Posted in Character Development, Writing, Writing 101

Writing 101: A Childhood Greenhouse

This was written in response to Writing 101: Size Matters. I managed to vary my sentence length between 8 and 20 words. Hopefully this range is enough to get me the twist for this prompt. 🙂

As a child, I spent more time in Mom’s plant nursery than at the apartment where we slept.

Mom taught me about each of the plants she grew. She would quiz me on the properties of each plant. When I turned twelve, she finally allowed me to help plant the seeds.

Plants were the only thing Mom shared about her childhood. Mom never talked about her parents unless she was also talking about her beloved plants.

While I learned that a love of plants runs in the family, I was never taught my grandparents’ names. I can’t even say if they are still alive or where they might live.

I use to imagine who they were. Sometimes I would pretend that my grandparents were scientists who developed new plants in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. At other times, my grandparents made medicines from the rare and exotic plants in their greenhouses.

Most times, I imagined that my grandparents grew the same plants Mom and I did. As I would water the tender shoots, I would pretend my grandparents were watering their plants alongside me.

I may not have known Mom’s childhood home, but in my imagination it was the same as mine; a warm, wonderful greenhouse.

Posted in Character Development, On Writing

Name Meanings

All of my characters start off their life with either the name George or Georgina.

To me, the name George is a filler name because it is the most common name that I know. Some characters end up staying as George but most develop another name at some point in the story. This other name is usually the one that stays with them for several drafts because it has a specific meaning to the character.

While there are many different ways to add meaning to your character’s name, there are three which I find myself using for the majority of my character names.

The first way of adding meaning is to find out what your character’s role or goal in the story. Once you know this you can narrow down what you want your character’s name to mean. For instance, if your character is set to be a mighty warrior then you can begin searching name dictionaries for “warrior” and choose from the list generated.

The second way to add meaning to your character’s name is to find out which names were popular in your story’s time and location. This can be done by searching through census data or through history books.

The third way to add meaning is to create it. If your story is set in Victorian London and you want to name your character Rain, then have a story behind it. Perhaps the mother was a firm believer in the supernatural and had been told by a gypsy fortune-teller that she should name her daughter Rain.

By having a meaning behind your character’s name, you can gain more insight into your character and their background. Whether or not you share the story, by knowing the meaning you can use it to more fully develop your character.

Does the name mean something to the story? Does it show the time period or setting? Did his parents name him Alfonso because they thought the name was nice or because that was the name of his great-uncle?

Check out these links to search for names by years:

http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/

http://www.babycenter.com/babyNameYears.htm

http://www.behindthename.com/top/

Posted in Character Development, On Writing, Post a Day/Week

Interview Your Characters

Every writer has a way to get to know their characters. For some writers this is an incredibly detailed process which involves character sheets, pictures and profiles on social network sites. For other writers the process involves nothing more than writing the character’s story.

For me, the process is different for each character. Some characters come to my mind fully formed and I am able to produce multiple pages about them. Other characters take time to fully form and it is only after the story is finished that I have a grasp on them.

One of the methods that I use is what I affectionately call “The Interrogation” though it could more accurately be known as character interviews. The interrogation is a two-step process which involves coming up with questions and answering the questions.

Coming up with questions can be as simple as searching for character questionnaires or as difficult as deciding what questions you want to ask. If you decide that you want to choose the questions then it helps to keep in mind both your story and the world your story is set in.

The reason you should keep your story and world in mind when figuring out questions is that not all questions will be pertinent to your story. Each story has things that are important. By knowing what is important to your story, you will know what you need to figure out about your characters. For instance, if magic is important to your story you should know if your characters can use magic.

Once you have a list of questions that you feel comfortable with you can begin answering them. There are two ways that you can answer these questions.

The first way is to answer from the character’s point of view. This way is very similar to magazine interviews. I prefer this way because how the answers are given can give further insight to the character’s personality.

The second way is to answer the questions from your point of view. You can do this in point form answers or by writing paragraphs in response to each question. This way of answering is a bit more in-depth for background but can give less information about personality.

