Friday, September 28, 2012

It's (not) just a name

All of us are given a name, when we're born.  And sometimes, that name doesn't really fit.  So we use a nickname based on our given name, or we use our middle name, or we use something like Bucky, or Tiger.  Sometimes we grow out of a nickname; sometimes we grow into a nickname.  And sometimes we just go through life with the wrong name  (how many of us can say we know a person who simply does not fit their name, and it strikes a discordant chord, every time we hear or use the name?)  And you can't really blame parents when any of this happens  (unless the given name is something bizarre like Bucky, in the first place)...  at the time they had to choose a name, they had no idea what sort of person the child might become.  (Actually, when my sister's birth certificate was issued, it listed her first name as Baby, and her second name was Girl.  Technically, 100% accurate.  However, this was a mistake, it was less than satisfactory to all involved, and a corrected birth certificate was issued.)

But when a writer names a character in the story, the writer does not have the excuse that new parents have.  While it's true that sometimes a writer might not know a lot about the character when the character first shows up, by the end of the story, it's pretty clear what sort of person the character is.  So, as writers, we have an obligation to our characters, to name them appropriately.

When writing a story, I have been known to sit and ponder, sometimes for a long time, trying to figure out what a character's name might be.  Particularly during Nano, this is truly a foolish thing to do -- there's hardly time to ponder the plot, much less the character's name.   I  know that many writers simply assign a random letter to the character, with the plan to go back later, and put in a name.  This doesn't work for me --  I find myself unable to go forward, without an identity.  There are some who laugh at me, for this attitude... and while I have outwardly acknowledged that my approach makes no sense, inwardly -- well, let's just say I disagree.

Recently, I started listening to a new book.  (about half my reading is done on my nook, the other half is done via recorded books, while driving in the car)  The main character's name is Elizabeth, although I think perhaps the only time her full name is used, is when she first identifies herself to the reader.  Other characters call her Liz, or Lizzie, when they use a name at all -- most of the time, they don't call her anything.  While I have not given much thought to what this character's name might actually be, there is NO doubt in my mind, that she is NOT a Liz, Lizzie, Elizabeth, or even Liza or Beth.  The first few times I heard someone call her Liz or Lizzie, I truly thought 'Who is that?', before I realized they were talking to the main character.  I have run into situations before, where a character's name feels a bit odd, or a nickname might feel a bit forced, but this is the first time where the name has been downright wrong.

This is enough to convince me.. It's NOT just a name, it's an important element of the character, a reflection of their personality.  So I will go back to my ponderings, to do my best to properly identify my characters, doing my best to get it right.  And if I don't, my characters will let me know.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

tea, football, and the princess

Sitting here, drinking my tea.  Decided to try something a bit different -- it's called Russian Caravan Tea.  A black tea, of course.  I don't do herbals,  or green teas, or any other color... but it's amazing how different one black tea can be from another.  This new tea isn't bad, but it doesn't compare to Typhoo.  

Moving on, this football thing is pretty silly.  I mean --  it's just a game.  Hey, if people don't like the way the referees are refereeing, maybe we should combine football games, with American Idol...  let the players play, and then the audience can call in and vote for who they think won the game. 
Sorry, I'm just not a football fan.  Yes, I do watch football on occasion but it's just a game. I just can't take it seriously.  

However, there is one good thing that has come out of this football foolishness.  We had to have something this big, to knock the Princess out of the news.  Sure, it was pretty stupid for her to be topless.  I'm sorry, but there are some sacrifices you have to make, a price you have to pay, to be princess.  And one of those sacrifices is that you really, really shouldn't go topless.  Ever.  Anywhere.  On the other hand -- give me a break --  my understanding is that she was just a normal topless person.....  she didn't have 3 breasts, she didn't have a hand coming out of her chest, a la one of those scary Freddy movies,  and she was in the company of her husband.  So ---  Why am I supposed to care?  I don't.  And I'm glad it's over, so we can move on to more interesting things, like   .....  
Oh wait.  Never mind.

That's it for tonight.  Nothing overly insightful, or exciting.  Just some random teapot musing.  And I think I'll pass on the Russian Caravan tea in the future...  not very strong or robust.. more of a hint of tea, than a good strong cuppa.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Nanowrimo, and those who don't get it

Drinking my typhoo tea, eating popcorn, and I've got a little something stuck in my craw --- no, it's not a popcorn husk.

A few years ago, I became aware of this wonderful event called Nanowrimo...  you write 50k words of fiction, during the calendar month of November.

