Friday, December 21, 2012

What's in a Name? How Do You Name Your Characters?

YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday #161, What's in a name?

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

We'd love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link - or, if you prefer, you can include your answer in the comments.

This Week's Topic is:
 The list of top baby names in 2012 had us talking about naming characters. How do you decide on names? Would you ever name a character after a friend/family member/ex?

When I began writing shorts and intro's to novels, I would always use the names of family and friends. My heart was in the right place, I thought, When this book becomes a world-wide best seller, [blank] will feel so loved because they are a character in my awesome story. And I tried it. I named characters after people I love, my kids, my friends, my family....but after trying this for many, many times, I realized that I had to break free of it.  The reason? Because it's limiting.

Primarily, this is because I find that if I name a character for someone I know, that character begins to act as the person I know would. Perhaps this is fine IF the character's nature is similar to the real counterpart, but often, I am melding various characteristics of many people or creating someone that I've never met and therefore, it becomes hard to keep the fictional person acting in tune when they hold the namesake of someone I know. So...sorry everyone, I love you but you'll have to settle for being in the credits and dedications.

Instead, I have used various methods. For main characters, I usually know their names as I am thinking about the concept for the story. They're as integral to the story line as the plot elements are. In my post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy (unofficially referred to as "The Paragon", I chose the name "West Lambert" for the lead. Now, it is true that her last name is also the name of the airport in St. Louis and since I'm from Missouri that was a little bit of love for the Midwest, however, it has very little bearing on the story. West, however, does. The name invokes something a bit androgynous and strong. West is far from girly. She's brave and ready to blow where the wind takes her and for all her faults, she's a wise soul. It seemed fitting for her.

Some names, such as Laura "Lula" Fontaine, the character from my middle-grade fantasy novel, which I'm now calling "The Girl Who Lost Her Imagination and How She Came to Find It", had the right mix of somber and whimsy to make the plot elements work together. 

Sometimes it's trial and error- some of the supporting roles have names I change half-way through the rough draft, just to see how I like them when they're in use. For example, in "The Paragon," I changed Bastian's name from Benjamin about 20 pages in. I just got sick of writing it and it didn't feel right, so I switched it up. I have also looked up names from various eras and cultures and would consult a baby name website if I just needed a way to get the ideas flowing.

Naming characters is fun though. Once they have a name, they come to life. There's a lot in a name and if affects their personality, their actions, and the way other characters relate to them...just like in real life. 

If you want to share your process, tell us about it- create a post on your blog and post a link in the comments or, share what you decided to name your child and why...perhaps it was a family namesake, perhaps you liked the meaning? It's all creative wordplay and I love hearing from you!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Rough Draft is Crappier Than Yours!

So you get to the end of your rough draft! Yay! Congratulations! Sure, it's rough- I wonder if that's how it got its name...yes. It is because rough drafts are supposed to stink like last month's dirty diapers. Thank goodness mine doesn't disappoint.

Okay fine. So maybe I'm being overly critical (or dare I say it...dramatic?!) but I haven't been able to take my eyes off of it since I completed it and since it's been hard to concentrate on anything else (see date of last blog post for confirmation), and the more I look at it the more I feel like taking a red pen and marking out every. single. word.

Then I "talk" to my Facebook writer's group- a collection of people from whom I receive a huge amount of support (which is something fantastic indeed since a lot of online writer's groups post a lot of self-promotion and not a lot of writer-to-writer talk)- and I read about what to do next, and I'm told by anyone who has walked this path to step away from it for a good long while- 4 to 6 weeks to be exact- which may seem like a small task, even a blessing, but when you are wholly vested in the 60,000+ words of your story and you have a date in mind when you want to see it on your shelf (summer 2013), you don't have time to dilly dally with letting your story marinate and your eyes see it fresh. Fresh. I can look at it with fresh eyes after only 4 days- just watch me. Oh wait, go back to previous text...It stinks. Mark out every word. Start all over again.

Seriously, people, at this point, I've totally rewritten about 2,000 words with a totally new voice, a new story line in mind, and you guessed it- a new working title. Know another way to describe this...yeah- writing a NEW BOOK. I don't know if that is covered under the guise of editing but I'm about to find out.

