Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Anatomy of a Name

Yeah... I couldn't help myself. I love names, and I love the art of naming. While coming up with a name is not the most important step in creating a character, it does help bring him or her to life. I mean, if you just referred to your main character as The Hero, that would probably get rather boring by the third page. Names ground your characters and contribute to the illusion that these are actual human beings (or elves, or dragons, or aliens... whatever). There are exceptions or course, usually in short stories, but in most novels and movies, the main characters' names are key elements that help bind it all together.

I tend to name my characters early on in the development process. Often, the name is so wrapped up in who my people are that I can't imagine them being called anything else. When an author assigns a name to a character, we latch onto it and begin to associate all kinds of meanings with that name.

For example: Jason Bourne


For those of us who have seen the Bourne movies, instantly we've got a plethora of words pop into our heads-- action, intensity, running, danger, intelligence, shooting, memory loss, intrigue.

Now let's analyze him a bit more, starting with the name Jason - This harkens way back to the mythological hero Jason and the Argonauts, searching for the Golden Fleece, traveling the world, battling evil. But the name also surprisingly means "healer." Interesting.

And then there's Bourne - This brings to mind rebirth, new life, bearing weight, and second chances. Put the two names together and you get someone who's fast, cool, yet has a subtle compassion about him. But that's not it! You see, Jason Bourne is not his real name... he's actually David Webb - an ordinary citizen who was trapped in the web of a secret CIA operation.

The key is not to come up with some witty, telling name (like Boris Badenov), or a cliché symbolic name (like Raven), or a name that just describes their appearance (like naming someone Ebony because they have black hair). Instead, take it a step deeper and find ways to evoke certain feelings about your character with a subtle name that represents the heart of your character well. One writer who I think does a marvelous job with naming is Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen, Prim, Haymitch, Effie Trinket, Gale, President Snow. Each unique name has so much life and meaning behind it, without being in-your-face obvious.

Right now I'm working on developing characters for a possible webcomic. The main character is a superhero, but she's also deeply troubled with multiple personality disorder (a result of the event that gave her superpowers), and she tries to cover up her fear and anger by becoming goth. I've decided to name her Sydney. Without giving too much away, she's edgy and modern, and now that she's goth, she goes by Syd.

So, one last thought: Why do you think God left it up to Adam to name the creatures of the earth? Why do they need names? Why didn't God just name them himself? What is so important about the names we assign to things?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What Your Character has in Common with . . . Math?

To me (and I think that a lot of you agree), characters are what make or break a novel. The plot can be wonderfully paced, the concept can be incredible, but if the people aren't either of those at the least, a dimension (the best dimension!) of the story is lost.

So for this topic, I went to my bookshelves and notebooks to find characters who exponentially enrich the books they live in. The ones that immediately came to mind: 
- Kathy from Mrs. Mike. I'll limit my (nearly unending) praise of this book here to this: This is a true story, so it's not  like the authors or the MC had any control over events, but the way they make her change and grow her is inspiring to behold. (Homesickness --> Belonging)

- Ponyboy from The Outsiders. His unknown mission is to find his feet and conquer his fears, but he doesn't realize that until the end of the book. By then, he has a pretty solid grasp on to go on. (Fear --> Purpose)

- Symone from The White Darkness. She becomes so strong over the course of the novel and has such a good voice that I could feet the heart-pounding, ice cold gravity of her circumstances.(Desire --> Satisfaction)

- The narrator from A Separate Peace. I honestly cannot remember his name, but I do remember the way he started out as a shaky, rambunctious schoolboy and ended as a shaky, bleakly-inclined young man. That was interesting.(Youth --> Wisdom)

My favorite way of thinking of these goings-on is as their arc.

It's like a function that has a power of 2 in algebra. You chose a number for x, plug it into the equation, subject it to the trials of being stretched and shifted however called for, and, if your professor is like mine, graph it. And because it's x2, you'll get a lovely parabola - an arc. All of that gritty math happened to make x (aka your character) change and grow.

(I had a math test today, if you were wondering.)

Good writers yank the reader into their character's lives so subtly that she didn't even notice. The fun I have experimenting with this is the best part of mylifeasawriter. *mushy grin*

I'd love to hear your takes on the characters I mentioned above, or tell about others who fit the nicely-developed bill.
Ps - The copy of Leviathan that I finally ordered arrived today! So next time Mr. Westerfeld is in town, maybe another autograph outing is in order? ;)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Getting a Grip on Character Development


A couple weeks ago, after a starry-eyed breakthrough in Seaspear, I sat at the kitchen table, my notebook in front of me.  Inside, I had written Cheryl Klein's "Plot Checklist" from her writing book Second Sight (I heartily recommend it) but I was stuck on the very first question.

