Friday, August 14, 2009

Writing About Past Experiences

One of the books I’m currently working on focuses on a period in my life that I would rather soon forget. Originally I had no intensions of writing about it. I never even dreamed of it, actually.

Then the month of July rolled around. When I’m forced to write (or I would feel stupid when I can’t even write 1,000 words each day of a single month and have to post my shame on the blog) I tend to just stare at the page and nothing happens. I need to be in a frame of mind to get the words down (or GOOD words I should say). During July’s 1k-a-day challenge on the blog, I was stuck on Parlor (my other WIP). I needed to write my 1,000 words and I had already spent too much time staring at the screen and the flashing cursor. Not even thinking, I opened a blank document in Word and started to type. Before I realized what I was writing, I was several pages into telling my story.

I now feel I need to write down my story. Many authors have taken their life experiences and made them into fiction novels that are moving, interesting and can help so many people who may be in the same situation. The first book/series that comes to mind is Ellen Hopkin’s Crank and Glass. She took a hard time in her family’s life and turned it into an amazingly moving two book story. I poured through both books (and all of her books for that matter. If you’ve never read Ellen Hopkins, stop reading this blog post and go to your local library/bookstore right now! TRUST ME!). Not only have the books been hugely successful, but Ellen has talked about how she gets fan mail stating her books have helped so many teens.

Right now, I’m happy to write my story. I’m going to write it as I know it, but I plan go back in a second draft (if it even gets that far) and change it to read as fiction. We’ll see what happens. It’s good therapy if nothing else.

Have you taken a life experience and either used it as a main plot point, or woven it into a story?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Naming Characters

Nothing puts me off reading a book more than poorly named characters. You know what I’m talking about – the book cover looks promising, you flip it over, read the back blurb and it’s a young adult contemporary novel featuring the gripping, fantastical adventures of…Bobby and Mary-Sue.

Unless this is a spoof, or dark comedy featuring greaser zombies who time travel from the 1950s to the year 2009 via a set of haunted dashboard dice – I’m not likely to give the book a shot. A contemporary story needs characters with contemporary names. A fantasy demands names with a bit of flare, drama and magic. Naming characters for a historical tale requires research into surnames, etc.

As writers, we choose names that are ironic (the vampire named Bill, the giant named Tiny), political statements (V is for Vendetta), names that inherently tell the reader our character’s social standing, wealth, age or personality traits. We'll spend hours skimming baby name books, geneology sites, online phone books, classical literature, history resources, asks our co-workers if they know of any unusual names. And we haven’t even gotten into the nicknames our characters give other characters…..oy!

The naming process takes time, thought and creativity. When writing a first draft, I’ll often give characters draft names… common, top-of-my-head names that act as placeholders until I learn more about the character or have time to research/create a suitable handle. I’ll also rename a character fifty million times if I have to, until I find just the right one….how do I know it’s the right name? I’ll read over a scene with said character and when the name is right, that annoying buzz of discontent will just stop, and I’ll simply read on, no longer stumbling when I see the name typed out.

A writer friend informed me she researches name meanings before assigning them to characters and uses those meanings to develop personality traits, history or the character’s purpose in the story. That really stepped up the naming game for me. Now I have to give it a whirl and see what I can come up with for future projects.

So, what’s your process? How do you name your characters? Am I alone in being turned off a book because the character names didn’t match the story?