I have a question for you writer’s and aspiring writers out there…do names matter?
I know there are many approaches to actually writing a novel from outlining to discovery, and every iteration between those poles. NaNoWriMo taught me to write every day, and I’ve read over and over again that when you write you should just keep going, letting it flow out the right side of your brain and fix it later in the editing phase. But my brain is already full and if I learn something new I have to forget something to make room for it, and I have no idea what that lost tidbit is going to be. It might be the great idea I had for the edit that I didn’t take the time to fix earlier.
I’m one of those people that have to fix it on the spot, if I can. I can get hung up on a scene if I’ve introduced a new character that I wasn’t planning on, and I don’t have his/her name. So much is wrapped up in a name; their whole essence is in that name. I’ve heard the horror stories of editors or publishers demanding a name change! Don’t they understand what you have invested in that name!?! You might have spent hours or even days trying to find just the perfect name. And it’s not just characters, it’s ships and planets and weapons and continents and lakes. You get the idea. This is world building, but to me it’s more than that, it’s world CRAFTING. I’ve heard people say that names don’t matter…WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE!?! We world builders know different! We’ve put our blood, sweat and tears into those names, they have power!
Okay, maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but I do think it matters. Names set a tone and paint a word picture when they are done well. If I name my main character Rupert or Sterling, it creates an image in your head. Doesn’t it? What about Mad Dog or Killer or Whysk?
Names anchor the ambience of your setting, whether it’s grim and dark or whimsical and magical. They evoke image and imagination. They have soul or lack soul. Names alone won’t make your story good, but I do think they can help both the writer to imagine and the reader to get absorbed. I would love to hear your opinions on this, unless you disagree with me you cretin! (j/k)
I downloaded a free version of Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper on my iPhone Kindle app. I read the entire series many moons ago when I was a young man and my recollection of the story doesn’t match the reality I’m faced with reading it now. I remember the characters and the setting as being quite awe inspiring, and they are, but the prose are so heavy and overblown with description and obtuse phrasing that it’s very distracting from an author’s perspective.
I am starting to get the feeling that reading now is going to be like riding on an airliner is for me. I fly large jets for a living and I’m not a great passenger now, as I know what every noise is. I really don’t want the flight attendant to ask me if there is anyone onboard that can fly a jet. I find that spending the last couple of years writing and learning about writing has made me acutely aware of story and prose. I still enjoy well written books as much as the next person, maybe even more than before, but if the writing is marginal I have a much lower tolerance now.
I don’t think the Cooper’s books would sell today, at least not in their present form. Mr. Cooper would get a rejection letter that would tell him to keep trying, that his characters were memorable and the setting vivid, but his story just didn’t quite fit with their vision, and good luck. Does that make it a poorly written book? I don’t think so. The thing we have to remember about “the classics” are they were groundbreaking in their day and the rules for writing were different, as were expectations. Some of them hold up quite well, but idioms and commonly used words were often contrary from what we are used to now. I thought about trying to get my young son to read it, but I think it’ll have to wait a few years.
On average the populace is WAY more educated today and in this fast-paced, gotta-have-it-now world our expectations to have something user friendly and easily digested have dramatically increased. I think we all (well, most of us anyway) recognize good prose when we see them, and I really appreciate when an author has me feeling a scene instead of reading it. But even then opinions vary on what makes good writing. Some appreciate the sentence structure and rules of grammar as the gold standard of writing, while others want something that goes down easy and doesn’t bog us down with a lot of description or big words.
What sells? Is that important in your calculations of what kind of story to write and how you want to write it?
Ultimately I think you have to write for yourself. You can’t fit your square novel in the round hole of publication. You should write about things you have a passion for and in your own voice. You have to figure out what that voice is. And that is a blog for another day.
It was a struggle this week for blogging and writing. I did manage to get 3000 words this week and passed the 400 page mark, but begrudgingly. I am in the climax and trying to get it right, and its coming a little at a time. My muse can be stubborn at times. That coupled with work and home events kept my mind from any productive blogging, if there is such a thing. The grand total right now sits at 96100 words.
I twittered plenty, but it was mostly retweeting. I did come across this:
Squishy Moonrise from Space
And posted this video of one of my favorite songs form a band that broke up after one album: Big Dismal – Reality, rumor has it they are getting back together.
Kam Weiland had this excellent post about the 3 Traits of a Successful Writer
Fake Mars Astronauts are close to arriving at Fake Mars
NASA posted this about Zeta Ophiuchi — Runaway Star Plowing Through Space Dust Pretty dang awesome!