1.  The overall change my character experiences is:

I just sat there twirling my pen and feeling growing panic.  I had had my suspicions that Ren was rather flat, but I had always passed over the fact because I didn't think I could fix it at the moment.  My parents were washing the dishes and so finally I decided to ask for some advice.  I did this by giving a loud sigh and exclaiming, "My story is TERRIBLE.  It's awful! I don't know what to do!"

Not the most admirable way to get advice, I agree, but hey, it worked.  My dad turned around, ears almost visibly pricked and said, "Why?"

"Ren doesn't change!" I wailed.  "She's just the same through the whole story.  I tried to..." From here I went on to despair over how weak, pale, fragile, and useless my main character was.  "She's too passive.  And that won't work in a book."

"Of course it will," Dad said.  "Ren is great because she knows what's right and she does it."

Now if someone's ever complimented your character, you'll know that it's like someone's complimented you personally, but ten times better.

Now that my mood had lifted, both my parents went on to help me brainstorm a way for Ren to develop through the story.  They knew as well as I did that even if they kept on bringing up ideas that would never fit with my current plot, they were sure to spark an idea of my own that would work, which is exactly what happened.

Why do we character develop?

I can think of three reasons why we character develop.  Please add to the list in a comment, if you so wish :)

1.  To make our characters and our stories realistic.  Close your eyes and think of something BIG that has happened to you.  For you to even call it BIG, it must have inwardly changed you in some way, no matter how slight. A lot of times, stories center around big things that happen to normal people.  After a story character goes through one of these ordeals, there is no way he or she can be the same.  It's only natural for he/she (okay, I'm going to say 'she' from now on, don't perceive me as feministic) to have changed in some way, due to her experiences.

2.  To make our characters loveable.  For one, it is very hard to love and sympathize with a character who has no faults.  A long time ago, my mom said she picked up the Elsie Dinsmore series, to preview it for then 10/11 year old me.  She told me later that she was disgusted with how perfect Elsie was! (My apologies, any Elsie-lovers.)  For two, we as human readers, YA at that, are always changing as we search for our identity.  Static characters who never change are not appealing to us.

3.  To further hook our readers.  We could throw a character into a pandemonious roil of car chases and flying bullets, but if the character wants nothing from it, if she has no reason to be there, then she isn't truly engaged in the action.  And if our character isn't truly engaged in the action, then no reader will be either.

from national treasure 1 via

Where do I start character developing?

Good question.  I'll do my best to answer it, for myself as much as for the rest of you.

One way to start is to figure out what fault your character has that (1) you want to change into a positive thing, and (2) that by being changed, relates with and enhances the other elements and themes of the story.

How do you figure out this magical fault?

You can figure out what your character WANTS.  What drives her very being? What is she striving for throughout the story?  I'll use Ren from Seaspear as an example.

Ren wants: To recover the magic spear, which was stolen.

The want will sometimes be something physical, like the above, and in that case, narrow down the WANT (physical) to a DESIRE (emotional).  Okay, so Ren wants the magic spear.  But why? Why is it so important? The answer:

Ren desires: The trust and approval of Captain Ajax, which she lost.

Now take this and narrow it down even further into a CHARACTER TRAIT.  This will usually be what you're going to change throughout the story.  Again, ask why:

Ren wants Capt.'s trust because she bases her opinion of herself on other people's opinions of herself.  If the Capt., her hero, thinks ill of her, than she thinks she must be very bad indeed. now we get to the root of the thing! The above is obviously bad; Ren needs to learn to accept herself no matter what other people think and no matter how influential those said people are.

So that's one way you can get started on your character developing.  Other times, though, characters aren't very clear on what they want.  I haven't read Pride and Prejudice in a while, but I did just watch the ('05) movie for the millionth time.  *mushy smile*

Lizzy Bennet wants:

What? She's just a normal girl living a normal life.  She might want to get married, I don't know.  Maybe she wants a new tea gown.  Or ribbons.  Or a new supply of smart remarks for Darcy.  (That last one seems the most legitimate.)  But Pride and Prejudice is known for its character development, because at the beginning Lizzy perceives Darcy as cold, stiff, and insulting and at the end she sees that she misjudged him and he isn't that bad of a guy after all.  In fact, she wants to marry him.

