How The Heck Do You Name Your MC?

So, you have a great story. A plot that’ll throw readers out of their seats. A main set of characters that are relatable and funny and unique. A twisted villain that straddles the line between true darkness and having a reason why they’re doing their evil deeds. You might even have a title for this masterpiece. But then you stop and realize: you don’t have a name for your main characters. What are you supposed to call them? What name would hold the mantle of the story? What should the minor characters shout as they claim victory?

Some authors have no issues finding the right name for their characters. Some authors spend days or months trying to find the right one. I belong in the “days or months” category. It takes me ages to figure out a name that I like, but because of that I’ve developed a set of tools that helps me. Maybe you could use those tools, too? Here are three ways I discover my character names like the ones in my Cicatrix Duology:

Try To Determine What They Represent In The Story
This is an old technique but I use it all the freaking time. Is your character brave? Strong? Shifty? Honorable? Scary, maybe? I used this for both my Across the Stars business owner Cassidy Gates and the big baddies Acedians (not a single character but are important enough they are a single big-bad entity). I knew Cassidy would be smart and independent and more clever than Mia, she’d be able to see through Mia’s ruse in a way no one else could, so I researched those traits and found her name. For the Acedians, I wanted to reflect their last stage, where the human part of them is taken away and they’re basically a shell for Donavin’s use. Adecia means “apathetic” and worked perfectly.

Pick Them Because Of An Inside Joke
Now don’t walk away from this or scoff. It’s a weird way of thinking, but my spaceship captain Mia Foley falls into this category. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to name her, and originally it had been Maria but then I kept on thinking of the song from Sound of Music and kept humming “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria” in my head whenever her name came up. (Spoiler: In the two books, her name comes up a lot.) It wasn’t working out. So I thought about her story, about her past, her capture, her running, her always trying to stay one step ahead. And then it hit me, she literally tried to be M.I.A. (missing in action) after blowing up every ship. I realize it’s not the standard military way of using it (where it explains a missing person after a battle) but she tried to disappear. It made me chuckle and when I wrote her name in the story, it just worked.

Try One Of Those Name Generators
I really enjoy combing through the random name generators to find unique names for my characters – like Nin, who you’ll meet in Losing Hold. I never use the actual names that pop up but I like combining certain vowel sounds I see and figure out if it works, especially for last names or fantasy names.

Those are my tricks of the trade. What are some of yours? Leave a comment!

Hope you’re having a lovely Easter (if you celebrate) and a lovely Sunday (if you don’t)!
Warm regards,
Kellie

Eight Reasons Why I Write

Hello all!

This week I’ve been doing things like getting ready for Write to Publish 2016—brainstorming cool ideas to pursue in January—and thinking about my novel Finding Hekate more—brainstorming marketing ideas and review places—and napping. There’s been a lot of napping. And watching Critical Role. It’s the week after finals, don’t judge!

I meant to write more this week, but I didn’t. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I wrote a 20-page (double-spaced) paper on fanfiction for finals week. Maybe it’s because I wrote a 9-page (single-spaced) transmedia marketing plan for a digital teen scavenger hunt for finals week. Maybe it’s because I didn’t plan time per day to write. I just know I didn’t write.

But, because of Suddenly Jamie’s post last week, I did wonder why I write. Here are some reasons:

