Sep 15

Naming Your Characters A-Z

Choosing your character's name

Contributed by Melinda Brasher

I recently read a book where eight significant characters (which was a good percentage of the significant characters) had names that began with the letter A. To make matters more confusing, it was a fantasy book, so many of the names were not familiar to us. The worst combo was Avem and Avarum. I constantly had to stop and think about who was who.

My mom was just telling me about a book where almost all the main characters had names four letters long, including Lena, Luna, and Lisa.

We, as writers, know our characters very well. We know who they are and how they fit in and we would never confuse Avem with Avarum or Lena with Luna. But our readers don’t know our characters so well. They may have only spent a few hours with them, not weeks and months and even years. And trust me, some of our readers WILL confuse Zola and Zora or Fur’langye and F’galen.

So, here’s my challenge:

1) Sit down with any short story or novel you’re writing and make a list of all the significant characters. Bonus points if you also list any minor character who appears more than once.

2) Analyze the list. Look for names that start with the same letter, names that rhyme, and other similar-sounding or similar-looking names.

3) If you find two names that are too similar, change one. “Wait!” you may protest, “I can’t change their names. That’s like changing who they are!” I know it’s hard, but do it anyway. You do NOT want your readers to have to stop and think about who is who every time a character comes into a scene. You want them to stop and think about your mysteries or your characters’ inner struggles or that particularly beautiful piece of writing they just read. The sooner you change the name, the sooner you’ll get used to the new one. It sounds hard, but it’ll be okay in the end.

4) In your next novel or short story, use the list as you start naming your characters, so you don’t have to go back and change anything later.

So, when can you let similar names slide?

-If it’s really important to the plot or characterization

-If the names are distinct enough. For example, you might leave Dr. Turgenev and Tom alone, because they’re quite different, but if you have Trent and Trevor or Carol and Cheryl, change one.

Naming your characters

Melinda Brasher’s fiction appears most recently in Leading Edge (Volume 73) and Deep Magic (Spring 2019). Her newest non-fiction book, Hiking Alaska from Cruise Ports is available for pre-order on Amazon.

She loves hiking and taking photographs of nature’s small miracles.

Visit her online at http://www.melindabrasher.com

Children's ghostwriter

Being a writer, like being any kind of artist who creates something from nothing, is an amazing ability. It’s almost like magic. And, you are in control. You decide what to create. The only limit you have is the cap on your imagination.

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Jul 28

Where Does Your Story Really Start?

Contributed by Melinda Brasher

I recently went to a writing program where the instructor, writer Amy K Nichols, talked about her first book. She polished and polished the first chapter, as we all do. She got an agent, then sold the book. But after the editor started working on it, she told Amy, “You know, I think your story starts in Chapter 8.”

Since then, she’s noticed that many people don’t start in the right place. Often it’s not as drastic as 8 chapters too early. Sometimes it’s only a couple of paragraphs.

Now Nichols does a workshop where people get up and read their first couple of pages aloud and the listeners decide where the story should really start. They try to cut out backstory and get right into the meat–or to a killer hook line.

The workshop was really interesting. It made me re-evaluate a short story I wrote that I really like, that I think is better than some of the stories I’ve sold to magazines, yet I just can’t find a taker. And you know what? I think Nichols was right. I think the real beginning is about three paragraphs down.

I challenge you to take your current work in progress and read it aloud–to a group of trusted critiquers, to friends who like to read and will be honest, or even just to yourself. This works with non-fiction too. As one travel magazine said in its general guidelines, your article doesn’t start the moment you wake up to go to the airport.

Melinda Brasher can’t resist …

photos of teddy bears, animals, and small children reading books (who were perhaps hooked because the author started the story in the right place).

Her most recent sale is a twist on Rumpelstiltskin, appearing in Timeless Tales. You can also find her fiction in Nous, Electric Spec, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and others. If you’re dreaming about traveling to Alaska, check out her guide book, Cruising Alaska on a Budget; a Cruise and Port Guide. Visit her online at http://www.melindabrasher.com

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Being a writer, like being any kind of artist who creates something from nothing, is an amazing ability. It’s almost like magic. And, you are in control. You decide what to create. The only limit you have is the cap on your imagination.

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Dec 02

Overcome Your Writing Distractions

Tips on quieting your writing distractions

Guest post by Melinda Brasher

I recently went to a class conducted by writers Amy K. Nichols and Joe Nassise. They talked about writing in the age of distraction (squirrel writing, they called it). It was very helpful, so I’m going to pass on some of the ideas I found most useful.

-Know your triggers. Write down all the things that distract you from writing and be ruthlessly honest as you do it. Internet surfing, e-mail, games, videos, etc tend to be big culprits, especially since you can do them on the same device you’re supposed to be writing on. Even legitimate research can be a distraction, especially if you interupt the creativity of your first draft to go down that particular rabbit hole. Being aware of your worst distractions can help you avoid them (more on that below).

