Tag Archives: nanowrimo

Choosing Character Names

Choosing character names for your story/novel can be a lot of fun… or incredible pain in the butt. Some writers obsess about it, trying everything to get the names absolutely right, to the point of being unable to outline or write the story until they choose a name that fits the character perfectly. Others don’t bother that much, and will instantly know how to name a new character. Usually, writers encounter both of these scenarios.

Names are important. Serious academic discussion/research show that words in general have power to shape people’s view of the world. And names are often important part of people’s identities. So it’s understandable that a writer wants to pay attention to this.

A character name should be, first and foremost, appropriate to setting (such as time, place, culture – unless you purposely decide against it). It should also be easily distinguishable from other names in the story. But other than that – and this is where it gets tricky – it should “fit” the character.

What a “name that fits” actually means depends on the writer. Some search for name meanings/origins and try to find the one that fits character’s personality or physical appearance. Others pick names based on people they know (and love… or hate). Some simply try to find a name that “sounds right”, for whatever reason.

I choose character names based on synesthesia.

I strongly associate letters with colours (same goes for numbers, months, days in a week, etc.) It’s always been like that for me. I guess all people do, but it’s quite strong with me that it often makes it seem like a name doesn’t fit the person just because it starts with a “brown” letter and they have blond hair.

Needless to say, my synesthesia influences the way I pick names for my characters. While I try my best to make them appropriate to the setting, the main thing I do is to see (literally) what name goes with their physical appearance (meaning: hair, eye or skin colour; sometimes the colours they like to wear). This way, I often end up with completely generic names, but they fit the characters (in my mind at least), because the colours are right.

For example, my main characters in the last year’s NaNo were named Sarah and Tom. “S” is yellow or light brown, which fits her hair colour. She has green eyes, so a name starting with a green letter (I or K) would also fit. “T” is a blue letter. Guess Tom’s eye colour. And so on. I even had huge problems with myself for naming a light haired guy Mark. “M” is a red letter. So I gave the guy red car to drive (and parade around). Yes, I go that far.

Similarly, if there’s a character that somehow ends up with a name that’s not appropriate for his colours, I will make him wear said colour often. I won’t necessarily describe this in detail, but it will be there in my mind.

I guess this method is as good as any other. But not many people mention using it, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a bit limiting. Or if it makes you pick a name that “sounds perfect”, but isn’t fully appropriate for your setting.

My novel has arrived!

Photobucket There’s a reason for the lack of updates this time. I was planning this blog post for a long time, waiting for the proof copy of my novel to arrive… Only to realize I couldn’t afford new batteries for my camera to take pictures of it. But then I remembered there was a picture of the cover online, so… Here it is. The long awaited “my copy has arrived” post.

First things first: the proof copy looks amazing and professional. Better than I expected it to be. It’s a prize made by a NaNoWriMo sponsor, Create Space: whoever managed to write 50 000 words by the end of November got a free proof copy of her novel. Sounds great?

Well, to tell you the truth, it sounds both great and lame, because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not like you have your novel published, or in print (unless you decide to self-publish it with them). Still, it’s nice to have it as a real book, with your (pen) name on the cover.

And now, the bad news: the novel itself.

It is… Amateurish, to say the least. Well, it sure didn’t seem so when I revised it, so the only explanation I have is: I was stupid enough not to print it and revise a printed copy. Never, never, never attempt to judge your work unless you have a printed copy!

Sounds logical? Yes, but I skipped this step, thinking I was smarter than this (and I couldn’t afford to print 370 pages, but it’s not an excuse). I’m one of those people who have no problems reading text on a monitor, even a long one, so I guess I thought printing the novel before revision was unnecessary.

Wrong. Besides glaring mistakes in the form of “he looked at her with his eyes” (I shit you not), there are so many unnecessary and amateurish things, such as head hopping (sudden shifts in POV), awkward pace and repetitions. And it’s not like I didn’t try to fix those things in the revision! So I guess I’ve learned a valuable lesson: always, always, ALWAYS print your copy before you declare you’ve done with the revision.

Also, it’s slow. And not slow in a literary fiction, Ian McEwan “one day on 100 pages” kind of slow. Slow in a boooring kind of way. It gets better in the chapter 3, and particularly after the chapter 10, but people won’t read that far unless I make them interested in the story.

