Fizzles and Sparks

The exciting blog post ideas that form during the day manage without fail to fizzle out by the time I reach home.

Yet story ideas cling to the forefront of my mind.

Fireworks - Click for source
© Amyn Kassam

I’m worldbuilding for my short sci-fi–it has alien hand-to-hand combat and conflict between social values–while I complete the first draft.

Although the draft was due yesterday, no one else in the writing group is ready with their stories. The group won’t mind, or maybe they’ll appreciate, that I’m taking a few extra days to submit.

After I send off that story to be  scrutinized by online friends, I’ll focus again on my current short fantasy.

The latest reader of the fantasy noticed a few minor issues that I can correct quickly. I’m hoping to the same happens with my final reader, who took my story with her on vacation and promised to give me her feedback when she returns.

She also promised to give me a copy of her novel. So, I’ll be critiquing a novel and five short stories in the next couple weeks. Yay! (I mean that. Yay!)

And DeCo… somehow I WILL carve out enough space to make serious progress. I’m feeling confident in the novel plan again, but the main character has been pushing into my thoughts with the reminder that he’d like attention, too.

What has and hasn’t kept YOUR attention this week?

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The First Letter of Character Names

Sidenote: I keep rewriting the post on the advantages of critiquing. One day I’ll publish it…

Letter M from the Fantastic Alphabet - Click for source

In Christi Craig’s most recent blog post, My Favorite Letters of the Alphabet, she and several commentors admitted to using J and M for the first letter of many character names.

Why are these letters so popular? I have no idea, but I’m guessing every writer is drawn to a limited range of names. I have a habit, with my novels, of starting a character’s name a letter that identifies its type. For example:

  • dark hero’s name with a D
  • MC’s inspirational friend’s with a J
  • warrior woman’s with an S
  • scary authority figure’s with a T

I realized months ago that I lean towards D but didn’t realize until tonight that other letters indicate a character type.

At least this letter-by-type method is more developed than starting most of the important characters in the same story with the same letter.

“But wait,” someone might say. “People prefer M and J, so shouldn’t I use those for my important characters?”

No. That’s because readers need variation to help them tell characters apart, and they’ll appreciate if it’s in more than the physical description and dialogue.

Consider this: If you were introduced to Dina, Donny, Darcie, and David in the first few chapters, then what would be your chances of remembering the difference between Dina and Darcie, or Donny and David, without a heavy use of character tags (recurring actions, dialogue or description specific to each character)?

Tina, Donny, Alice, and Mike conjure similar images as the first list but don’t blend together as much.

Orson Scott Card mentioned this in one of his online Writing Class posts, More on Naming Characters. So, this form of reader confusion appears to be common.

Another thing: Don’t assume that introducing characters in different chapters and different locations will prevent reader confusion. Some of your readers may catch on to the difference well enough, but I recommend making the character’s unique qualities pronounced.

Anyway, when writing, there’s a benefit to starting each character’s name with a different letter. If you’re like me in that you make notes about your plots and characters, then you may appreciate shortcuts. I prefer to write “D woke to find S waiting by his bed. S tells him T is planning on killing them” and so on instead of writing full names throughout an outline, which is often handwritten and then typed. However, that’s not going to work well if I have three characters whose names start with D and two who start with S.

Have you been confused by names that started with the same letter? Do you know of any other reason to vary the first letter of important characters?

Why Story Titles Matter

Black hole and gas bubbles - NASA image 

effervescence: (1) effect of escaping gas (as in bubbles, hisses, or foam); (2) bubbliness or exhilaration

 

evanescence: (1) dissipating vapor; (2) act of vanishing like vapor.

 

incandescence: emission of light from heat

 

Several dictionaries were referenced to create these definitions.
 

I don’t know how this works for anyone else, but I won’t remember an author’s name unless (a) I know the person or (b) I’ve enjoyed reading her stories. That puts authors whose work I haven’t yet read at a disadvantage. Fortunately, stories–especially novels–are easily found by their titles.

Unfortunately, some titles are more difficult to remember than others. A title sure to confuse my memory consists of a single multi-syllable word.

Such as the words above.

Consider, if you will, those three words. One is the title of a science fiction novel written by Greg Egan.

I saw this particular novel at a brick-and-mortar Barnes and Noble last autumn. With plenty of free time and little spending money, I stood in the store to read the novel’s opening, which hooked me enough that I put the story on my reading wish list.

Since then, the Barnes and Noble sold or returned their copy, which they haven’t replenished. None of the other bookstores I visit seem to carry the book. The author was unfamiliar to me, so I couldn’t recall his name.

I thought I remembered the title, but that thought turned out to be a joke. Most of the time I’d try to find the novel by searching on Evanescence–or, to be honest, some misspelling of the word. After a few failed attempts, I’d sometimes try Effervescence. That would get me nowhere nearer to the novel, which is titled Incandescence.

All three words are rarely used among average people, contain the same number of syllables, possess roughly similar meanings, and start with a vowel.

Can you see how I get them confused?

There’s a lesson in my minor misadventure. Even a well-known author (as I’m told Egan is) may benefit by naming his story with a word or phrase that’s easy to memorize and hard to confuse with non-titles.

I’m stubborn, and possibly a little desperate for hard science fiction; therefore, I kept looking. Most readers won’t go out of their way to track down a story they once passed up.