“What’s In A Name?”

Even by a different name, a rose would smell just as sweet, according to William Shakespeare.

Part of the magic of character development lives in the name you choose.  This crosses all genres and can make a character go from ordinary to eclipsing his or her creator. [1]   Scarlett O’Hara would probably not have been so memorable if her name had been Sally.

There are a great many resources for finding names – from Google to baby naming books, you can always find something that will suit your characters.  What makes name research even more fun is discovering the meaning behind them, particularly when the name lends itself to both the character’s journey and the story itself.  This is most important for your hero or heroine, but the secondary characters can also benefit from this type of care.

I will offer a word of caution, however – there will be times when one character refuses to like any of the names chosen for him (or her).  He (or she) will be accepting of it for one draft, but when you go in to revise, the name no longer suits.  This has only happened once, in my own experience, and that particular character was so dissatisfied with his name, that I changed it twelve times. [2]  In the process, he changed his nationality, as well, which was interesting and unexpected, to say the least.

Regardless of what genre you choose to write in, the name you give your characters will not only enhance the story, but add a certain depth, as well.  


[1]  The most famous of these characters is Sherlock Holmes, whom creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came to despise – so much so, he killed the character off in The Final Problem.  Public opinion, of course, encouraged the return of the memorable sleuth.

[2]  His current name is satisfactory – it’s not only delicious to roll off one’s tongue, it’s quite playful and suggests a fun, sexy and sensitive nature.

“What Year Is It, Anyway?”

A few years ago, I read a mystery that had a very modern and contemporary feel to it, both in the language and the narrative.  Nowhere in the book’s description or within the context of the story did it clarify the time period.  I’d read perhaps six chapters before it became clear that it was set in the Old West, and not in the year 2012.  Not long after that, I lost interest, put the book down and have since forgotten both title and author.

Why did I put the book down, after investing enough time to have read six chapters?  I wanted to give the book a fair chance, even though I was continually trying to pinpoint the When of the world within that story.  And when a simple thing (like establishing the time period) takes more than one paragraph, let alone fifty pages, I’m removed from that world completely.  The effort to try and go back in is no longer worth it.

When writing fiction, be it a long or short narrative, it is important to immediately establish the context of the when, the where and the why.  This is especially important when the setting of your story is historical.  Whether it’s the Old West, Ancient Athens or turn of the century London, as soon as your reader opens to the first page, that world must come to life and engage all five senses – smell, sound, sight, touch, taste.  The goal, by doing this, is to engage the reader so deeply that they can’t turn the pages fast enough.    

Your job as a writer is to create a world so rich, so detailed, so inviting, that it takes your reader out of this world. 

And leave them wanting more.

“Trust Your Instincts.”

So said the mystic sage Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope (1977).

This applies to your writing just as much as any real-life situation.  In real life, your instincts can either save you from a bad situation or encourage you to take a leap of faith.  

When it comes to your writing, only you as the writer can know if a particular scene needs to stay, even if you aren’t able to articulate why.  Trusting that scene’s place in your story is very important.  Your job as a writer, then, is to find and tease out the threads that will ultimately reward that instinct and faith.

Sometimes, those reasons will come up easily.  Many times, it will require walking away from the project for awhile, allowing it to percolate in the back of your mind.  And other times, it may require a creative project in a different medium to distract that focus long enough to allow the ideas to flow through you. 

Once you find those little connections between that scene and the rest of your story, it’s just a matter of threading them into the body of your work.  It will be time-consuming and more often than not a little frustrating, but the end result will be worth it.

Trust your instincts and keep the faith.

The story, through you, will work itself out.

“Brevity is the Soul of Wit…..”

The above statement (and title of this post) is the most succinct and to the point sentence that Polonius utters during a long-winded speech to King Claudius in the play, Hamlet.  Whether it’s a novel, a short story, a blog post, or even an author biography for your website, a good editor will help to keep your work tight and effective.  

So, keeping that in mind, I’ll be brief.

The first draft is to just write – to tell yourself the story, have fun and get everything you want to say out. This is where you get be extravagant with words, to be as playful and as wordy as you want as you explore what you want to tell.

The second draft is to shape the piece so that it aligns with your vision.  Sometimes this means adding new pieces or moving existing ones around until they fit.

The third draft (and every draft thereafter) is to hone it down to its bare essence, so that what you want to say comes through succinctly.  This is where you simplify your language to invite your readers in.  

In short, murder your darlings, dear writer.  Cut the excessive wordage out and simplify.  

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