  1. Because I love characterization.
    • I’ve always loved creating the characters. Ever since I was little I always wanted to figure characters out, their names, eye color, hair color, backgrounds, family, friends, who they are, what they want. It was fun to create them, to put a part of myself into them or to be something I could never be. Now, I know from all those motivational posters that I can be anyone I want to be. But a dragon hunter? Technically, I can’t be that. A woman who had to kill to survive? I really don’t wanna be that. But I do want to write about it.
  2. Because I love worldbuilding.
    • Worldbuilding, like characterization, is another one of my favorites. Creating a whole new world, crafting the rules, the customs, the cultures of these new peoples. Of these new races. The history and lore of the world is in my mind (or in my notes) even if the readers never know about it.
  3. Because it makes me feel powerful, in a weird, strange, awkward kind of way.
    • It may (or may not?) be apparent, but I like creating things. Crafting worlds and characters out of nothing. It makes me feel powerful, in a way. I’ve created numerous worlds and characters, for short stories, flash fictions, poems, novels. The readers may never know it all, and probably shouldn’t know it all, but I know it. And that’s a cool feeling.
  4. Because I want to get better at it.
    • Writing is…overly romanticized in some ways. When you say “writer” we all get this image of a figure hunched over a computer in the midst of a creative breakthrough surrounded by coffee and stacks of paper and cats. (Okay, I added the cats part.) In other ways, the romance is spot on, like when you get a burst of creativity. When you write all night long (or all day). When you get that flash of a character or of a world or of some badass weapon this or that character really should use. But it’s not easy by any means. It takes work. And a good portion of why I write is so I can become a better writer.
  5. Because I want to get better at it.
    • I need to get better at it. I need to hone my craft! Practice makes perfect, you know? The way I figure it, the best is yet to come.
  6. Because I want to get better at it.
    • Yes, I know. Three times. But it bears repeating. I want to—no, I will get better at this craft of mine.
  7. Because becoming an author is a dream of mine.
    • It’s a dream of mine to be published. And right now, that dream is coming true! But I don’t want to be a one-hit-wonder. I want to publish a bunch of books. This duology is just the start!
  8. Because it’s fun!
    • Some people build things. Some people compose music. Some people teach kids. There is a whole world of things people can have fun doing. For me, it’s writing!

There are many other reasons why I write, but these are some pretty good ones! So, why do you write? Or, why do you do the thing you’re most passionate about? Let me know in the comments!

Have a safe and happy holiday season!
Warm regards,
Kellie

GREAT THOUGHTS

When I was younger and imagined my life as an writer extraordinaire, I figured I’d have creative breakthroughs every single day. Every. Single. Day. That every one of my thoughts would be my next best seller. That I’d be typing happily away on my computer – in my office, in a coffee shop, in the library – many GREAT THOUGHTS would hit me, I’d pick one, write the others down, and be set for that day.

I figured since inspiration is everywhere, the GREAT THOUGHTS would just come to me… easily. Simply. Without stress. Without pain. Without the hours and hours of time dedicated to it or agonizing over it.

I, of course, was wrong.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I have many great thoughts… that one time I figured out how to fix a footer in a pesky Word document that no one could quite figure out all by myself, that brilliant idea for a Full Moon Event involving glow sticks and a Frisbee, that time I paired cottage cheese and eggs and discovered the most amazing breakfast food of all time. Those are great thoughts…but just not the right ones.

Truth be told, GREAT (writing) THOUGHTS don’t come around very often.

Sure we have a pack of GOOD IDEAS sneaking around our ankles, and two or three INTERESTING CHARACTERS tugging at our hair… but GREAT THOUGHTS?

GREAT THOUGHTS tend to travel by themselves. They are rarely seen and, once had, hidden away, locked in a cage in our mind until we nurture them enough to let them see the light. (And by nurture, I mean feed them our souls in little chunks, let them drink our time away, and claw at our imagination for fun.)

GREAT THOUGHTS rattle their cages until they make us uncomfortable enough to share with others – tugging at our creative ropes, wanting to join the fray with the undeniable ARCHES, the handy PLOT TWISTS, and tumble with ALL THE FEELS. Enough to make us share them with OTHER UNKNOWN WRITERS who are just as desperate to find that one GREAT THOUGHT as we once were.

But sometimes it takes… well… time for GREAT THOUGHTS to come around. For a few writers, GREAT THOUGHTS appear regularly – and if you’re one of those writers, I’d love to know your secret – but for most of us, the breakthroughs just won’t come that often. It may not happen for years.

But the secret to writing, I’ve found, is that we can’t wait around until that GREAT THOUGHT shows up. Follow those GOOD IDEAS down the creative path for a bit. Spend some time with the INTERESTING CHARACTERS and ALL THE FEELS to discover what works. Be mindful of the ARCHES in other books and craft some PLOT TWISTS that would make even the smartest of reader fall off their seats in shock.

Just keep writing.

That one GREAT THOUGHT will come sniffing around soon enough.