Nanotech News -another step toward complex nanomaterials that assemble themselves
Betelgeuse and 2012
William Shatner started this webplace for Sci Fan fans: My Outer Space
Until next week…Clear Ether!
I’m a little late getting this up due to MLK Day. You might think that would give me more time, but I usually find a way to expand my time wasting to fill the available time alloted. It was a fairly productive week writingwise. I wrote 6191 words this week for a total of 93106, and am edging up on the climax. Seems like I say that every week. I think I’ll get through it this week. In fact if I push I think I can finish the first draft this week, two weeks at the outside.
I posted a little vignette about how I Suck @writing which seemed to be well received, thanks to all who commented!
I also updated my Query Letter and got some feedback. I think it’s pretty close. Close enough to shelve until I polish the manuscript.
Some other tidbits from the week:
Charlie Stross blogged this, he is brilliant as usual:
Ran across this short story by @MaryRobinette Kowal http://bit.ly/flXBY0 quite awesome!
I heard this on NPR this week and liked it:
“We must see the error in our own truth and the truth in our opponent’s error.” — Reinhold Niebuhr
The next thing to tackle after the WIP is finished it to do a synopsis. I found this website which does a fine job of walking you though how to do a thorough job http://www.writing-world.com/publish/synopsis.shtml
i09 posted this – the most complete map of the night sky so far http://io9.com/5730972/
You ever read something you’ve written and then throw your hands up in the air and tell your spouse “I suck at writing!”?
I’ve done it several times in the course of writing my novel, but I think I’m coming to the realization that sometimes I do suck. Not always, but sometimes I do. I am figuring out that I need to trust that inner voice that is telling me I suck. I’ll come back to that.
I’ve also read scenes that I said to myself, “Damn, that’s pretty good!” Sometimes, not always, and not nearly as often as I would like, but usually I’m somewhere in the middle. There is a big gulf between “Damn that’s good!” and “I suck!” Large parts of the story are moving between the big scenes in the outline, and I often don’t know for sure where I’m going between those big scenes. A lot of it might end up on the cutting room floor during the rewrite, but it’s good for me to write those scenes out so that I know where it’s going. I have the outline in my head (part of it on paper) but I do what is referred to as “Discovery Writing” for the stuff in between. I’ve had to back-track a couple of times because my characters were leading me down a dead end or a direction that would completely change the story. Sometimes those tangents are good enough to make me tweak the outline. Letting the characters bring the story to me is one of the great joys of writing.
I’ve heard many authors and writing coaches suggest that if you are stuck on a scene to just move past it and come back later, but my brain doesn’t seem to work that way. I need to know what’s going to happen next, because it might change everything. I grind on a scene for hours sometimes. I’m not what you would call a fast writer. The most I have ever written in one day is about 4000 words. It’s usually a lot closer to 500. But I struggle to get it right the first time. I’m not going to be one of those writers that can pump out a book every 3 months. It’s just not gonna happen. Not unless I see a major change in my skill set. I’m ok with that.
Getting back to listening to the inner voice, it can be very frustrating to work on a scene for hours then sit back and read what you’ve written and lament to your spouse that you should give up writing. What this usually means is it’s just not crafted right. Maybe it’s a scene that needs to be skipped because it’s boring, if you’re bored so is your reader. Sometimes the struggles mean it just needs to go. Sometimes it means you are making the reader read your story instead of feeling the story.
After working one of those scenes that made you say “I suck!” until it feels right can really validate you. It can make you feel like maybe you can write after all; maybe you do have what it takes to do this as a professional. Sometimes the POV needs to be changed or maybe you need to add some movement so it’s not all just dialogue. People rarely just sit still and speak. They play with their hair and scratch their face and other body parts and fidget all over the place. Show that to your reader. Put them there in the scene so they can see the entire picture. Let them feel the emotions of your characters, don’t just tell them that your character is nervous or angry, show them.
Trust yourself when you read back over something you’ve written and want to throw up. Just go back and fix it! You can do this! You’re a writer after all!
I hear all the time about people doing writing exercises to help improve their writing or perhaps to just stay in practice. There are writing groups and websites that use writing prompts to give you something to use to spur your short goal writing. I know the Writing Excuses gives a writing prompt every week.
I find that I just don’t have the time to do these. My novel is the focus of my writing time right now. I can see the value of doing some writing involving your characters to help find a voice for them or to help flesh out your world so that you understand how things work, stuff that the reader will never see, but just doing writing prompts seems beyond the time allotment I have to do any writing.
Do you spend time doing writing prompts or other writing exercises? If so, do you think it has a tangible benefit? Maybe I just need to make time for this kind of stuff.