(Really?  but you haven't written ANY fiction, in well over 30 years, much less 50k in 30d.)
(I know, but something about this event just calls to me.)
(That's absurd.  You can't possibly come up with anything of value, in that short of a time frame.)
(I know...  but look.... right here, it says the idea is quantity, not quality.)
(But what if you don't finish?)
(So, I don't finish.  At least I'll have started.)
(Ok.  And what happens if you do finish?)
(Then, I finish.)
(No, I mean what do you get?)
(Get?  Uhm...  let's see.  Oh yeah, I get a purple ribbon next to my name...)
(Where's that?)
(On the website.)
(So the only people who see the 'purple ribbon', are other people who are doing this?....   What else?)
(Well, I get a link to a page where I could type in my name, and then print out a certificate.)
(So are you going to do that?)
(No... seems kind of cheesy.)
(What else?)
(What else???   Oh yeah!!  I could get a 50% discount on this really cool software called Scrivener!!)
(Scrivener? Never heard of that.  So what's the discount worth?)
(Twenty bucks...  the software is $40, and so the discount is twenty bucks.)
after a pause  (I see.)
(No, I don't think you do.)

So that kind of sums up Nanowrimo for me.

This year, my November schedule is absolutely crazy, and it's full of things that can neither be done in advance, nor put off until December. I was talking to a colleague about this, and laughing at the position I find myself in.  With a straight face, he said "so you're going to start early, of course."  Initially, I assumed he was joking.  Looking at his face, I realized he was not.  "Don't you know me any better than that?  I can't start early."  He shook his head, and walked away, and I realized that OLL (the people who run nano) has left out a piece.  It's not just quantity over quality, but it's also about integrity.  There's no one checking to make sure you don't start early, there's no one checking to make sure that the words you submit are real words, and part of a real story, and there's really 50k of them.  Spelling might not count, and grammar might not count, and plot consistency might not count.....  but integrity counts, big time.

Nanowrimo....  quantity over quality, and integrity above all.

Note:  as I reread this, I realized that - in my imaginary discussion about Nano, I forgot a really important thing that you can get... some potentially excellent, potentially long-lasting friendships.  But then, you get that, whether you finish or not.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The problem with a series....

... is that you have to figure out a way to keep it exciting.  Personally, I liked all of the J.K. Rowling Harry Potter books, but there were many who felt that the story was getting tired and old, by the last one.  I'm a big fan of Jasper Fforde, especially the Thursday Next series, and was a little disappointed when he shifted to Shades of Grey.

But -- you have to know when enough is enough.

I recently read V is for Vengeance, by Sue Grafton.  Not sure if I've read all of A through U.. but I've read many of them.. and my recollection was that I very much enjoyed the Kinsey Milhone stories.  But I found myself having trouble staying focused on V... I was bored, and easily distracted.  Couldn't decide if Grafton was losing her touch, or if the problem was me.. and there's no question that once you start with A is for ?hmmm.. Alibi? I think..  you kind of back yourself into a promise of 25 more books.
I'm currently reading Strategic Moves, by Stuart Woods.  Again, I've enjoyed the Stone Barrington books in the past, and the story seems like it has potential.. but the writing seems stilted, the dialog seems forced.. and I feel like Woods doesn't enjoy doing this anymore.

I'm thinking about Nano 2012....  and my reputation for killing off key characters  (can you really establish a reputation based on 3 stories?) ..  and I'm feeling pressured (not by others, but by myself) to keep all of my characters alive this year.  But on the other hand, I often respond to comments about my predilection for killing characters, by saying "That's how I know I've come to the end."  And knowing that you've come to the end, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

ah.. I hear the kettle boiling.. back to my tea.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Are we out of new ideas?

For some reason, I didn't really notice this until I started doing Nanowrimo.. but more and more, it seems that all the new stores are merely re-writes, or slight variations on a theme.

I'm currently reading Dies the Fire, by Stirling...  which is about a post-apocalyptic work without electricity.  Last night, hubby turned to a new show called Revolution.. which is about a post-apocalyptic world without electricity.  Sure, there are differences..   one is set on the west coast, and one is set in the Heartland..  in one, the failure of electricity extends to guns, and in the other, guns still work..  but both stories have lots of crossbows, lots of horses, lots of farming and agriculture, and a fiefdom sort of government.

Back in 2009, I did my first Nano... and wrote of a world where everything revolved around spices.. occupations, holidays, names of people, names of food, names of businesses.. with a strong controlling government.  Two months later, in early 2010, Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey came out.. a world in which everything revolved around colors -- status, occupation,  relationships.. with a strong controlling government.  Sure, I'd read Fforde's earlier works, but S of G was quite different from his earlier stuff, which mostly dealt with characters in fictional works.

While we were watching Revolution last night, a commercial came on for a new show called Loopers, involving time travel.  Although I'm a pantser, I do come up with a broad overall theme for my Nano stories in advance.. I don't really know the beginning or middle, and I definitely don't know the end, but I have to decide on some key elements in advance, so that I can do any necessary research before the starter's pistol goes off.  For Nano 2012 -- yep, you guessed it, my story will involve time travel.

I guess I don't have a problem with recycling, and tweaking and twisting... it just surprises me that we seem to be out of new ideas.