Have a wonderful weekend!
Warm regards, 
Kellie

 

Holidays (and what they can teach us)

Time slowly draws near to the holidays, decorating the trees with ornaments and tinsel, the houses with lights and colors, and the hearts and souls of people with that special kind of joy. Personally, I celebrate Christmas, but my friends celebrate in many other ways ranging from Hanukkah to Yule and not one is type of celebration is more important than the other. What is important, though, is family. Spending time with family, friends and loved ones is what this winter season is all about. I honestly believe that.

Another thing I believe is that in order to create a truly believable character you need to incorporate friends and family. You don’t need to invent a new holiday in your story to do so (although, who would say no to a Beat the Bots day or a Moon Gathering?) but you should, at the very least, introduce your readers to the presence of family and friends.

Family can be involved in the character’s life in many different ways. It can be something as vague as mentioning them in passing, as simple as a flashback, or as direct as having the readers encounter them in person at some point. But regardless if the main character’s parents are dead, living, or something in between, they have structured your character, they are important to them, and they should be addressed as such at one point or another.

Friends should also be involved in the character’s life. Even that stereotypical loner guy has one person (or animal or being of some sort) they call a friend. Side-stories and subplots can come from these friendships – the quest for the girl or guy, the fight breaking out in the corroder, the brunch in the café. It’s good to round out your main character with the people who regularly surround them.

See, instead of focusing on one or two (or five?) characters, you need a whole world of them. You don’t need to introduce them all, of course, but, just like I would never know everyone in my world but I do know a few, your characters should know a few as well.

That’s one thing I’m missing in my NaNoNovel – yes, I’m still working on it! Almost complete actually, with the first draft at least.  – I couldn’t believe when I got to the 5th chapter from the end and had not yet added a solid friend (or even a peripheral one) to one of my main characters.  My entire work had shrunk into three people. Three people! There is an entire world to work with and my focus narrowed down to my main characters. Hence this being only my first draft.

It’s okay to do that, though, okay incorporate more characters later, just as it’s okay to slash characters later too. As long as the end product is something that makes sense, something that you’re proud of, and something that reflects the realities (or your world’s realities) of life, you’re golden.

I have always loved the holiday season, spending time with friends and family, just enjoying their company and enjoying life. Your characters – no matter how old, young, solitary or social they may be – should have that circle of companions in their life too.

May the holidays treat you well and see you next Friday!

Warm regards,
Kellie

Hunger Games Hysteria

(Random Monday Posting Aside: Sorry about missing the last two weeks, I’ve been busy with a new addition to my humble family – three new kittens! It’s been crazy but I’ve grown quite fond of them. Now, enough with my ramblings, onto the Hunger Games Hysteria post – enjoy!)

It’s been two weeks since the Hunger Games movie crashed through the theaters, causing viewers hearts to pound with excitement and eyes well up with sadness. I’ve been watching the various uproars of viewers – from racist slurs, Twilight comparisons, and people who just hated the film, to those-too-excited-for-the-next-movie diehards and must-turn-everything-into-a-love-triangle romantics, all the way to motion-sickness commentary, when-did-THAT-show-up-in-the-book comments, and those-people-who-just-think-the-movie-was-good viewers – and I figured it’s high time to give my two cents.

The book, I feel, should be commented on first, since if we did not have the series we would not have the actual movie to watch.

I must admit, at first, the book did not catch my eye as immediately as I would have liked. I had randomly chosen the novel off the ‘Re-Use-Me!’ shelf of my hotel room, thinking I could use something interesting to read on the plane ride home. I sank back into the uncomfortable seats always found on airplanes, opened the novel and began my grand adventure into the Hunger Games. By the second page I had to force myself to keep reading, the narration was strange, the first few chapters were a bit slow, and I wasn’t too keen on the main character of Katniss. However, after I plodded through the first section where Katniss and Gale are providing for their families and we see their dreary district, I found myself smack dab in the middle of the reaping ceremony where Prim’s name echoed around the square. Amazing. Katniss’ reaction – spot-on, exactly like a big sister. The scene reminded me of The Lottery, a short story I once read and thoroughly enjoyed in college. After that, I loved it. The action, the romance, the terror and emotions charging through the entire series, the characters were formed, had good arches, and seemed quite connected to one another in ways we, the reader, would not find out until later. I became a huge fan of the work. It’s inspiring, well-written, has a good female lead, and is sci-fi in a way that a lot of people can enjoy (not just the sci-fi geeks out there, and I mean that in the nicest way because I am deep within their ranks).