So the point of all this - another thing that can influence character development other than her WANTS are the other people she interacts with and who influence her.  For Ren, that's mainly Captain Ajax, because he is the one whose opinion she values most.  Grailyn and several others are also involved.


Once you figure out what it is about your character that you plan to change, you can go forth and do so as you write the rest of your story.

Well, of course it isn't that easy, but I don't know how to explain it yet....we'll see how I do with Ren.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

New Topic and Housekeeping

Thanks for a great week, everyone! I enjoyed reading about your editing adventures.  (Even though my hog-be-tied vlog wouldn't work for several of you.)

So for this coming week, we're going to be talking about character development.  All our characters need to change from when we first meet them to where we leave them at the final pages of a story.

If you haven't directly worked with this story element, you could bring up some characters you've read about who had great development or didn't.  You could even do some research and find out what different authors think of it.

As for house-keeping, there are a few questions we need to discuss.

1.  What topics are you interested in seeing in the near future? Tell us your forte, your favorite part of writing, that you really enjoy pouring passion into.
2.  The blog design we have now is rather....blah.  What do you think of a redo? If 'yes,' I have some ideas, some of which involve a physical club meeting and Mia the photographer. :)
3.  What do you think of recruiting authors to do guest posts on here?

Can't wait for our new topic week! Really throw yourselves into this one, gals!
Hi all!

I've waited this long to post because I've been trying to decide what I have to say about editing. To be honest, there isn't very much. I'm the writer who has fun for a few pages, then is content to let it be. *cue the Beatles*

So, to answer the question, Do you edit, the answer is no. But I have remarkable intentions . . .

It involves writing something I believe in enough to edit, for starters, and that is my current struggle. I'm not being proactive to seek out the inspiration + motivation for that project, which perfectly reflects the stalemate I've reached in writing.

Ok, so that's the boggy truth. For now.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I have a special surprise for you all in this post: a vlog.  I have never done a vlog before in my life, so I look kind of dumb.  But I'll get better as I make more, I guess.

Okay, I've heard the vlog is not working... so here's basically what I talk about.  I call it storyboarding, but as Evergreena pointed out, real storyboarding is what they do for movies! :)

I was making Psychology flashcards, but I spent way more time cutting out the flashcards than I did writing on them because I was sitting on a hard floor and my back hurt and the definitions were really long and boring and...yeah.  So I kind of pushed the Psych stuff to the side.

Several hours later, I was making an outline for Seaspear and it wasn't working.  So I thought, what if I take my stack of extra flashcards and write down all my scenes on them? Instead of a list of scenes on paper, I have individual paper squares, each representing a scene!

I got a large piece of cardboard and got to organize the whole story on it, left to right.

I'm going to give you the basic steps of my editing process in another post.  For now, I'll concentrate on the organizational part of editing.

After I finish reading and thinking about my story, it's like a huge knot in my head.  Like a HUGE knot that no way can I untangle on my own without knowledge of where the starting and ending threads are.
Organizing your concept of your story before editing is important if you want to get your pacing down right.  You want all your plot threads to be evenly patterned and go along together.

As I mention in my vlog, after my first draft is usually when I make my first real outline.  I stated the problems with the Me and Mr. Outline relationship, including:

- I can't manipulate the scenes easily
- I forget things and the outline gets messy
- I have huge breakthroughs while outlining which result in enthusiastic "Weehee! I've gotta scribble all this stuff all over my outline page now!"

So I broke up with Mr. Outline when I met Mr. Storyboard.  The perks of this new relationship follow:

- I can insert new scenes whenever I want and take out ones that aren't relevant anymore! No mess! (I sound like a Bounty commercial.)
- Storyboarding is my way to freeze my thoughts
- I can see how consistent I am with different POVs and where I may need to add more or take away more
- I can mark and move the main points of my story (objective, climax, etc.).

I'd encourage you to try storyboarding if you have trouble with a traditional outline.  It appeals to my creative side and my visual learning style.  For now, I better get back to work...

Have you ever tried anything like this? What is your first step to editing?
You know what? I've never edited before.

At least, not really.

When I write, I have a strict process.

Step One: I think up everything I can.  I write character bios, personality traits, and look under those rocks for any little bit I should know.

Step Two:  I write the basic story out of paper.  It is basically the novel, but without some added materials.  As I think up stuff I should've added in two chapters back.  I write it as a margin (You can imagine how messy my notebook would look once I finish the book!).  Once I complete the book, or come close, to have nothing else to do, I start step three.

