Tag Archives: novel writing

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.

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

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

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

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

Things I don’t write about

Note: This post is about my writing, not this blog. This is also one of the most personal things I’ve ever posted online.

WritingI wrote my first novel when I was 11. It just happened and it felt so natural. More natural than having a chat with kids my age (which explains the need for novel writing: lonely kids who like to read often write their own stories).

Novel writing was what I did in elementary school and in middle school (called high school in America). I wrote more than 10 (I know the exact number but it’s not important here). I never wrote short stories or poems. I don’t know how to do that: it just never felt natural. My early novels were short, about 100-200 pages long, but later I realized I was unable to write anything under 400-500 pages. Genres were adventure, detective/crime novels (with my hero detective) and SF.

It was back in the 90s. Those were very, very bad times in my part of the world. But I don’t think I used writing to escape that, though it did help, I guess. I did it because I was lonely. But in any case, it was my way of having fun, and escaping the bad things that were happening. I wasn’t delusional: I knew it was just daydreaming, but it did help to have something of my own, something I could control, something to put my mind, and will and heart into it.

It’s been a long time since I wrote a novel. And it’s not like I don’t have a need for it. “Need” is a good way to describe it, maybe the only one. I never wanted to write to be rich, popular or successful. I never even tried to publish anything (though I do want to publish my new novel, and all of the future ones- I feel like I’m finally ready for that). But basically, I just need to write, and plan my novels.

But there are some things I don’t want to write about, even if I’m expected to.

Things I don’t write about

Writing Eastern Europe and its madness. I know this is what everybody expects a Balkan writer to write about (both domestic and international audience), but frankly, I don’t have any wish to do that. Being born and raised here certainly makes me the way I am, and I am not trying to hide or escape the fact I’m Eastern European, female, Serbian, straight, archaeologist, ex-Yugoslavian, white, Eastern Orthodox; that I am shy, have possible social phobia, that my father died when I was 10, that I am nerdy, that I panic and worry a lot, that I love animals and that I often use profanities.

I don’t want to hide or escape any of it. It’s not possible to do it anyway: you are who you are, and if you are a writer, it shows in your writing no matter what; even if you want to hide it.

But it doesn’t mean my subjects and interests should be what is expectable of an Eastern European woman. In short, I am not interested in writing about Balkans. At all. Nor am I interested in writing “girl power” books that trash men. Nor am I interested in writing about Orthodox Christianity, or even about kids who lost their fathers. Everything described above is a part of me and will show in my writing any way or the other – but it doesn’t mean my books need to be about any of it.

I also don’t write about family or childhood. Maybe I’m just not ready, or maybe I’m just not inspired. When you try to put your reality into words it often falls flat. It’s not even close to how it really was. So while I do think writing what you know best is a good advice, I also think writing about reality – especially your family – is one of the most difficult things.

Maybe I choose not to write about these subjects because I use writing to escape the madness around. (In fact, it’s the most likely cause). My husband, on the other hand, feels relieved when he writes about living here, about the problems in the country and politics, or family. It makes him feel better. It’s not like I don’t understand it, but it was always different for me. Constructing and planning a story, using everything to make it work, exploring new ideas, learning about new things (such as lands and people) was always the most exciting thing for me. And there is no need for writing if it doesn’t bring either excitement or a relief.

What to do when you have 2 days off

Some useful advice:

  • Sleep in.
  • Don’t do anything in particular. Because you can.
  • Go to movies. Watch something profound or entertaining, but not obviously crappy (no romantic comedies, action films or parodies).
  • Listen to the music that was popular when you were 14 and that you considered crappy at the time. It’s still crappy, but at least you get to remember your early teens.
  • Visit blogs, comment, update your own website.
  • Make love to your loved one.
  • Eat popcorn. Lots of it.
  • Think about your novel. Plan it. Research. Daydream. Then plan and research again. Then daydream. And daydream a little more. It’s good for writing. It’s necessary.
  • Go to bed at 4 AM. Because you can.
  • Relax, take it easy. Don’t try to do way too many things.

Well, it looks like I did follow those tips this weekend (well, most of it). My husband and I are going to cinema tonight (to get a proper watching of “Sherlock Holmes”, because we decided watching a fun film again is better than giving more money to something we are sure it’s not really our thing (“Avatar”). But I will watch “Avatar” and talk about it- just not at the moment. For now, I want to relax, have fun, do nothing and don’t think about anything really profound… Except my novel.

Bonus track: 25 things I learned reading “Twilight”

This is a long overdue, last (?) installment of “Twilight” spitttings. So I realized it’s best to post them here first, then move them to their appropriate page in the spittings section.

  1. Sex with a vampire can kill you, but only if it’s premarital.
  2. Abusive, controlling behaviour is ok as long as it’s “true love”.
  3. So is pedophilia.
  4. Women are inferior to men.
  5. If they’re not, they’re infertile.
  6. Bad people are ugly, good people are beautiful (even if they don’t find themselves pretty and bitch about that all the time).
  7. Kids treat their parents as crap.
  8. It’s possible to be non-white and attractive (in a wild, uncivilized way), but it’s not nearly as attractive as being pale and white.
  9. In order to know anything about cars and sports, you must posses Y chromosome.
  10. If your boyfriend of 6 months leaves you, it’s perfectly ok to become suicidal.
  11. Blond females are stupid, bitchy and mean. All of them.
  12. Using swear words is bad, but stalking someone isn’t.
  13. Desire to have sex is a good enough reason to get married.
  14. Girls don’t need any skills apart from cooking, and no ambition apart of finding a man.
  15. Clumsiness is attractive. Safety helmets are sexy.
  16. People with bad complexion are not worth your attention.
  17. In order to feel smart, you should read classics such as Jane Austin and Shakespeare. You don’t have to understand a word of what you’ve read, though.
  18. Being forced into a relationship is romantic.
  19. Obsession and lust are easily confused for a true love.
  20. It’s perfectly ok for a father to hate his own child.
  21. Policemen are cowards.
  22. Being older than your boyfriend is a major disaster.
  23. It’s perfectly ok to neglect your child if you want to have sex.
  24. Logic is highly overrated.
  25. In order to sell a book, you don’t need any talent, writing skills or an editor.