On the other hand, there are some good things. I’ve managed to capture the setting (a small town) in all its beauty (or lack thereof). Also, dialogue. I used to think I’m bad at it, but now I see it’s one of my strengths. I also seem to be capable of not revealing too much (and making the reader fill in the blanks, which is quite important, since the whole story is basically peripheral: we never learn the big things, only their aftermath, beginning, or consequences). I’m also decent at creating realistic characters, though I’d say I still need a lot to learn in that department.

This was such a good experience, the whole NaNo thing. First of all, it helped me in a very tense moment in my life, and it prevented me from becoming depressed. This fact alone makes the whole thing precious.

And I’ve learned a lot about writing, too. I’ve learned that it’s possible to write on command, so to speak, without waiting for your muse. It’s difficult to wait for your muse when you have one hour of free time to write per day, for example. So you just start writing and… It works. I never believed it’s possible, but it is. So it’s a good thing to know.

I also learned how to squeeze things, so to speak. I still ended at 90 000 words where 70-80 000 would be more appropriate, but I’m learning how to control my writing.

And I learned how to handle dialogue. And how to reveal, explain, and describe using dialogue and action, not mere description (the “show, don’t tell rule”).

I also learned how to write from a male POV, and make the guy seem and sound like a guy (even in sex scenes! Go me!), which is something many female writers are unable to do right (see Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry … or Twilight for that matter (or better, not). Though a guy sounding like a girl is not the biggest problem with Perfect Chemistry, but it’s another story). Writing from a male POV is very important for me, since my fantasy novel has a male protagonist.

Finally, I learned a few things from my mistakes. The biggest one probably being: print, print, always print your work before/during/after revision.

So I’d say the experience was positive. I will leave this novel for now (though I already penned a few things that are crucial for the second revision), and I’ll focus on the new stuff. I sure want to start writing my fantasy novel (it’s been 8 years and counting, and I’m still unsure if I’m ready), and for this year’s NaNo, I want to face what it seems like the biggest challenge: writing in English. I know I’m not ready for it, but I’ll never be ready unless I try, and fail, and try again, and fail a little less. I’ll probably start with something simple, a YA (young adult) story, and I already have not one, but two ideas (one realistic, and another with a premise so absurd that it begs to be explored).

Writing Chapter Titles

The first thing Sarah Miller did on her seventeenth birthday was to go to the bathroom and shove a toothbrush handle deep down her throat.

This is the first line in my novel, “A Postcard from Hades”, written for the last year’s NaNoWriMo. I’m at the final stages of the (somewhat) exhausting revision process.

There are 27 chapters, and the novel is about 90 000 words long. There were no chapter titles at first, but then I thought it would be a good idea to include them anyway.

So, here they are, the translated chapter titles! Most of them are related to certain sensory impressions, and not the plot relevant for the chapter. That’s why the image they paint together might not accurately describe the novel (same goes for the novel title, btw).

For example, “Vibrations” describe a New Year’s party with the loud music and bass lines vibrating the house. But it’s also the chapter in which my main male character loses his virginity. In “Rain”, characters meet after an argument, and it’s raining, which is quite rare for the climate of their small town. But there are also chapter titles related to the plot, or those that describe my characters (namely, “Alarm clock, bird and fountain pen”).

Ignore sloppy translation, grammar mistakes, etc. One of the worst things is knowing my English is not good enough to actually, well, write in English. But I digress.

Chapter titles

The novel has four parts, with little vignettes between them.

I
1. Waking Up
2. Introducing Aristotle
3. Encounters
4. Behind a Rusty Gate
5. Ethos, Logos, Pathos
6. On the Swings

D.S. Miller: Novel as an Argument

II
7. To Know Each Other
8. Life in Short
9. Little Pink Cap
10. Rain
11. Town Lives
12. In a Narrow Corridor

D.S. Miller interview (excerpt), Northern Journal of Literature and Art

III
13. Vibrations
14. Together, Alone
15. Fists and Blood
16. Preparation
17. The Other Worlds
18. After the Change
19. Sewing Room
20. Two Stories

D.S. Miller’s Writing Advice

IV
21. Punishment
22. Stained Seats
23. Alarm Clock, Bird and Fountain Pen
24. Accepting Reality
25. Life in Short
26. On a Hidden Bench
27. Departure

How to Choose a Pen Name

Shot answer: I have no idea.

I know I need one, that’s for sure. I need one soon, and I have no idea how to choose/create it. Needless to say, this is unsettling.