When I heard the movie was set to air in March I was psyched – psyched! – I told my friends, told my parents, told my co-workers, put the date on the calendar, put the date in my phone, everywhere I could I reminded myself that The Hunger Games would be coming out on the 23rd. The week of my thrill could not be contained, I positively beamed with it.

March 23rd comes rolling around, a Friday, a payday, and Hunger Games day, a good day all around. Yet when I looked in the Play section of the newspaper I found a rather scathing review of the movie I so looked forward to. This particular critic seemed to loath the movie, the book, the entire franchise even, putting down the acting, the scenery, the characters, pretty much everything he possibly could within the constraints of his article. I took the critique with a grain of salt, after all our newspaper reviews tend to be a bit skewed anyway movie-wise, but was I disappointed that the first thing I read about the movie turned out to be bad? Yes, I was. That night I went to the movie, armed with my bottle of water, a huge cinnamon roll from Jitters, and an open mind ready to be filled with this movie.

And, I have to say, the movie was good, great even! There were issues: Yes the camera movements were a tad bit awkward, there could have been a bit more characterization within the arena, and they added a ton of capitol stuff that never entered Katniss’ first-person narration… but those small things should not downplay the entire movie. The emotions were lovely, the action scenes rolled by without a hitch, the tracker-jack poison scene made me feel her disillusions, and the movie ended in a way which made me want more. Plus, it was about two and a half hours yet the movie didn’t drag on and on.

Overall, I believe it was a very well done movie indeed. The haters and racist folk can sit in a hole and scream for all I care, the movie was fun to watch, thought-provoking just like the series, kept to the books quite well, and made me want to see the next installment.

And, in the end, isn’t that what movies are all about?

Warmest regards,
Kellie

 

Red Hair? Blue Eyes?

Ever since I was little I have been fascinated with the process of creating characters – or characterization. Much like editing, creating characters is one of those necessary processes that every writer must do. However, unlike editing, characterization is a fluid process, one without many rules or restrictions to speak of. Your character can be a 10-inch tall donkey with pink wings who captains a ship shaped like a whale but as long as it’s relatable to the readers in some way, you’re golden. Plus, there’s no condensing of ideas when it comes to building a character, like many other aspects of writing, it’s actually better to know more about your character than any reader would. (Of course with a winged 10-inch donkey it might be best to have some back-story within the narration as well.)

As some of you know I’m currently working on two projects: 1) a novel, 2) a novella. The novel idea is completely fresh but, with the novella, I’m taking a character I loved from my first attempt at a “novel” – a 100 page piece that deals with green lava and too much bosom I wrote when I was 13 – and plopping her down in a newer world. Because of this I’m going through my older work to find traits I can use. As I’m sifting through, I find that the character I built within the piece when I was younger is quite similar to the character in my novel I’m writing about now, 10 years later. They have red hair, blue eyes, confident demeanors, a fiery/fighter attitude and are kind and complicated. So much for being a ‘completely fresh’ idea, right?

But why is that? How can both characters – one from my youth and one from my adulthood – be so similar?

Then it struck me. I have a one sibling – an older sister who has naturally strawberry red hair and ice blue eyes. We used to fight a ton when we were little – as siblings tend to do – and she confused the heck out of me. Yet she was always confident (a trait I admired) and kind to others. That’s where the inspiration came from! As writers we naturally draw inspiration from the world around us. I pulled elements and aspects that were interesting to me and incorporated them into my work.

I like creating characters because I can do just that, pull elements from the “real world” and then fiddle with them, change an attitude there, alter an eye color here (though, looking back, it’s interesting that I didn’t originally when writing my novel). It’s fun for me and quite easy too.

If you have trouble creating characters though, and some of the best writers tend to get stuck every now and then, here’s some things to think about when building a character (you can use one of those “personality charts” but I like my way better, ha!):

1) Name – First impressions are everything, if you don’t have a good name, or at least a lovable nickname, then readers will put the book down. (Sounds snobbish, but I know I have.) Chose something easy to pronounce or have a nickname, both first and last at least. If you’re stuck, go on various ‘What to Name my Baby’ websites, they have plenty of choices. I usually fall back on Irish names since they’re pretty and I’m half the green stuff.

