Tag: characters

What’s In A Name?

What’s In A Name?

Blanche, Muffy, Winchester, Bruiser, Tiny. Each name and nickname evoke something in us. They imply something.

Each time you choose a name for a character in your work, that name determines how you want your reader to react to the character—the image you want the character to portray.A simple name will set the tone of your work and determine how the character will act. And, when you take the time to name a character, that tells the reader the character is important to you and to your story. He has meaning, and you want your reader to remember him. If the character isn’t a vital part of your story, don’t name him—simply refer to him as what he is (waiter, lawyer, lifeguard). These words let the reader know a bit about the person but keep them from becoming too prominent.

Not only will names aid in the description of your characters, they help set the time period. For example, Beulah, while popular in the late 1800s, isn’t a common name today. As a reader coming across this name, you most likely would imagine an old woman rather than a young girl.

How can you choose the perfect name?  Every author goes about it differently, but below are a few tips that can help.

  • Use an online name generator
  • Read phone books
  • Walk though a cemetery
  • Search the Internet
  • Ask your friends

There are things you should avoid when naming characters as well.

  • Names that don’t match the time period
  • Names that sound the same or start with the same letter
  • Names that are hard to pronounce

What tools do you use to name your characters? Share them with us. We’d love to know.

 

Research ~ A Necessary Evil

Research ~ A Necessary Evil

Allison stepped onto the patio, enjoying the coolness of the desert southwest evening. Saguaro cacti were silhouetted against the sunset, and a roadrunner darted behind an agave plant. A cactus wren perched nearby. Allison walked further into the yard and stopped to stand beneath a giant magnolia tree…

Okay, I won’t say research is evil, but it hasn’t always been my favorite thing to do. When I first began writing fiction, I didn’t want to be bothered with research. All I wanted to do was to get the story out of my head and onto the computer screen.

“Write what you know.” I heard these words repeated over and over by several seasoned writers.

So I began with something that was comfortable to me. I loosely based the setting of my first novel on my hometown. However, the subject matter required research on my part to make part of the story believable.

My second novel, currently in draft state, necessitated me spending time on the Internet, looking for information about arsonists. (Suffice to say if someone looked at my browser history, and didn’t know I was a writer, they might want to report me to the nearest law enforcement agency.)

It’s easy to slip into a comfort zone. Therefore, the “write what you know” advice only goes so far. If an author continues to use the same setting or story line, readers will quickly become bored with their work and move on. Even though we might write in the same (or similar) genre, we want to generate stories that continue to please our readers and entice new ones.

Hence the need for research. We want our fiction to be believable. So what’s wrong with my opening paragraph?

Saguaro cacti, agave plants, roadrunners, and cactus wrens all fit within the scene. However, magnolia trees do not grow in the desert southwest. A simple mistake like that can cause readers to lose interest and damage our credibility as writers. Worse yet, they could leave a bad review, and we all know too many one and two-star reviews can make or break a book.

How do we go about gathering information? Fortunately, we live in an age where we have instant access to almost anything we want to know. Google and Bing can be a writer’s best friend.

A word of caution—just because something is on the Internet, doesn’t make it true. It’s best to check several sources and/or websites. Wikipedia, while popular, isn’t always the most accurate source because anyone can post anything.

In addition to the Internet, talk with experts. Law enforcement officers, physicians and nurses, fire investigators, military personnel, etc. Most times people are willing to answer specific questions you might have. When meeting with these people, go prepared. Have a list of specific questions so as not to waste their time or yours.

Travel to locations where you want to set your stories. Look around, observe, talk with locals, get a feel of the area, and make copious notes.

I’ve come a long way in regards to conducting research since I started writing fiction. In fact, I’ve probably spent more time gathering information for a current short story than I did with both novels.

The reason? It’s a setting and a story line that is totally beyond my scope of knowledge. Hopefully, my research has paid off. On a recent vacation, while touring a former aircraft carrier turned museum, my husband was impressed that I was able to identify two types of aircraft without looking at signs. I admit that I’ve learned a lot of interesting things from doing this project.

What about you? As a writer, do you enjoy research? What are some of your favorite methods?

 

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Jenga—The Muse

Jenga—The Muse

Pamela Foster wears many hats, and whether she wants to claim “writer” as one of them, she not only wears it, she wears it with panache. Through personal experience, humor, and tough love, Pamela will discuss ways to move past the things that hold writers back in these series of posts titled, “Jenga—Knocking Over Writers’ Blocks.”

Shower Scene

showerTaking a shower frees my muse. Something about hot water unknotting muscles, limited visibility, and the sensual feel of soap on bare skin – creativity seeps in with the steam. This morning while lathering my hair with shampoo, I became a new character.

