This post was originally featured at Debra Jayne East’s blog as part of the TTC/MK VBT 2012.
When I first started writing stories I went to the library and checked out Baby Name Books. I was eleven or so and the librarians gave me strange looks when I came back for different ones and to renew the ones I liked best. Eventually, I found some at yard sales (and much later, bought them from Amazon) so I could have my own copies on the shelf next to my poison-guide, police procedural walk-throughs, and various other reference books.
At the time, I liked to give distinctly ‘appropriate’ names for characters. I named the clumsy friend of my main character, Claudia, which means lame. She was a clod and thus the name worked. The haunted beauty with the mysterically green eyes? I named her Jade. Also, I liked mythical and biblical or literary names. Someone meant to evoke thoughts of the ever-faithful wife might be named Penelope (Jack, take note!) or if I wanted to conjure up images of a guy who would face unsurmountable odds and win – David. Things like that. Those names have their uses and places. But really, when I was using them, they were totally…lacking in subtlty.
These days, whether its creating names in some fantasy realm – Sarios, Damaiar, Lourdan, and Safyr – or in my modern day fantasy novel, “Incandescence”, I really do not go looking for names. At least not for the main characters. They generally just organically appear on the page as I write. Hannah and Michael Brighton. Granmama Adina. Alexander. Summit. Shalisa. Evander. Jonas. Gideon.
Other names, I am not ashamed to admit, come to mind as homages to folks who exist in my real world. Hopefully they will be honored, not vexed, to find that characters such as Isaac, Professor McCormick, Jeremy, Zebulon, Rote, Nguyet, Emily and so on were named after them.
For important characters – names just seem to happen. For secondary, tertiary, one-offs, and other back ground types, I rely on… whatever is around. Phone books are great for surnames and placenames. Business cards, advertisements, tv, the interwebs… Anything goes. If it suits the situation and setting, it stays. If not – I just keep looking.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I do not have a real strong “process” for naming my characters, not anymore. If a character doesn’t name herself, or come pre-equipped with a name, I have to go in search of it. Which is why my first drafts are often littered with OLDGUYNAMEHERE and ANGRYKIDNAMEHERE… and when it comes time to fill-in the blanks, well… I’ll let you know. I’m still working on “Incandescence” and there several INSERTNAMEHEREs to fix.
How do you name your characters? Does inspiration flash while you’re making up outlines? Do the names come first and the characters come later?
And while we’re on the naming kick – how do you come up with your titles? Because WOW – I have trouble with titles. If you ever happen upon the WIP page of my website, you will notice that every single title is a Working Title. Because I have no idea how to name books, I simply refer to them all by a characters name (for example: Rudabet), a theme, a phrase that relates to the plot (ex: The Light of Lun), or even acronyms (ex: PASaRN).
So – I’m going to change my question. How do you come up with solid titles for your poems, novels, shorts, papers, series, et cetera?! Because that is what this writer needs to know. *grin*
Love & Rainbows,
This post was originally featured at Scott Seldon’s Blog as part of the TTC/MK VBT 2012.
People always ask a writer where he gets his ideas and inspiration from. Neil Gaiman says, “I make them up. Out of my head” *. Stephen King’s answer is longer, but boils down to the same thing, “I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it’s seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question ‘What if?’ ‘What if’ is always the key question.” *. One of my favorite answers is from Lemony Snicket (whose NaNoWriMo PepTalk was one of the best ever). He said, “From eavesdropping and from reading other books. Writers are, pretty much thieves, stealing ideas from other people who didn’t have the foresight to write them down, and then from the people who did have the foresight to write them down.” *.
Were you to ask me, I would probably say something similar. Where do you get your ideas, Penelope Price? Where?! From the world, from what I see or watch or read, from thin air. I get flashes of inspiration from random sensory input all the time. Most of them won’t go anywhere, but they pop up all the time and its just a matter of capturing that ephemeral spark in a jar so I can mull it over at length. Well then how do you capture the spark, Penelope Price? How?!
Funny you should ask.
I text myself. When an idea pops into my head, even if I have a notebook and pen close to hand (which I always do – always), I usually reach for my cellphone and get my thumbs to typing as fast as they can… which is not very fast and is usually filled with typos. Still – that little 160 character SMS gets sent to my email account where I automatically file it away under a specific tag and without much work on my part, its recorded for posterity.
That’s how I recorded the spark that started “Incandescence” and “Inferno”.