2) Appearance – These are the everyday aspects of your character, the simple outward appearance that allows your readers to “see” the characters. Male/female, eye color, hair color and length, tall/short, body type (aka: ‘fit’, ‘overweight’, or somewhere in the middle), clothing usually worn.  Be sure you have this one down, as a freelance editor I’m always shocked when the author mixes up blue and brown eyes on their main (or secondary) characters.

3) Personality –This where your character should start taking form. What does the character like/not like, is your character kind, caustic, depressed, overly sexual, does your character wave at people or stalk on by? does she like ice cream (the end all question, of course)? does he always roll his eyes? Does she twirl a ring? Play with her hair? Does his hand shake when he’s nervous? Personality traits unique to each character make the characters more believable.

4) Back-story/history – Essentially this solidifies the character, this is why your girl or guy (or animal, or spirit, or pinked-winged donkey) does the things he or she does. What does his home look like? Where did he grow up? What’s her family like? Did she have a pet? Where did he go to school? Why did she decide to go to that school, or take that job, or go off-planet? Think about yourself, what makes you… you? Your past, your choices, your life up until this moment and this exact moment defines who you are. So figure it out for your character too!

5) Items – This one is my personal favorite. If your character had one thing always in her/his pocket, what would it be and why would he/she carry it? These two questions come last, always, and they help me learn about my character. Not memories, not attitude, a solid item. It can be a slip of paper, a picture, a pin, anything! It sounds simple, but trust me, this will allow you to figure out who your character is, who your character was, and who they will become later on too.

Building characters can be fun, entertaining, exciting even. If you get stuck, look around you, there’s plenty of elements if your world waiting to be used. Remember to have your character relate to the readers and then, well, have at it! Make a 10-inch pink-winged donkey! It’s your character, create anyone you’d like.

Warm regards,
Kellie

Holy Hannah, I had one!

So I was reading a lovely book last weekend called Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott, we were on our final camping trip of the season – Hence why I didn’t post last Friday, sorry! – and I had brought the book along for a tryout. (It had been one of my assigned readings in college that I really didn’t *ahem* have time to read.) Turns out, I should have read it back in junior year because it was amazing! Such a wonderful book about writing, it was a how-to without being a “how-to,” written in a clean friendly style with tons of writing humor in it. I highly suggest it.

Anyway, while reading the book, I discovered a chapter on characters. It covered the usual points of interest: how you should always know about your characters, find everything out about them even the smallest of details, but it also went into detail about how you should let them go their own way, let them grow, how sometimes they might surprise you. Well since then I never had a surprising moment with my characters, usually I knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing and saying, how they acted and reacted, what they wore to bed at night and why. Everything was pretty much set in stone.

Yet (not to sound too overly dramatic… but here I go anyway), everything changed for me that afternoon. I actually had a revelation concerning novel’s my character! She’s not trying to “just survive,” no one is trying to “just survive,” she’s actively trying to survive so she can be a part of a group, a family of sorts, a love-interest to someone else. She’s trying to survive so she can belong! It was monumental for me because up until that point I was just making her survive the events. Not in order to belong anywhere, for real, just to survive the hell she was in. It was such an obvious motivator that I haven’t the faintest idea why I didn’t see it before!

Then, as if that wasn’t mind-boggling enough, I had another one! This morning, at around 12:30 at night, it was pitch black in my room, I was laying on my bed attempting to go to sleep and I blinked. (I literally remember blinking and *poof*) There it was, the reason why my main character is so troubled, the theme/message/whatever you want to call it that I want portray to others in my novel, heck, the revelation I want my girl to go through within the novel and the means to make her see it. It was amazing. I spent the next forty minutes scribbling madly on post-it notes, praying that the mechanical pencil wouldn’t run out of lead, and cursing wondering why the heck I didn’t have actual sheets of paper beside my bed like usual. It was pretty intense.

The crazy thing is… I went from reading a book about surprises and wishing I had some with my characters, wondering what it would feel like and kind-of doubting it ever happens to anyone, to having two in one week and being really really excited about it. Honestly, I don’t know if they will pan out but I’m so glad that I experienced those moments of clarity.

So I highly recommend this book, it is now my good luck charm for writing. I don’t know if it’ll work for you, but it’s certainly a good read.

Warmest regards,
Kellie