years they were most in use, by sex, by culture, by just about anything you can think of. The possibilities are endless.

And if you need a striking last name, I’ve got just the thing: some universities have directories on their websites that allow students, faculty, and staff to find contact information much more easily (my wonderful Ohio State does, by the way). An unintended consequence of this is that it provides a great place for finding surnames for characters, especially since it’s a big school with students and teachers from every walk of life imaginable. Two characters from my upcoming novel Snake, Blake Harnist and Angela Murtz, got their family names right off of OSU’s directory. It’s also great for first names too (though I couldn’t find Grunka on there).

2. Look to history and literature. Ancient Greek history, the Bible, A Thousand and One Nights, the age of colonization, Chinese folktales, Elizabethan England, philosophers throughout the ages. Any one of these is a great source for a character name. You never know what interesting name you’ll find among them that could be just the perfect fit for a character. For example, one of the main characters from Snake, Allison Langland, got her last name from a contemporary of Shakespeare whom I read about in an English class back in 2012. The name fit everything I was looking for in Allison’s surname, and I ended up using it. And with these sources and so many more, there’s got to be some great names out there (just avoid using Oedipus if you can).

3. Look through a cemetery. As creepy as cemeteries can be, they make great places to find people’s names. JK Rowling said that she got the name of Gilderoy Lockhart partly from a gravestone. And you can find the most interesting names in a cemetery: Hamoud, Earps, Rosen, Kraczynski, MacBannon, Chang, Gupta, Owusu. And that’s just last names! Imagine what you can find with first names, especially in an age when some parents like to give their kids very unique names.

4. Name a character after someone you know or admire. The nicest thing an author can do for someone sometimes, besides dedicating a book to them or listing them in the acknowledgements section, is to name a character after them. It makes a great gift, and you can even model the character or make them a parody of the person being named. It can almost be like an inside joke between you two.

Just be careful whom you name your characters after: sometimes if you name a character after someone you know, they may feel entitled to tell you as the author what they think of “their character”. For example: “my character does what, exactly?” “My character would never say this or flirt with that sort of person!” “Why the heck is my character a ginger?”

5. Use a name you dislike. Granted, you hate the name and would at the very least hesitate before using it for a character. But in situations where the naming of a character is proving difficult, using a name you dislike might be worth it. For example, I dislike naming my characters Jack or John (no offense to anyone who is actually named Jack or John, it’s just that those names are used too much, so I tend not to use them). However if I was sutck on a name and I thought Jack or John might work with my character, I’d use it.

I would probably never use Bella though. Stephanie Meyer kind of ruined that name for me.

6. Derive a name from another language. In many languages, people’s names are the same or similar to words reflecting plants, animals, objects, events, or concepts. You could name a character after the Hebrew word for mystery (“Taloma”) or the Japanese word for island (“Shima”). You can also take names from dead languages or languages that aren’t used much anymore. What would be the Latin, ancient Egyptian, or Yiddish word for something you believe describes your character? You never know until you find out.

7. Just make up something new. I believe I said earlier that parents are starting to name their kids in very unique ways (“Apple”, “Brick”, “Bronx Mowgli”, and “Tripp” come first to my mind). You could make up something new and interesting for your character, especially in a fantasy or science fiction story. Use random syllables or sounds and see what comes together. I’m pretty sure that’s how they named most of the characters in Star Wars, anyway.

However you end up naming your characters though, it’s up to you to figure out what is the right name for them and yours alone. So remember to have fun with it and not get too worked up about it. If you dislike a character’s name after a while, you can always go back and change it if you want to. I’ve done that before, and I’m sure I’m not the first author to do so. Nor will I be the last, either.

Happy naming, everyone.

Categories: Book Setup, Characters & Viewpoints, General Writing, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

How to Use KDP’s Cover Creator

The other day I posted How to Publish in KDP and mentioned that I would cover how to use the new KDP Cover Creator. Here is that post.

(Click images for full size if you need to)

If you want to know how we got to this step, please check the previous post, otherwise I am going to assume you’re right with us at the “add a cover” stage.

Click the “cover creator” button.

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This may bring you a pop up. Depending on what you’ve been doing to your book, you may want a different option, but we want to save our changes so we don’t have to enter all the info again.

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A little box with an orange swirly will pop up. depending on your connection speed it may sit there swirling for a long time, or a very short time. My net was running good tonight so it went fast.

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When cover creator first opens it will have a “how to” splash screen that doesn’t really tell you much of anything. Feel free to click “don’t show me this again” and then click continue.

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Now we have some more options. First we’re going to try browsing their gallery. I don’t really recommend doing this because if you’re using that image, who else is? But, we can take a look because those pictures are free and can always be a good cover placeholder until we get some cash or find a free image elsewhere.

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You’ll get a pop up with photo categories. Browse through them and see if there’s something you like. I am going to choose Black and White.

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This opens a selection of black and white photos. Let’s scroll through and find something creepy and/or mystical, shall we?

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Once you’ve selected a picture, click on it. This will bring up an image overview and a bigger version. If you don’t want it after all, then click on the category name in the upper left to go back to the thumbnails. If you do like it, then click “use this image”.

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The page beneath the pop up now loads with a bunch of design options. If you see one you like, feel free to “choose this design”

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Personally, I am going to try uploading my own image now, so I am heading to the “choose new cover image” option.

This pops up the image screen we started with. This time I am going to select “upload my own image”. Note: Images should be .jpg or .tiff and should be between 1000 and 2500 on the longest side.

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Click the cheery computer icon to get a browse dialog box. Navigate to the image you’d like to use and click open

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You’ll get another orange circle that may take a long time to disappear, or may go away fast, depending on your connection speed.