Why do I need a pen name? Technically, I don’t. My name is good enough. My maiden name didn’t suit my first name at all, but that’s another story. But since I want to write in English (I do! I promise!) I need something (hypothetical) English-speakers can spell and pronounce.

But that’s not all. I also want something gender neutral. And culture (ethnicity? race?) neutral. I am honestly not sure if it’s even possible to create such a pen name.

To be honest, I don’t need it at the moment. But I guess I need some time to get used to it, so it’s better to create it now so I could be comfortable with it after a while. I’m one of those people who believe a name is just a marker; it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not who I really am. But then again I can’t imagine my novel published under name “Jane Smith”.

At least I know what I’ll do with my NaNo novel. I will order a proof copy and I need a name for the cover, so I guess I’ll use an alias I am already comfortable with. This one. Jefflion. I might add some initials in front of it (M, T, or U , or all – M standing for my name, T for my maiden name and U for my last name), but we’ll see.

I guess I’m making this more complicated than it should be. Sure choosing a pen name should be fun, right? Not for me. I have zero ideas. Maybe that’s because I don’t even know what is considered gender (and culture) neutral name? Or becuase I can’t create a “catchy” name? Or both?

I Finished My Novel

Yes. Finally. I finished my NaNoWriMo novel. And yes, it’s long overdue, because NaNo ended in November (more about that in a minute). But this is a very special moment because last time I finished a novel… It was more than 13 years ago.

Of course, it’s just a first draft. There’s a lot of editing to do. Currently, it stands at 102 000 words. Out of these, around 86 000 were written in November, during NaNo, and the rest (the last 6 chapters) in December. You could tell I really slowed down in December (be it because I’ve encountered a problem with the plot (yes), or because I lacked the motivation and the rush NaNo gives you). In any case, I managed to finish the first draft on December 30th. I still need to write one short scene in the middle and include a couple of pages between different sections of the book, and then I will have to start cutting. My goal is to make it around 80 000 words.

Additional details

The working title was “Hardin Hades” (in lack of a more inspirational one), but towards the end I’ve decided to change it to “A Postcard From Hades” (or something along those lines). The problem is, the title seems like something more appropriate for a horror story.

Also, I still don’t know what the novel is “about”. It’s obviously, more character than plot driven, but it’s not as heavy as some literary fiction is. Alternatively (and I cringe at this), it can be seen as romance, or young adult. The problem is, there’s way too much sex for YA.

Speaking of which, the sex in the story is not erotica, but very Judy Blume style. It’s the only way those scenes could be written. (The only way that makes sense).

What I learned

I learned that I still have “it”. I still have the urge and the need, and I still have the will needed to write, plot and outline.

I learned I still enjoy it, very much.

I learned I still can’t write short: in my mind, this was a small novel, and I wondered if I’d be able to make it 50 000 words long. But it turned out to be more than 100 000 words.

I also learned I am not as bad at writing dialogues as I thought I was. Some of it came naturally to me, and writing most of it was really easy. On the other hand, I learned I have a problem with so-called transitional scenes, in which I have to describe stuff that happened but not directly show it (and no, contrary to what writing advice says, you shouldn’t always stick to “show, don’t tell” rule. Some things you have to tell (and not show), or else your novel will be either very long or fragmented).

I learned I can write explicit rape scene, but not a regular sex scene from a male POV.

And, very importantly: I learned I’m able to write “on command”, meaning, whenever I find time, no matter how small it is. This is very important, because of the time management.

In any case, I am really excited about this, and, dare to say, proud I finished this novel. It’s not my first, it’s actually my 13th, but it’s been a while. NaNoWriMO came at a perfect moment, and it helped me a lot. It gave me hope and support in a moment I really needed it.

Of course, it also helped me with my writing. My style is still unpolished and not as sharp as I want it to be, but I feel like I’m making a progress. More importantly, I am enjoying it, and I am more and more inspired to write something new. Maybe I should really start working on a novel I’ve been outlining for 7 years now (a fantasy novel I still don’t feel ready to do… But I will have to start at one point because it just won’t be any easier to do it. When novels are in your head for so long, they grow to great proportions, great significance, and it just puts a lot of pressure on you to actually start and write it).

Also, I got an idea (well, updated an older idea) for a dystopian novel about cloning. This one might have a potential. And yes, I know we don’t really need more dystopian novels about cloning (and I’m certainly not as skillful as some writers to pull it off), but it’s ok, because it won’t really be about cloning but something else (as usual). A really intimate story, you could say.

I just wanted to share this with you. :)