Step Three:  I transfer the writing over to a word document.  There, I add more description, polish off characters and dialog, add in those should'a-said-two-chapters-ago things.  Once finished there, I can only speculate process four. I have never actually finished Step three.  Normally, I get there, realize the story has way to many holes, or I just need to set it aside until further inspiration hits.  Or, maybe I never pick it back up.

I suppose real editing would be step four.  But, as said, I've never been there.

But I will, someday.

Ellyn, I think this is a really grand idea, I can't WAIT for the next topic!

Monday, February 6, 2012

RE: Editing

How do you edit?      
Well, I usually start with reading through all the way once without a pen in my hand. Then I make a 'shopping list' of what was impactful about the book. Anything that stood out as distinctive, lacking, meaningful, or meaningless. Then I make a list about what I want my book to do. I compare my shopping list and my other list. I search for my red pen.  I take that book and I red pen EVERYTHING. After that,  I usually give it to Ellyn and she makes it better. I repeat this until I think it's finished. When I think it's finished, it probably isn't. I repeat it again. 

Do you edit at all?
I really don't understand how you could not edit. Editing is necessary to writing. Writing is rewriting, as someone once said. It's like continually drinking water but not going to the bathroom. It will not lead to good things. Your bladder will end up exploding, metaphorically speaking. Your literary bladder WILL explode. You NEED to edit. If you don't, then you can't expect anything to ever come of your novel, or perhaps your entire literary endeavor. 

Is editing hard for you?

Oh yes, easiest thing in the world. 

Just kidding. It's the worst thing in the world

I'm not sure why editing is so hard for me. Really, it's just tremendous amounts of paperwork, you never feel like you accomplish everything, you constantly over think yourself, and you have to readjust your idea of your own talent every single day. I consider editing the worst part about writing and rarely find anything I enjoy in it. 

What does the word "editing" mean to you?

Hell on Earth. 

Math's cousin.

As much fun as an emergency appendectomy in 1642. 

Where did you learn to edit?

I learned to edit the same way I learned to write; by reading tons of articles about how other people do it, and then by trial and error myself. Ultimately, I just figured out the most common way to edit then tweaked what worked for my by editing things myself. 

What are you currently struggling with in the editing 

The constant over thinking. The paperwork. The readjusting of your talent daily. 

Editing is like having braces. Braces move your teeth so they are in a different spot everyday. Everyday you have to relearn how to talk and eat. It's very annoyed. Editing does the same thing to me. One day, I'm a genius. The next, I cannot write anything. 

Currently, this super strange style I created where I only write in comma splices. Therefore every other sentence is a comma splice. I'm constantly trying to have to figure out which to put a conjunction in, which to leave, which to add a semi-colon to, and which to break apart. It's really annoying. 

Topic Week: Editing

All right, Inkblots, we're starting a Topic Week!

This means that when you post this week, the topic of your post must relate to our current topic: editing.

You can post anything as long as it relates to editing.  (As long as you post something. :D) Don't worry about what day you should post.  We'll abandon our nifty schedule until we can get more involved.


How do you edit?
Do you edit at all?
Is editing hard for you?
What does the word "editing" mean to you?
Where did you learn to edit?
What are you currently struggling with in the editing process?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Is Currently Extremely Confused.

Have finished sort of editing my second draft. Am now wondering what to do. Technically, I have only marked up all the needed changes. I still have to enter them all in the computer. Oddly, the entering them all into the manuscript takes freaky less time than it takes to mark up the physical manuscript in pen. WHY IS THIS? IT'S SO CONFUSING! I could either A) enter all of it into the master manuscript on the computer, thought I'm always on the computer for school and I would hate doing my writing stuff all on the computer right now too. I could B) beg for my other manuscript, so I could go through that, add all those notes to my master physical copy, then enter that all into the master manuscript on the computer. This would make a lot of sense, but, again, I would need to beg. Or C) I could just print off my last novel and go to town on that. Option D) I could just sleep.

Also, when in the world are you sure that your draft is the last draft? When are you sure you are done with everything? Is there supposed to be some feeling or completeness? Perhaps it's just a certain lack of feeling. Are you just supposed to stand up one day and be done. Then what are you supposed to do? Attempt something scary like finding a literary agent and/or publisher? I'm confused as to what this last draft omen is, but I think I'm pretty much done with this novel and ready to go onto my next one.

