On Writing: Names

When I’m creating a character, the last thing I think about is what I should name them. More often than not, I’ll do the least amount of work possible to give them one.  Instead, I’ll just give them the first one that comes to mind that sounds good and fits the person to some degree.  If it needs changing, that’s what Find & Replace is for!

For example:  I’ve mentioned before that I came up with the characters of Caren Johnson and Alec Poe for the Bridgetown Trilogy rather simply: for Caren I wanted a name that purposely didn’t pop out, much like her avoidance of being the focus of attention; for Poe I wanted him to have a slightly awkward name that he felt didn’t quite fit him, to match his being adopted and not knowing his true origins.  That’s about as far as I went with them, and that process took all of a few minutes.

In my latest projects, I did pretty much the same thing.  For Zuzannah, the magical girl from In My Blue World, I wanted a name that was normal but had evolved over the course of time.  The three sisters, Diana, Katie and Allie Meeks, are just three girls you know in your home town; no one special, just neighbors or friends.  There’s only one character in this particular story that has an unconventional, obviously made-up name, and that’s done on purpose.  Even with the Apartment Complex story, where I’ve had to invent a lot of the names, I kept them relatively simple.  Kaffi, the tintrite co-lead, has a simple, fun name to mirror his friendly demeanor, while his father Graymar has one that commands respect and attention.

I’ve never really gotten into the habit of coming up with names that have to mean anything; I always felt that process, at least for me, was trying too hard.  I always create characters that you’d meet on the street or hear about from someone, so I find I can’t go out of my way to come up with a name that means ‘faithful healer’ or something like that.  [Mind you, I only did that once in the Apartment Complex story; I chose Diwa’s Filipino name for two reasons: I wanted a gender-neutral name, and it means ‘awareness.’  But the choice for meaning was only secondary here.]

Think about what kind of character this is, and also think about the people around them, how they react to people.  Especially if it’s a made-up alien name — you can have fun with that by giving them a bit of background in the process.  Diwa and Kaffi’s friend Anna-Nassi, for instance, is part of an alien race whose names combine the culture of their own and of humans as a symbol of planetary community.

When you’re coming up with names for your characters, especially during rough drafts, I’d say go right ahead and put in a placeholder if you’re not entirely happy with it.  Diwa’s name was originally the made-up Riksah before I decided to give him a proper one and decided his family is half Pinoy.  If your character merits a symbolic or metaphorical name instead, that’s fine too.

The most important things to remember here, though, is that a) it should fit the character, and b) it should fit the story.  It’s not just about avoiding anachronisms, it’s also about avoiding words that will stick out like a sore thumb.  You probably wouldn’t want to write a serious romance novel where the strikingly sexy chisel-chinned male lead’s name is Petey Bumblewiggins, right?  As they say, you want a name that fits the character.  How much work you put into that is totally up to you, but it doesn’t always have to be that much work if you don’t want it to be.  Just give it enough for it to work for you and for the story.

 

Keeping Busy

makoto shinkai tgow2
Source: Makoto Shinkai, The Garden of Words

Despite possibly overburdening myself a bit lately and falling prey to exhaustion and sore throat for a day or so, my latest writing regimen seems to be paying off.  I’ve been consistently been hitting an average of 900 words per project Monday through Friday, with the occasional run on the weekend as well if time and inclination lets it happen.  Add the four blog entries and other small things to the mix, and I’m probably averaging around 11k words a week.

That’s a LOT of words.

Mind you, it’s not all at once, and I’ve got it down to a strict schedule.  The Monday-Tuesday blog entries are written on Sunday afternoon, and the Thursday-Friday entries on Wednesday.  In My Blue World is written during my Day Job afternoon break, and the Apartment Complex story during the evening sessions.  I keep the creative writing separate from the clinical writing Day Job.  And I let myself have a breather every couple of hours a day so I don’t run myself ragged.

So yeah, I’ve been keeping busy.  Writing two novels at the same time is definitely a trip, and not for the faint-hearted.  More than once I’ve opened up one of the project pages and sat there for a minute, trying to remember if this was the magical girl story page or the boy and his alien friend story page.

How do I keep two completely different and unrelated projects straight in my head?  Good question.  I’m not sure myself.  I just manage to keep them separate because I work on them at different times of the day.  Since both sessions are in the latter half of the day, this gives me most of the day to come up with a general idea of what I want to write.  I also try to write complete scenes, or scenes that will be completed in the next session.  Again, this is almost exactly like my process when I wrote the trilogy; I would prep myself during the day so no evening session time would be wasted.