Regardless of which way you choose to answer the questions you should know more about your characters by the time you answer the last question.

Posted in Character Development, On Writing, Post a Day/Week, Useful Sites

Naming Your Babies

For those who don’t want to read a long, rantish post, there are links to helpful naming websites at the bottom.
Character
What would you name this character? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A name can make or break a character and, at times, a story. Names can set the expectation for that character at an unreachable high or unbearable low.

One of the main reasons for these expectations is that everyone has an idea of what type of person belongs to which names. This idea could be about the character’s personality or looks and is usually based on past experiences.

It is possible to break these stereotypes with strong characterization. However, as a writer, you need to be aware that these preconceived notions exist in order to overcome them. By knowing these stereotypes you can use them to highlight the differences in your character.  For instance, naming a character Mary may mean that your readers are shocked when she suddenly starts throwing punches and shooting up heroin. But, if you use the stereotypes, you can gradually ease the reader from Mary’s pristine name to her actual character.

Some writers try to get around name stereotypes by creating names or changing the spelling of common names. While this can work, the laws of language still need to be followed.(1)

One of these laws is in the use of symbols. Most symbols, outside of letters, have a name and not necessarily a sound. An example would be the “$” symbol which is not pronounced as “s” or any other letter. I recently read a few paragraphs of a story where one of the characters was named $tarr. I was left wondering if the $ was meant to replace the S in Starr or if the name was suppose to be pronounced Dollartarr. If there is a story behind the absurd spelling then it can be workable but, for the most part, it’s annoying.

Another law is in vowels and consonants. This law dictates that when letters are put together, they shall be pronounceable. If you name a character Zhtbnaeaapkw, I can guarantee that you will need a pronunciation guide to make your story readable. It is possible to fob it off by having the character part of an alien race that speaks a language human vocal cords can’t grasp, but that’s just pretentiousease (2) for “I’m too lazy to figure out how to pronounce this name”.

The last major language law dealing with character names, which is related to the first one, deals with the use of apostrophes. Anyone who has read science fiction in the last twenty years has probably had headaches from this one. Apostrophes do not take the place of much-needed vowels or consonants. In fact, they are generally used to join two words or to show possession. Names like Aa’euo and Ch’d just looks weird.

Edited to include a note from Deby Fredericks who let me know that apostrophes do actually have a slight sound. The pronunciation is somewhere between a gasp and a click.

If you’ve followed the stereotypes and you haven’t used any strange symbols, punctuation or letter combinations, you may still be setting your character up for failure. This is because names have to fit in with your society.

If you were to have a baby right now and name him Crawford (3), he would probably get teased by his classmates. This is because Crawford is an old-fashioned name that isn’t used much anymore. A simple way of getting around this hassle would be to check baby name sites and census details for the year your character was born in.

If you’ve already checked birth years or are sticking with modern times, it may also help to check the area where your story is set. Some countries (such as Iceland) have naming laws which would mean your character could not be named Apple.

By now you’re probably shaking your head at some of the ridiculous rules and laws I’ve created to help with naming. Unfortunately, these laws have all come about from stories I’ve read (or attempted to read) where the character names were a detriment to the story.

Luckily, I know my readers have a good grasp of their characters and how to name them. If you have any tips, pet peeves or links about names, feel free to share them in the comments. I would love to hear them.

Footnotes:

(1) I say language laws, but I really mean A.P. Roberts’ Laws of Language. These laws were created to help me write stories which are readable without coming off as a pretentious idiot. They are based on my research and I am welcome to learning what others have found in their searches.

(2) Pretentiousease is my little term for words intended to sound nice but are showing how much of a douche-bag you are. A prime example would be when people complain about not being allowed to break the rules even though they are “important” and “do you know who I am?”.

(3) My dad’s middle name is Crawford and I do think it is lovely and very distinguished. However, it is an old-fashioned name which would stick out in a classroom today.

Useful Sites: