Posts Tagged With: Writing Tips

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

Doing An Excerpt

Have you ever been excited for a new book and gone on an Internet search when you hear there’s an excerpt of it online? Or have you ever just finished reading a book, really enjoyed it, and found the first chapter of the sequel near the end?

Excerpts are great ways to get people interested in your upcoming work as well as work that’s already out there. For each of my books, I make sure to put up an excerpt on my blog prior to publication so that people can see what they’ll be getting should they decide to buy the book. And depending on what portion of your book you use for your manuscript, you can possibly increase your sales tremendously.

But which portions do you pick for your excerpts? Here’s some tips that might help:

1. Should you use the first chapter? Some writers out there reading this will say “Of course you use the first chapter! What else would you use?” That might not always be the best option, though. Take a Stephen King novel: sometimes it takes several pages (occasionally several hundred pages) before things get interesting. And an excerpt is supposed to be interesting. So if your novel is about a haunted house and your first chapter just involves your main character sipping coffee in an outdoor café in Paris and meting one of his fans, it might not be the best choice for an excerpt. (It would be how King might open a novel of his, knowing him).

But if your first chapter is interesting enough that it will entice the reader into reading the story, go for it and use it for an excerpt. If not, then you’ll have to choose a different section of the novel. Now how do you choose that section?

2. Find a section that’s the right level of interesting. What do I mean by this? If you ever watch a late-night talk show (The Daily Show comes first to my mind) and an actor is one of the guests, they will usually play a clip from their latest film. If it’s an action film, then they’ll play a clip with the actor’s character in a bit of a jam. It won’t be a clip from the climax or something that reveals too much about the plot, but it’ll be enough to make viewers wonder what the heck led to this situation, how the character will get out of it, and what will happen after that. If it’s a romance, then it’ll be right as something juicy is about to happen but the clip will end before that juicy thing can happen. If it’s a horror story, the clip will depict a tense moment right before something happens and will end right before the biggest scare yet occurs.

I guess one could call this method “feeding the fans a little bit and making them want more.” It’s quite effective and marketers use it all the time for movies and TV (you should have seen me when I saw a clip from an upcoming episode of this show I like. I freaked out and couldn’t wait to see it on Sunday). And if you can translate the above concept into literature, you can have a wonderful recipe for choosing excerpts.

Now just two more items to recommend:

3. Brevity is sometimes better. I find the best length is somewhere between two-thousand and five-thousand words. Remember, you want to give the readers just enough to get them very interested and make them want to read even more. The best reaction you can get from a reader is “Wait, that’s the end? I want more!” So having a short excerpt can work very well for getting that sort of reaction, especially if the scene in the excerpt is very well-written and has a good hook to it.

And finally…

4. Wait for the final draft to give out an excerpt. The final draft is the stage of the novel when you’ve done all the edits you can and can’t do any more. What you have is the final product and changing anything might be doing the work a disservice. It’s the perfect draft to draw an excerpt from as well. And it’s better than doing an excerpt from a draft with plenty of grammatical or spelling errors or something. Am I right?

Do you have any tips for creating an excerpt? What are they?

Categories: Author Platform & Branding, Book Promotion, Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Comparing Yourself with Others

Comparing your writing to another author can be positive or negative, depending upon how you use it.

A few authors out there slam a fellow author’s book with one and two star reviews. Some of these reviews were honest evaluations while others were not.

Base your critique on such criteria as readability, storyline, plot durability, realistic dialogue, grammar and more. If you do not believe you can do this, then do not write a review. There is nothing wrong with that.

Authors need time to write their own stories, engage in social media and do whatever else to promote their work and if this leaves little time to read others’ materials and write reviews then do not do it.

I write reviews because it keeps my followers informed on what else I am doing besides my work in progress. However, you need to do what works for you.

Reading, though, does help you with your own work. I gleam a lot from reading (when I have time to do so) in the way of word choices, character names, plot ideas and descriptions.

Currently, I am reading Mary Connealy’s Calico Canyon. The villain is Parrish. I like the way Connealy describes him. “But his temper goaded him. He hungered to make her sorry for what she’d done. The image of her cowering under his fists kept him awake at night and rode him like a spur [my italics] all day.”

Playing off one another is great as long as we are not taking their words and ideas verbatim. There really are only so many story concepts out there, but the bends and turns we add make the difference. Take, for example, the Twilight series. The gut of the story is romance with a werewolf twist.

Remember to write your way, however. If you try to write like another author, you will fail. After all God gave you your own gifts not another’s. In my work, I try to set a scene with the five senses.

I also like to include historical details, such as I did in Ruth Ann Nordin’s and my anthology, Bride by Arrangement, set in Lincoln, Neb., in 1876. The book includes two novellas. Ruth’s story is The Purchased Bride and mine is She Came by Train. Below is an excerpt from my novella highlighting an old hymn:

“As the afternoon sun rays glimmered on the pearly keys, Opal settled herself on the piano stool. Opening one of the hymnals, she turned the page to ‘When the Roll is Called up Yonder.’ Stroking the keys, her fingers graced the notes. She sang as she played the tune.

“‘When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more, And the morning breaks, eternal, bright, …’ Footsteps approached. ‘When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there. … When the roll is called up yonder., I’ll be there.’ Finished with the chorus, she turned to Mr. Crowley, who stood in front of her. ‘Yes?’

“‘Miss Preston, you have two visitors. One is named Ada Wilcox.’”

My brother loved reading an author who added Native American details into his work. Doing this helps set your writing apart. However, if you are one who does not care for research (which takes time) then write what fits you. I enjoy learning about time periods and how people lived. By the way, one of the best ways to gather information is to visit historical homes.

I also read a variety of genres, including romance, mystery, suspense and non-fiction. I read Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln. It gave you a wonderful feel for the time period which helps me with my own writing. Even heartwarming, spiritual true stories, such as Heaven is for Real, enables me to capture emotions and to be able to use these in my own work.

In conclusion, it can be good to compare yourself to others if you do this with the right intent but also stay true to yourself. Write your own story. Garner methods and styles from others, but as you do so remember to fashion your own storyline and descriptions according to your own heart and dictates. God created you as you are so devise your writing as such. The Lord’s blessings to you.

Categories: Characters & Viewpoints, General Writing, Genres, Grammar, Social Networking, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Blog at WordPress.com. Customized Adventure Journal Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,373 other followers

%d bloggers like this: