Monday, 25 July 2011

10 Ways to Name Your Characters

A comment by Serenity Woods reminded me about a blog post I have been meaning to write. She said that her husband always knows she is contemplating a new book when she takes her book of baby names off the book shelf.

So how can you find inspiration for names? Here are ten suggestions:-

1. Baby name book

2. Mix up first names and surnames you come across in real life or in books and magazines. I amused myself waiting for my son’s graduation to start by looking at the possible name combinations in the programme.

3. One of my favourites is to look at names on memorial benches. These have inspired several of my poems and I thought at one time about trying to get known as a memorial bench poet.

4. Follow the celebrities and name your characters after the places in which they might have been conceived.

5. Experiment with the names of birds – Sparrow, Wren, Linnet.

6. If the story has a historical setting it is important to choose an appropriately aged name. There are several websites giving era appropriate name lists.

7. Try to avoid main character names beginning with the same letter, e.g. Simon and Simone. I read a book recently and had to keep looking back to previous chapters to understand who I was reading about, especially as the female character had a masculine nickname.

8. If someone annoys you the baddie in your story can always be named after them.

9. Use your writer’s notebook to record any likely names which might even be cars or business names.

10. Consult the Bible. My sister and I are not overly religious, but all of our children have biblical names. Naming a character has similarities with naming your offspring and if you get your manuscript published you will have to live with the names for a long time, so choose wisely.

Any other ideas? Or tales of how you named your characters below please?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Just When You Think You Have Finished!

Just over a week ago I was feeling elated about having written 80,000 words of my current WIP. Now reality dawns. I need to get into this, for me, new arena called editing.

With the school holidays underway and a very bouncy eight year old demanding amusement, my writing time will be limited for the next seven and a half weeks, but I am hoping that this might focus my mind. We always have this strange settling down phase where we both adjust to no alarm and externally imposed structure, but then we begin to enjoy our adventures and relaxation.

So the plan from here for the book is:-

1. Map out the story line including the passage of time and the seasons.

2. Ensure flashbacks and clues for the mystery are inserted at the right points

3. Closely examine each chapter to eliminate repeated words, phrases and clichés.

4. Re-write passages of “telling”.

5. Ensure that the correct point of view is maintained through scenes.

6. Flesh out my characters and ensure descriptive continuity throughout the manuscript.

7. Upload the “finished” version to my newly acquired Kindle for a thorough read through aloud.

Sounds simple! However, a new beginning for the story occurred to me yesterday and although this means a rewrite of the first couple of chapters, I think it is worth pursuing as it introduces the story in a more original way. This needs to be completed before step 1.

Maisey Yates was blogging yesterday about her process of writing and about how many cookies she gets through when writing a book. Mmm…..I wonder how much editing chocolate I will consume?

Any editing steps I’ve missed or tips welcome below please.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Toe in Water – RNA Conference

On Saturday (9 July) I set off in great trepidation to drive to Caerleon in Wales for the RNA conference. It made me realise that I don’t drive far these days, but thanks to the satnav and Ellie Swoop keeping me awake we arrived safely.

It was lovely to see people I knew, people I had met on Facebook and Twitter and to make new friends. Isn’t it strange that from those little profile photographs you can’t gauge height or accent!

I decided to list some learning points from my first conference:-

1. If you put “big knickers” in your book people will remember it.
2. Queues are not always bad. You can make friends in a queue.
3. It is helpful to be able to say in six seconds what your book is about.
4. How motivating an “Ooo” from a crowd can be. (Got one for my 6 second pitch)
5. It is a truth universally acknowledged that romantic novelists like posh shoes.

The workshops I attended were very special. I learned loads in a short space of time. My novel was rearranging itself in my head during the day. For those interested I went to:

• Linda Gillard – Painting with words.
• Jane Wenham-Jones – Where’s my hook? What’s my angle?
• Flo Nicoll & Anna Boatman – Unpredictable journey to happy-ever-after.
• Liz Fielding – Blending humour with emotion.
• Rachel Summerson – Creating characters we believe in.
• Lorelei Mathias – Book marketing for small pockets.

Special mentions to Teresa Morgan, Talli Roland, India Grey, Sue Moorcroft, Anne Ashurst, Leanne Bibby, Alison Maynard, Elizabeth Hanbury, Sue Johnson, Jan Jones (for organising), Rachel Lyndhurst, Linda Gillard (for fantastic workshop), last but not least Ellie Swoop (for maltesers on way home).

Loved my ‘toe in the water’ experience and now want to join the RNA and go again. Pity I didn’t take any photographs, but there are loads on other blogs – thankfully not of me!

Have you had a great day recently? Please tell me about it.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

I Did It!

For those of you who have missed my many update posts on Twitter (@MSGray53) and Facebook, I finished my 80,000 word writing challenge yesterday. The aim was to write 80,000 words in 80 days and I finished early.

