Saturday, December 28, 2013

Names, Names, Names

Early on I was advised that one should name the protagonist early in the draft stage and, if you wanted more color, to sketch a brief bio.  The name and background supposedly anchors your mind so the character will be consistent throughout the story. More importantly it forms a bond between you and the character to better understand motivations and behaviors.

But coming up with a name? Should the name mean something, be a reference to something, an allegorical figure, a metaphor, or just a random name picked from the phone book (if they still make them.) Unless you live in New York City the names are likely to be rather ordinary and collecting phone books from around the world would be rather tedious.

What if the story is set on another planet, or in some future milieu where national, cultural, and religious names abound everywhere?  Scrivener provides a nice name tool, but the languages provided are limited.  You can add your own lists, but it is cumbersome to do so and why should you do it for one story?

This was a problem I faced while doing the NaNoWriMo challenge last month where I had Portuguese, French, and German characters, along with a host of Martians.  I wanted to give each of these a national flavor through their names, but did not want something ordinary so I did what any writer would do and hit the web, eventually discovering sites e.g.2000-NAMES.COM that provided all of these and so much more!

There are some rules to naming names: Generally I use irst and last name for the principal characters, first OR last names for secondary characters, and nicknames or attributes for the rest e.g. "the peg legged sailor." Of course the principals have nicknames as well, but that's another subject.


Thursday, December 19, 2013


How long does it take before you stop feeling like a damn imposter?  I've been at this writing business for more than twenty-five years and still feel like the new kid on the block. This should not be startling to other writers as we all compete for the readers' eyespace and are ever striving to provide something just enough better than all the rest so the cold-hearted editors will select ours from the avalanche of submissions. That sense of improvement and friendly competition, together with rejection upon rejection, is what gives rise to this feeling of inadequacy.  When, I ask myself, when am I going to have stature enough to not be rejected every damn time (Well, it seems that way!)

Adding to the frustration is seeing other writers (People I never heard of, damn it) getting into magazines I'd pay to be part of. Worse, their stuff is often brilliant in concept and blazing in execution, quite unlike my pedestrian plots and plodding, overworked text.  How do they pull this off?  What is their secret? No wonder two-thirds of my submissions get rejected.

I look at the pile of incomplete manuscripts cluttering my file space, the pieces that started so well and fluttered into incoherence or worse, banality. I look at those I've completed and were rejected, rejected, rejected, and rejected by editor after editor. You'd think one of them would take pity and buy one of them just so it didn't come across their desk again.  But no: none are so gracious.  Easier to choose one of those nobodies just because its a better story or something, I'd guess.

I know I am not alone with these evil thoughts, that I'm not the only wallflower at the publishing dance.  I know there are other writers that feel this way.  Perhaps we should start a ten step program: "Hello, my name is Bud and I'm a writer."

Hmm, would that work?  Might even make for a nice panel at some pity con.


Friday, December 13, 2013


In my years of corporate experience, in life, and with my writing I  have always found it easier if I follow a routine.  At the simplest level this is always putting your keys in the same place so you need not search for them.  Maintaining a reminders list or calendar postings keeps life orderly and predictable, especially if you can allocate your hours and set priorities.

I find that similar practices of mind work for writing.  Setting objectives and sticking to them is important, as is finishing whatever you start.  Too many times it is easy to abandon a project when the  initial creative flush has faded and the dog work of development has to be accomplished.  Sometimes however one must step back to let ideas mature before resuming the effort.  Of course this requires that you must keep track of drafts, versions, and deadlines in some consistent way.

The most important practice for a writer, I have found, is that you must put your ass in a chair and be writing regardless of how you feel and to do this day after day after day.  It is so easy to put things off, to delay, to find other interesting time-consuming things to occupy your time and attention. It is just as easy to neglect reading to expose your mind to other styles or modes of expression, but never at the price of missing a daily application of tail in chair, fingers on keyboard or scribbling with pen or pencil.

The most important thing is to persist, struggle, and keep writing.


Friday, December 6, 2013


I think my imagine gland has been overused to the point that it lies limp as a wrung-out dishrag at the side of my wordsmithing anvil.  Attempts at new work, editing of drafts, and even trying to write a letter (yes, I still write letters!) seems nearly impossible. The words I produce seem leaden, the phrasing awkward, poor, and downright pedestrian. I struggle, I type, I try to THINK and what comes out is a pathetic dribble, as if my creative prostate has swollen to the size of Texas.  Drip, drip, drip come the words, slow and difficult despite the tremendous pressure I must apply to force them out.

That's how I felt for three days, worried that I'd worn out my creative machine in that imposing and demanding NaNoWriMo challenge last month.  Did I use the energy that might have given birth to a hundred decent ideas in the process?  Had I wasted the psychic energy on a rambling draft of no particular interest to anyone?

Worse, my conservation bug-a-bear, my do-not-waste-your-words ethic impels me to finish the NaNoWriMo thing regardless of its value. "Do the research" my brain says. "Patch up the plot gaps" my editor brain tells me. "Work out the plot to a sensible conclusion" my perfectionist nature insists. "Finish what you start" and "You can't get up from the table until you clean your plate!"  wage war with my demanding ADD side.  Damn my depression era parents for cursing me with their frugality and Protestant ethic and all those nanny teachers who made me this way!

Fifty thousand words sit on my desktop and scream for editing. The task is daunting; an immense mountain of words that is not reasonable to attempt.  But do I have a choice? Did I ever have a choice?

Instead I finished a couple of short stories and started a new one while I think about it.