Posts Tagged ‘writing novels’

A follow-up on my previous post about character names.

It’s clear from comments — here, on Facebook, etc. — that some readers disagree with my characterizations of the names I’m using.

Not a problem. And absolutely expected.

When I spoke of, for instance, Eleanor as a name that evokes impressions of “a longer view, a queenly aspect, strength, confidence, patience,” I should have said that those are the impressions the name evokes for me.

Your impression of Eleanor, the name, will definitely be different from mine, perhaps radically so. You may have had an evil twin named Eleanor, she may have been your overly strict second grade teacher, or a particularly nasty girlfriend. Or it may be that, try as you might, when you hear the name, you can only think of the ridiculous novelist, Eleanor Lavish, from A Room with a View.

That’s all fine.

For me, the name Eleanor conjures up images of Mrs. Roosevelt; Henry II’s wife, Eleanor D’Aquitaine (my 24th great grandmother, as it turns out); and the homophonically named Elinor Dashwood from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Those are my Eleanors, and they match well with the character I want to bring to life in this book.

Naturally, I cannot expect my impressions of that name to be yours as well. No writer can expect that, even if we use a name as well known as George Custer (as I did in my Fallen Cloud Saga).

No, my job is to make sure that my Eleanor comes across with my impressions intact. I must show you, through her actions, how she is patient, thoughtful, perhaps even regal in her quiet dignity. Then, maybe, the next time you hear the name Eleanor, your first impression will be more like mine.

For my current purposes, I need to have a name that fits the character I want to create. That is true, I believe, for almost any writer.



Puget Sound

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It began, as it often does, with Sam and Janet.

Sam and Janet, the couple of the oft-mocked enchanted evening, are a regular starting point when I’m trying to pick character names. I begin with these two because, frankly, I’d never use them.

Setting the names of my main characters is a crucial early step in my writing process. I have two main reasons for this. (more…)

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Ever since publishing my last post, in which I stated publicly that I was gearing up to break my four-year-long novel-writing dormancy, I’ve been in a dark blue funk.

It took me a while to figure out why. Well, to be honest, I didn’t figure it out. A fellow writer (Todd Baker: grillmaster, metalhead, and memoirist par excellence) commented on my post, and his reflections shed light on my own internal strife.

I was suffering from “The Dread.” (more…)

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You might have noticed a bit more poetry on this blog of late. There’s a reason for this.

If I’m to be brutally honest, these past four years I haven’t been much of a writer. My last novel came out in late 2012, and since then — aside from the posts, vignettes, and poetry on this blog — I’ve only written one short story.

A lot happened to us in those four years. All of our parents died which meant funerals and family strife and estate stuff. We invited a young woman in need to stay with us for a year while she reestablished herself. I had an emergency appendectomy and my wife had an emergency cholecystectomy. Our only car died and needed to be replaced. I grew deathly sick of my job and tried to switch careers. Not all of it was bad (we paid off the house, and for our 30th anniversary we bought a classic sports car), but all of it, even the good stuff, sucked up a lot of time and energy, and brought a great deal of stress into our lives.

All of which sounds like a bunch of excuses and, for a long time, I viewed them as such. Now, though, I see them as reasons.

Am I splitting semantic hairs? Perhaps, but hear me out. (more…)

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Self-Promotion: the crude and unappealing practice of marketing one’s own work; in British slang, often called “flogging.”

I’ve only met one writer who actually enjoys flogging his books. He travels up and down the coast, reading excerpts, glad-handing, meeting people, building an impressive network. For every other writer I’ve met, mention the word “promotion” and watch them wince.

We hate promoting our books. HateitHateitHateit. Some writers hate it so much, they don’t do it at all.

But according to ND Author Services (aka NDAS, run by bestselling authors Barb and J.C. Hendee, who–believe me–know what they’re talking about), there’s some good news. As with everything else in the publishing industry, self-promotion–the very nature of it–is changing.


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20120729-075810.jpgFor me, the most powerful tool in a writer’s toolbox is the power of observation. It not only helps me create believable characters, it also gives me the ability to fill my worlds with believable detail. Some examples…

I was in the office when the wind-up clock stopped. It didn’t go tick-tock—tick—-tock, slowing as it reached the end of its wind, but just went tick-tock-tick-tock—-, ending suddenly and abruptly like some metronomic cardiac arrest. Odd.

My stomach growled at me this morning, and it sounded for all the world like it said, “Hello, Chuckles.” My guts have never spoken to me so explicitly before, but I’m glad we’re on such friendly terms; that hasn’t always been the case.

For her 60th birthday, I gave my sister a vintage electric clock from the ’40s. It didn’t tick like a mechanical clock but hummed as it worked the sweep second hand around the dial. My sister liked this especially, as it matched her feeling of time as a continuum. I prefer the mechanical heartbeat of a tick-tock clock, as I like to think of time having a constant, measured passage.

These details of life and character are just the sort of things that inform my writing, providing snippets of description or personality. Observation is such a critical skill that it has actually become a pasttime for us.

We can play this game anywhere–at a restaurant, waiting at a stop light, anywhere–just by looking around at the people around us. (Coffee shops are perfect for this game.) I’ll pick someone or she might pick a couple, and we’ll start building backstories for them, weaving a tale of why they are there, what they’re doing, and what they are feeling. These aren’t just wild imaginings, though; we base our story on the subject’s dress, movement, and behavior. Couple on their third date? Construction worker doing the shopping for a sick wife? Woman contemplating divorce?

The key to the game is that the stories must be believable, and must tie into the person we observe. While my wife enjoys the game simply for the mental exercise, I find that it hones my skills and heightens my awareness. If you aren’t aware, you cannot observe, and if you aren’t observant, then you’re creating characters and descriptions in a vacuum.

Characters have to be believable, consistent, and comprehensible to the reader, even if the setting is as alien as a moon or the 9th century. In all the historical research and reading of memoirs I have done in preparation for my novels, the one thing I have learned is that we, as people, have not changed much. The world surrounding us has transformed, technologies have changed, but human behavior remains remarkably consistent.

So keep your eyes and ears open. Stay frosty. Inspiration may be standing ahead of you in the checkout line.


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