On the other side of the coin, know what triggers your creativity and productive writing. Sometimes wearing some item of clothing (a magic writing hat, etc), playing certain music, putting on headphones, or writing at a certain time will get you quickly in the zone. Take advantage of these triggers.

-Get into habits and do things religiously. Set aside certain writing times and treat it like a job. Ask yourself, “Would I get fired right now?” If the answer is yes, get off Facebook or whatever and get back to your job of writing.

-When writing at home, put a sign on the door (doorknob hangers work well) so that family members know you’re working and know not to distract you.

-Try a brain focus app, like Brain FM. It sees what focuses you and then plays sounds that help.

-Use the Pomidoro technique (see my last post). This consists of 25-minute working sprints followed by short breaks (5-10 minutes). During your breaks it might work to reward yourself with one of those distractions you wrote down earlier.

-Give yourself deadlines, but make them reasonable and connect with other people who will keep you accountable to those deadlines. After all, if someone expects a certain number of pages from you by Monday, you’re more likely to get it done.

-Resist “shiny thing syndrome” where you get excited by shiny new projects and start so many things but never finish. If this starts happening, pick one and finish it.

-Use apps that turn off the internet or black out the rest of your screen except your writing page for a certain amount of time. There are many apps and browser add-ons like this.

-Try something like Write-o-Meter, which tracks word count and keeps a log of productivity over time. It may help also you find when your most productive hours are.

-Take care of yourself mentally and physically, and don’t compare yourself to others. Be kind to you.

-Give yourself permission to “be a writer.” It will legitimize your work and make your work time seem more valuable.

Melinda Brasher’s most recent sale is a twist on Rumpelstiltskin, appearing in Timeless Tales. You can also find her fiction in Nous, Electric Spec, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and others. If you’re dreaming about traveling to Alaska, check out her guide book, Cruising Alaska on a Budget; a Cruise and Port Guide. Visit her online at http://www.melindabrasher.com

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Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable story today!

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Jul 08

Writing a Book – Bait and Switch Editing

Bait and Switch Editing

Contributed by Melinda Brasher

Bait and switch tactics don’t usually work well in writing. Of course, surprises and twists are good, but if you write a romance and market it as a psychological thriller, you’ll disappoint readers.

If you start a novel as a realistic, contemporary mystery, and near the end reveal that the real culprit was a vampire, you’ll alienate the contemporary mystery audience.

If you title an article, “Seven Ways to Avoid Ironing” and then talk only about the history of ironing, you have failed.

I’ve been reading a lot of self-published novels the last few years, and a different sort of bait and switch pattern has emerged in an unfortunate number of them. This is a bait and switch of editing.

The book starts well, with few typos and other errors. Then it begins to deteriorate. Sometimes this is so dramatic that I have to believe the author hired a professional editor but only wanted to pay for the first few chapters.

These authors must believe that once the reader is invested enough in the character or story line, they won’t care about the editing and will keep reading to see what happens.

This works—in part—on me. I want to see what happens in the end. But I do care about the editing too, and I get increasingly annoyed with the author. I feel almost betrayed, like he didn’t have enough respect for his readers to properly edit the whole thing, and decided instead to purposely trick us.

I’m probably extreme in this, but even people who aren’t as sensitive to errors as I am will often feel disappointed, and many will decide against reading more by the author. And you always want to leave the reader wanting more.

If you’re a regular to this site, with all the editing tips and resources included here, you probably wouldn’t dream of intentionally baiting and switching like this. But sometimes it happens even if you don’t mean it. We’ve probably all edited the first one to three chapters of our novels more heavily than any other part, because that’s what agents want to see. The first chapter is what will hook or let go of a reader.

But do not neglect all the other chapters. Use the hints and tips on Writers on the Move to make sure you don’t fall into this pattern.

Melinda Brasher’s newest story sale went to NOUS magazine. It’s a tale of a corporate unhappiness and a “take that” scheme that doesn’t go as planned. Check out the magazine here: NOUS. Other travel articles and short fiction appear in Go Nomad, International Living, Electric Spec, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and others. For an e-book collection of some of her favorite published pieces, check out Leaving Home. For something a little more medieval, read her YA fantasy novel, Far-Knowing. Visit her online at http://www.melindabrasher.com.

This article was first published at: http://www.writersonthemove.com/2016/09/bait-and-switch-editing.html

Be a children's writerBeing a writer, like being any kind of artist who creates something from nothing, is an amazing ability. It’s almost like magic. And, you are in control. You decide what to create. The only limit you have is the cap on your imagination.

Check out my 250 page ebook (or paperback) that explains HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK. It’s newly revised and includes information on finding a publisher or agent and marketing your books.

 

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