It was October 3rd, 2011, a Monday, and I was at work. NaNoWriMo – one of my favorite yearly events – was looming and I did not yet have an idea. I remember being worried that I would not have a plot ready to go and would fail miserably… again. Out of nine years doing NaNo, I had only “won” three times. Well, thanks to those fateful text messages – I am now four for ten.
I had been talking to a co-worker, telling him that I wrote fantasy novels. The kind with magic and wars and intrigue and romance and armored warriors and- He interrupted me to ask if I wrote about elves and dwarves. “No, not usually”, I said pleasantly, though I was annoyed that yet another person seemed to think there were only two kinds of fantasy – Tolkien or Harry Potter.
“Well maybe you should,” he said. “Or wait, write about elves and dwarves walking around in the modern day.”
And I experienced one of those ephemeral sparks I mentioned earlier. I immediately tuned him out and started to texting myself. I think it took four or five texts to get the ‘idea’ out, but there it was – beautiful. Modern day mageborn siblings, the last of their kind so far as they know, struggling for survival against the end of the world.
To thank my co-worker, I named a character after him. And then murdered it. It was epic.
So yes, like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Lemony Snicket and a whole host of other writers, I would say that my ideas and inspiration come from everywhere and nowhere, from the world at large. My job is just to snatch the good ones and develop them. To do that – I text myself. Its as simple as that.
If someone asked you, dear friend, where do you get your ideas? What would be your response? How do you capture them? Do you have a muse who feeds you delicious tidbits of plot and character, or do you sit down and think until something awesome comes out? Or something else entirely? Comment below and let us know!
Love & Rainbows,
Recently, a friend in a writing group asked a question that plagues me as a writer.
How do you avoid the temptation of a shiny, new idea while you’re in the middle of writing/editing your WIP?
I have no good answer for that.
Historically, I can say that I have been notorious for dropping one project like its hot to snatch up the latest idea in my brain. Usually, that means both end-up unfinished and I’m off to a third idea. This is the reason, if you click on my “WIPS” page, you will see seven listed projects – in addition to Incandescence, my current focus. Seven does not begin to cover the irons I have in the fire. In fact, before this page is published, I am going to add a third section to that page just to remind myself of all the stuff I have to finish! Hopefully it’ll turn out to be motivating rather than overwhelming. We shall see.
Anyway – the original question is an important one. How do we avoid the temptation to move onto something new?
- Absolute Denial: you can completely ignore those new thoughts & ideas to maintain focus on your WIP. Of course, you could be missing out on your magnum opus.
- Calculated Pause: give yourself a measured amount of time to scribble out notes on your new idea and when it runs out, back to the WIP.
- Full Stop: take a break from you WIP and give your full attention to the new idea.
- Split Attention: write both!
For me, I can immediately strike Absolute Denial and Split Attention from the list. I abhor the idea of not, in some way, recording inspiration when it strikes. I carry around a notebook and pen at all times, for just such an emergency. And – should I be caught without said items, I always have my phone on my person and I frequently text cryptic ideas to my email address. Still worse, is trying to focus on two distinct storylines, sets of characters, worlds… I have to concentrate on my book’s cannon lest I end up with scenes (as had happened in past works) in which a previously murdered side character is chiming in on the group’s new plan to escape. Not ironically or as a ghost, but because Split Attention allowed me to forget what had happened to her.
I’m the same way when reading. I prefer to stick to one thing at a time and focus on it and do it ‘right’, rather than read half-a-dozen willy-nilly. When I was a kid, I did that all the time and kept it straight. These days, I’d probably end up confusing Mr. Darcy with Mr. Frodo and wondering why he was spending so much time with the ladies when there was a ring to toss into Mount Doom.
Full Stop must also be stricken from my list. If I Full Stop – I end up Full-Never-Get-Back-To-Previous-Work. As my list of WIPs illustrates nicely.
This year, once Incandescence and its sequel are finished, no matter many lovely new characters pop into my head, I am making it my goal to practice the Calculated Pause. Take notes on new ideas and put them into the pot for safe keeping, then immediately back to the WIP. The WIP takes precedence. Total focus. Total dedication.
And now I have Meghan Tonjes’ song in my head again.
(I’d link that song now, but I’m sharing her in a week for Tuesday’s Tunes post, so… you can wait… or Google her… or click here.)
Love & Rainbows,