Yes, you read that correctly. I did not think of a new character. I became a new character.

Here’s how:

I have arrived lately at the realization that I have no way of understanding most of what goes on today. In particular, I am lost in the world that young people must navigate. I have young friends who struggle daily, hourly, with making enough money to feed and shelter themselves. What can I tell them to provide hope? I know half a dozen kids who have watched parents or lovers or brothers and sisters destroy themselves with drugs. What can I offer to heal wounds that go that deeply? I have a Facebook friend whose lover, her best friend in the world, was murdered by cops while walking home from his job late at night. Mistaken identity. What possible words can I offer this young woman when she cries out for help late in the night?

I am a writer, and yet I feel inadequate, too old, too out-of-touch to offer a single original thought on life. What possible thoughts can a sixty-five year-old woman offer that will make any difference at all?

Return with me to the shower scene.

Luxuriating in hot water, thankful to be standing relatively pain-free, I reached for the shampoo. A new bottle. Not my usual supermarket grab, but a bottle chosen at leisure on a day of respite, a day of walking on the beach followed by a stop at a boutique beauty store. In the steam and with my eyes partly closed, it took me a few seconds to figure out how to open the fancy new bottle. Turned out to be one of those twist and click deals. I squeezed a dollop into the palm of my hand. It looked, felt, smelled pretty much exactly like my usual bargain brand.

fancy blue bottleSo, I probably paid four times the amount of money for the same product I usually buy at the supermarket. Except this shampoo is in a fancy blue bottle made from recycled beer bottles and undoubtedly tested on soft little bunny rabbits and cute waddling duckies.

Right there, at that precise moment, I straightened up, allowed myself to follow the character who had just materialized in my shower. An older woman, clueless in the maze of today’s world, yet a woman who maintains her humor and love and desire to make a difference, a woman who yearns to leave the world a better place than she found it.

So, right now, some of you are saying, “But that’s you! That’s just you, not a new character.”

Well, of course, you’re right.

But you’re also wrong.

Certainly this character springs from my own frustration and desires, but while I am busy to the point of exhaustion most days with the demands and challenges of my own small life, this woman who came to me in the shower is ready and willing to take the time to explore new scenarios, new settings, she wants to explore a new story.

I’m going to follow her.


When writers’ block rears its ugly head, try a relaxing shower or bath. Immerse yourself in scented lather and let the water wash the stresses and the uncertainty away. Become someone else, become a new character, and when you’re relaxed—and dry—write that new story.

Creating the Perfect Protagonist

Creating the Perfect Protagonist

Stephen King on CharactersHe’s tall, dark, handsome, rich, smart, sophisticated, kind, philanthropic, loves his family and kids and animals, owns a rescue dog, is former military and yet still cares for the environment.

Are you sick to your stomach yet? Because I’m more than a little nauseated. If this guy really exists, only a small part of me wants my daughter to marry him. Mostly I just want to find dirt on him, because really, no one is that perfect. He’s hiding something. Or he’s going to make me feel bad about myself until the day I die.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret for writing fiction.

Be prepared for a four-letter word here. It’s one you hear so often in fiction, but I have to use it.

Think about your hook.

You’ve heard it a million times. The opening of your novel is so important. You only have a small window to get to that quintessential moment where you’ve hooked the reader.

  • Begin in the middle of the action (in media res) and you could confuse the reader. What’s happening? Who are these people? Why should I care?
  • Begin with too much setup, too much backstory, and you risk boring the reader with too much history, losing them before they’ve become engrossed.
  • But if you begin just before the hook, you have just enough time for us to see who the protagonist is in his regular life before a big change happens. That way, we can like him or feel sympathy for him or fear for him when the inciting incident occurs.

So it all comes down to establishing a character in his regular life just before the thing that changes everything. We need a reason to like this person. And the reason can’t be because he’s perfect. If he’s Mr. Tall-Dark-Handsome-Etc. that I described in the opening, it’s time to sit down and revise this character… unless that’s just a facade he projects to the world. If he has some hidden emotional scars and secret flaws that we’re going to learn about, then great. But if he’s really that vanilla, then, sorry. No. Prince Charming was already written centuries ago. Don’t plagiarize. Create someone new.

Stephen King says: I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.

The great writers create characters we can relate to, characters we sympathize with, characters we like and root for. Only once we’ve bonded with them will the writer turn their worlds upside down. But we’ll be hooked from that first word, because that character isn’t perfect.

He’s just perfectly suited for the world the writer has created.

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