Don't worry this isn’t going to be a bragging post. I am pleased with myself, but I thought it might be useful to draw out the learning points, some of which may seem a little bizarre:
1)    A writing challenge is motivating.

2)    It is possible to fit the writing of 1,000+ words a day around a busy family life.

3)    The more you focus on your characters the more they with communicate with you.

4)    The more you write about a story the clearer the plot seems to become.

5)    Sometimes you have to write around a story to move forward. Those words may not get included in the final manuscript but they are beneficial for composting ideas.

6)    It is useful to write from different viewpoints. I would thoroughly recommend having a go at these exercises.
  • I had a go at documenting the emotions of both my hero and heroine and how they changed through the novel.
  • I interviewed my main characters to discover more about their motivations and backstory.
  • Sometimes I wrote the same scene from a different character's perspective.
7)    I may have written 80,000 words, but this is only the beginning. After a short break from this manuscript I will need to dive into new territory for me – editing!

I have to be careful that I don’t become a challenge junkie, as I enjoy first draft writing so much. This time I need to make sure I follow through and finish this novel.
Have you any comments about my learning points or any other gems to share?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Lady of the English - Elizabeth Chadwick

Last Friday evening (1 July 2011), I attended another book signing. This time it was at Waterstones in Worcester and was for Elizabeth Chadwick’s ‘Lady of the English’. Ellie Swoop accompanied me and it felt very strange walking through the deserted streets of Worcester after hours with all the shops shut and dark. We even had to ring the doorbell of the book store to get in.

We were early and it was amazing being inside a bookshop for almost an exclusive viewing of all the books. We started designing plot lines about characters locked in overnight. The audience for this event was larger than the Victoria Connelly event, but still not huge. Sarah Broadhurst, book reviewer and blogger, was there too. The ticket price of £3 could be redeemed against other book purchases and most people were buying books.

Elizabeth Chadwick turned up a little flustered about car parking and I immediately warmed to her. It is always a relief when published authors are human (although I don’t know why I would think they would be anything else!)

She told us about her early writing, her path to publication and how her writing has changed. Several things she spoke about struck a chord with me.

• When she was very small she used to make up stories about the fairies on her handkerchief.

• There was a dressing up box at school which inspired her and made history more real. I too remember my history teacher bringing in a big box of Victorian clothes – it was one of the best lessons ever.

• She talked about early inspiring television programmes, in particular Desert Crusader and The Flashing Blade. I haven’t been able to get the theme tune of this last one out of my head ever since. It must have lodged there in my teens.

• Elizabeth bought with her a selection of the research books she uses, including one about leprosy in medieval England and another about sexuality in medieval Europe. She buys lots of books and she said that the main problem is being able to find the one she wants on her bookshelves.

• I loved the fact that she writes her historical novels to contemporary music. She matches the mood of the music to the scene she wants to write. For example when writing a light love scene she was listening to Kiki Dee’s Amoureuse. She particularly likes writing to hard rock, punk and grunge. You can never tell by looking at someone can you?

• Her books have become more successful since she has centred them on women from history.

• The main ways that her writing has changed include, writing fictionally around real life characters and using the services of a psychic to gain deeper insights into her characters' lives.

I found the talk thought provoking and fascinating. The fact that I am still processing the content nearly a week later tells you the sort of impact it had on me. I have read some of Elizabeth’s early work and bought a more recent title on the night. I don’t cope well with reading hardbacks due to the weight of them so will look forward to reading ‘Lady of the English’ when it comes out in paperback.

Meanwhile check out Elizabeth Chadwick’s website and blog. She is also one of the authors on Twitter who you can have a great conversation with.

Have you learned anything about a published author that has surprised you?

Friday, 1 July 2011

High on Emotion

A lot of you will know that I am currently taking part in Sally Quillford’s 80k 80 day challenge and doing rather well. Today my total stands at 72,817 words with 18 days to go. It has been quite a roller coaster ride, but I have made myself write at least 1000 words a day.

Today I was trying to coalesce my plot so I decided to try some “emotional walk throughs”. I had more or less decided how the plot was going to flow, but today I wrote first from my heroine’s point of view and then from my hero’s, going through each plot stage and writing about the emotional reactions of these two characters. It proved a very worthwhile exercise as it enabled me to eliminate some red herring plot lines and to be very clear about what each chapter is trying to achieve. I wrote over 1800 words too!
I am now getting to the stage where this book is fully formed. It is the furthest I have got in any one manuscript and it feels good. Maybe I can at last see the attraction of doing this full time. I have almost a hunger to finish and start editing. The last 8,000 words of the challenge are going to be concentrated on the “thin” scenes. Then I think I will polish a few short stories and send them out, before editing working title ‘Rosie’s Mystery Man’ or ‘Legacy of the Past.’
So I am high on emotion this afternoon.
Have you any tips for us about techniques which changed your view of your work?