Once it loads you’ll see we have those same design options again

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This time we’re going to actually commit to this image and choose a design. Of course, you don’t have to. You can continue to upload and/or browse until you find something you like. Then, choose a design when you’re ready.

You’ll notice there are options that require no picture. If you choose one of these, you still get to edit the colors, text, and layout. Since those tools are EXACTLY the same as the cover with photos, I’m not going to do a separate section for that. You can use the following steps for either the image layouts or the non-image layouts.

Hover over the design of choice so that it says “Choose this design”, then click on it.

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A new screen loads. 

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You’ll want to close the tool tip box by hitting the x. Remember that you can change designs at any time by choosing “Start Over” or change your image by choosing a new one.

KDP has automatically put the title in for us, including the “short” that I added, which in this case looks silly. So I am going to close it out (by hitting the x in the upper right corner of the cover creator), change the title and go back in. Half a tick.

Back.

I changed the title, but it made no difference, as the cover creator refused to update. Since I am not going to use this cover it doesn’t matter for me, but if you plan to use it, make SURE your title is the way you want it before you hit that cover creator button.

There are lots of things to edit here. Let’s start with the fonts.

You can either use the Font Tool, which lets you choose from pre-made “themes”:

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OR you can hover directly over the text you want to edit:

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And then click to get a box of options

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Here we can change the font by clicking the arrow and choosing a new one

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The size (including an auto fit option)

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Change the color:

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Make the words Bold, Italic and drop a shadow behind them (useful on lighter backgrounds)

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And change the position (Justify, left align, center, right align)

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As you may notice, I centered mine and changed the font and the size, but left it white.

Now you can do the same for the author (you can see an example of drop shadow on it) and if you have a subtitle (alas, I don’t).

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What about those other buttons? Let’s play with the layout next.

When you click on it in the tools, you’ll get a string of layout options:

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Click through them to see the differences. When you find one you like, click on the layout tool again to make the strip go away. Sadly, I like the original best, so I am sticking with it.

Now it’s time to play with colors, because that neon pink is terrible!

Click on the color tool and it gives us the option to choose colors individually, or to pick a premade color theme. To try different themes just scroll through and click on them:

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Terrible, I know, so we’re going to choose the colors ourselves.

Click the color you want to change:

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And get a pop up. Click on the teeny tiny squares to choose your color:

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Repeat for the other colors.

After I got the colors changed, I decided to change the layout, too. Now, we can preview the cover by clicking the preview button:

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The preview lets you see it in color, black and white, and in thumbnail. Switch between them by clicking the icons on the left.

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If you’re happy with it, click the Save & Submit button. You’ll get a white screen that says you’re submitting your cover, and then be taken back to the edit project page. From there you can finish your publishing (see previous post) and submit your book.

Have you tried the KDP cover creator? If so, what did you think of it?signature

Categories: Book Covers, Book Setup | Tags: , , , ,

Another Way to Make a Table of Contents for Kindle

An author emailed me to say that the previous post on how to make a linked table of contents for Kindle didn’t work for her. I don’t know if it depends on what version of Word you use, or even what mood Amazon is in when you submit, but here is an alternate method. Microsoft has taken a stab at telling you how to do it, and you can try their directions, or you can see what kind of mess I can make.

If you’re familiar with styles, this may be easier for you than the last one was. (To see the images bigger, click on them)

Open your document and scroll to the place where you want your table of contents to go. Depending on what style you choose (we’ll get there in a moment) You may want to type in your “Table of Contents” heading, or not.

Choose the References tab:

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Click on the Table of Contents to get a drop down box. There are some pre-styled ones to choose from (this is what I meant about depending on what you chose, as you’ll notice they all have a “contents” heading) I just chose “insert table of contents”

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If you choose that, too, you’ll get a pop up where you can set some things. you want to make sure that show page numbers is UNCHECKED. If you use the drop down box you can choose some different styles, but for the ebook I’d just go with from template and forget it

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You’ll get a pop up. Just click ok.

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If you haven’t used any Headings when you formatted you’ll get this error:

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Don’t worry, we’re going to fix that. (If you have headings already, you should see your chapters neatly listed. you’re done. Yay you!)

First we want to prepare our headings by adjusting our style. This is easier than it sounds. On the Home tab choose the Heading 1 style and RIGHT click on it. A menu pops down. Choose Modify.

(yours will look different than this because I have some custom styles saved)

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This gives you another pop up. here you can adjust the font style, size, etc. You can center your headings (I usually don’t for ebooks). Once you’re done, you may want to click the format button for further tweaking

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I’m going to go ahead and make some adjustments to the paragraph aspect

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When you’re done hit OK until all the boxes go away.

Now we need to make those chapter titles into headings! Find your chapter heading, highlight it and choose “heading 1″ from the style box on the home tab:

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If your navigation pane is open you’ll see your chapter suddenly appear in it. if it isn’t open or you have no idea what I’m talking about don’t worry about it.

Repeat the last step for the rest of your chapters  including introductions, prologues, conclusions, etc. (I’m only doing six for the purpose of the demonstration)

When you’re done go back to the references tab and click “Update Table”

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And – magically – they appear

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The difference between this and the other method? As you can see they don’t LOOK hyperlinked; no blue font or underline, but if you hover over them you have the option to click them:

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I admit, I don’t know if this method will work for Smashwords formatting, too, as I have never tried it with them (I use the previous method for them). If anyone else has, I’d be interested to know.

*EDIT* be sure to set your Table of Contents and any headings with AUTOMATIC for the text color or you’ll get a nasty notice from Amazon that your color is not readable. Sorry, forgot to mention that earlier ;)

If this method still does not work for you, or if you have another method, please let us know!

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Categories: Amazon store, Book Setup | Tags: , , , , ,

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