I should probably try to write less rambling and narcissistically pondering updates. I should write nice insightful ones. Like Ellyn's. But alas, I'm just confused at the moment.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Get Your School and Writing Lives to Stop Bickering

I'm very much a "get-two-birds-with-one-stone" type of girl.  I love combining purposes of things so I feel like I'm not wasting my time.  Thus, I have this post for you.

If I guess correctly, most of us are in this situation right now:


Let me explain.  You are a dashing (or gorgeous) young hero (heroine) on a grand adventure.  Or at least, it would be grand if you didn't have a humongous boulder rolling behind you and gaining speed.  This figurative boulder represents none other than....


As long as you keep running, you're okay, but if you stop along the path to do anything else, like write / edit a novel, you'll be shmeezed by that heartless ball of rock.  Well.  It may seem hopeless, but if you want to accept the glass half full and sort of get the better of School, I have a solution.


Don't look at me like that.

Let's take a look at some individual school subjects and how they can add to your writing experience instead of take away from it.


Oh, my goodness.  History is so valuable to any author's writing because history itself is one long, never-ending true story! It is made up of real people and their real adventures that can spark endless story ideas, as well as teach you army tactics and winning strategies.  For Seaspear, I checked out a book on famous sea battles, so I could understand more about how they worked and what was involved.

If you're writing and you get stuck, you may even want to look into history to see if any other individual was stuck in the same predicament as your fictional character.

Even if you're not writing historical fiction, you may choose to base the world you're creating on a time period in our world.  For instance, I know Shannon Hale modeled Bayern partly on Germany.  I had to research Athens and Sparta for my Nano novel, because I was writing about a futuristic Athens / Sparta world.  The amount of research Scott Westerfeld must have had to do to produce his Leviathan trilogy is truly astounding.  Just think - if he hadn't learned all that about World War I, his books would be decidedly low quality.

If you're writing a realistic fiction, you may still want to reference a historical event, so tackle that history book with a will, okay?

Westerfeld's revised  World War I map


Science teaches us a lot about how our world works.  If you're writing a fantasy where you have to create your own world, you will need to know the fundamentals of your world's sciences.  Does your world have a problem with global cooling? Is there no gravity? What are the ramifications of that? 

In Starclimber, by Kenneth Oppel, Matt goes to space with Kate and some other pals.  But, as expected, something goes wrong and if they hadn't known about gravity and atmosphere, they would have been....toast in space.   



I'm guessing that most of us have complained about not being able to understand our characters.  Well, here's the answer: take Psych. 

Not really, but still - stay alert in class.  You may miss a valuable bit of information that could spark a story idea.  Who knows? You could be inspired to write a short story about how Freud had to flee a gang called the Green Fist right after he made his major breakthrough....

Or you could just decide to add an insane psychologist as a character to your novel, and in that case, you'd need more information on psych theories, wouldn't you?

Psychology teaches us how people work and what motivates them.  And stories are all about people.


Government / Social Studies

Again, like history, this one is priceless.  You're going to need this stuff, especially if you're writing a fantasy or historical fiction.  How does your monarchy work? If your characters are fighting the government, why is it so bad?

Who gets to declare war? Who is really in command of the armies?

One book I know that has a believable, thought-provoking governmental / social system is Fall of a Kingdom by Hilari Bell.  On one side, there are the deghans, who are good fighters but really full of themselves.  On the other is the highly organized, highly skilled Hrum Empire, who is prepared to take over anyone or anything in its path.  Kavi, one of the main characters, hates the deghans because of something one did to him.  When he falls in with the Hrum, however, he finds out that their government condones slavery.  He has to weigh for himself which side is the best, if either.

For realistic fiction, government could still be useful, but social studies are even more so.  If your character breaks a serious law, you have to know what happens in the real world when someone breaks that same law.


There's not much to say about math.  I don't think it's useful storywise, but if your character is struggling with math, you'll want to reference a specific concept.  Like, 

"I just can't get the whole logarithim thing," whined Sasha.

Now, there's a character I can relate to.  Math is also helpful when you have a character who is supposed to be really smart.

"But they're so easy," Dan replied, waving his TI-84 calculator in front of Sasha's face.  "They're so joyously simple! All you have to do is ____."

As you can see, I am not very smart, so I couldn't fill in that last blank about logarithims.  But, if I had studied them in more detail, I would be able to make Dan a more believable character.


That's all I have for now.  If you can think of any other ways to link school to writing life, please comment and let us all know! Make the best of that rolling boulder.

- Ellyn