If you clicked on this post hoping to get a tidbit of advice from an old pro- back up in your browser and try the next article- this girl is as green as green bowl full of green peas in the green grass covered in moldy green mint cookies. Green, green, green. However, if you clicked on this hoping to commiserate, laugh at a completely disillusioned writer, or perhaps feel a little better that you only want to mark out every. other. word, then let's hug and have a good laugh because that's what I'm here for.

If you think that this is a sign of me giving up. Forget it. Not happening. If you think that this is the sign of me reading any and everything regarding editing, rewriting, and bugging every person I know that has published a book for sage-like advice, then ding-ding! you're totally on target. (And no, I am not feeling aggressive, just passionately convincing myself that failure is not an option.)

Get your red pens 4 to 6 weeks.

Uh-huh- I've cartooned myself editing without a shirt on. I work from home, aren't you glad?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cherry On Top Tales #3: Bad Career Day

Photo Courtesy of my friend, Rachael Garneau

Bad Career Day

Lorelei lived in the shadows like everyone else, but for some reason, she never fit in. 

She tried and tried, but whether she wore her black outfit with white accents or her white outfit with black accents, you could always pick her out in a crowd.

Aside from making her terribly uncomfortable, it never mattered much, until the day they went to war with the Nighttime. And then, she realized, she should have chosen a different profession.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I WON NaNoWriMo 2012! Now What?...

I can't believe it. After 30 days of writing abandon, we made it through. A relatively small number of us won the challenge and wrote a jaw-dropping 50,000 words during the month of November. Pat yourself on the back, raise a toast, eat a whole chocolate cake by yourself- what ever it takes to make you feel the weight of this accomplishment. That's a lot of work, people. It's 150 pages in a paperback novel- it's 100 times the length of the average college freshman English paper, and it required a daily commitment to put writing at the top of the list. Really. Wow.

But now what?!
You know you love my little naked stick person sitting at her 2D laptop. Hush!

Now we have ourselves 50,000 words (or more- you overachievers) but where do we go from here? Most of us are only half way up the ladder at this point. 50,000 words, although a trial to produce in a month's time, is not quite what most consider a full-length novel. But it's close! In the book Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham he states that the average novel is between 60-90,000 words finished to meet both minimum standards of most readers and maximum costs for publishing- though I'd wager those figures aren't set in're losing us A.B....

Ok, sorry- so what do you do now? The point of the previous paragraph was to let you know that if you're not quite done with your novel, then you're probably right on track. If you are done- well, that's fine too because next is....

That's right, ol' buddy ol' pal, when you finally get to "The End" you'll have to start over again at "Once Upon a Time" and rewrite your baby from start to finish again. This part is often dreaded, but I'm looking forward to it....perhaps I'm nuts. But I've gotten a lot of inspiration from fellow writers including Veronica Roth, Liz Schulte that are super first draft cheerleaders. "Just get it on paper," they say, "then fix it!" And I'm looking forward to fixing this one, because let me tell you- it's a MESS! 

I changed characters'  and places names half-way through, wrote scenes out of order, and flat out skipped portions that I didn't fully realize yet in favor of those that I did- all in a mad dash to scrape out my 50K- which worked, so I have no hard feelings but the re-read may just leave me scratching my head on where to begin. But for that, I have help- authors that have come before me and detailed their struggles and their tried and true ways to attack that monstrous first draft and make it a lovely best seller.

So, for those of you that have post-NaNo letdown and lots of free time now that you have cleared your calendar and created for yourself some mighty fine daily writing habits- enjoy a few days of free time, reconnect with your loved ones, feed your pets (actually, you should have done that the whole month, I forgot to tell you), or even write to fill that aching void, but come back

We can't just leave seedling masterpieces to rot in the dungeon, freeze in the rain, or collect dust like an old relic. They still need babying and lots of love to get where they want to be, CAN BE, and WILL BE-- on our book shelf in hardback!

Lots of writing love, A.B. Harms