Will I keep this going on the next projects?  Who knows.  I’d like to, but if I have to adjust it along the way, so be it.  As long as I’m going in the right direction.

Picking Out the Writing Soundtrack

Between the two new projects I’m working on, I’m listening to a lot of newer albums lately. This is quite the change from the older projects I’ve spent tons of time on (such as the trilogy) or ones where I need to focus on a specific time period (such as the 90s and Meet the Lidwells!).  It’s part of returning back to deep immersion with the music.

Mind you, I do give a lot of my purchases a deep listen as it is, or else I wouldn’t be gushing over albums over at Walk in Silence like I have for the past few years. This is about really getting into the meat of the album, and I find I often do that best when I can assign a mnemonic to it.  That way the album will stay with me that much longer.  [This is precisely why albums like Beck’s Sea Change are forever connected not just to the trilogy, but to my writing sessions in the Belfry.]

I’m doing this again with a handful of new albums that have become soundtracks of a sort for the Apartment Complex story and In My Blue World:

Beach House, 7. Unlike their more Cocteau Twins-like previous albums, this one ramps up the noise a little bit and sounds more like Slowdive and a bit of My Bloody Valentine as well. The dreamy atmosphere works really well for the otherworldliness of IMBW.

The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart. I keep coming back to this one for the Apartment Complex. TNaF are a much louder band with walls of guitars and soaring melodies, but this ‘stripped’ album takes out the volume and leaves beautifully delicate reimaginings.

Lucy Dacus, Historian. “Addictions” is one of those tracks you hear on the radio and then get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. The music is laid back and unassuming, but the melodies go in really interesting places. This one’s been getting plays for both projects lately.

Editors, Violence. I think pretty much every project I’ve ever worked on since 2005 has had Editors playing in the background at some point. They’re just an amazing band with a unique and adventurous sound. This one often gets played when I need to write an exciting action sequence.

Pinkshinyultrablast, Miserable Miracles. I gushed over this band on the other blog last week, and I still love them to bits. Russian shoegaze is all I need to say, and it’s all kinds of fun. IMBW has been getting most plays of this one, not to mention the rest of their discography!

GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star. Same thing — a recent discovery and now I play all of their releases during sessions, mostly for the Apartment Complex. Intriguing jazz sounds that remind me to keep the setting just a little bit on the odd side.

This is the fun part of my writing sessions…I love listening to music while I write, so connecting to a new album while working on a new project makes the sessions — and the albums — that much better for me.

Changes

[NOTE: This is a slightly updated repost from the original Dreamwidth entry from Wednesday night.]

I’ve been thinking long and hard about my writing lately, especially in regards to what processes have been working and what have not, and how to minimize the latter.

One thing in particular that had been bothering me was the fact that I had two projects in a row — the Apartment Complex story and now Can’t Find My Way Home — stutter to a halt, and both for the same reason.  And that reason being that it just didn’t feel right.  I know, I know…that sounds a bit silly and I’m probably talking out of my ass, but at the same time, the last two projects — Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World — did feel right to me.  Instinctively it felt like I was doing the right things, going in the direction the story needed to go.

Now, I knew it wasn’t just because of the story I was writing.  Both ideas have a created world that I could have a lot of fun with.  And I’ve definitely had my moments of the Don’t Wanna’s and the Oh God This Sucks with every project I’ve ever worked on, good and bad.  But there’s so much less drama with those two well-behaved kids.  So I had to really think about it — WHY was I having drama with the AC and CFMWH?

And then it occurred to me:  maybe I need a change of platform.

Yes, I know, on the face of it, that sounds like one of the worst and lamest excuses I could come up with, but hear me out.

As you all know, Bob, I’ve been writing the first rough drafts of the successful stories in short bouts on 750Words.  And all the rough outtakes of the AC that were well-behaved came from there as well.  They were working well for many reasons:

–I’m always writing at a specific time.
–With each session, I’m writing a complete or almost-complete scene arc, which also sets up the next scene arc that I’ll write during the next session.
–I’m focusing only on the scene at hand.  The novel-as-whole is secondary here.
–I’m allowing minor editing as I go, when I know that I can write something better.
–Each scene or partial is on its own screen; I can only access the other scenes by backing out of the one I’m currently on.
–I need to hit at least 750 words before I can call the session done for the day.
–These sessions are often very productive, as well as fast.  And quite enjoyable nearly every single time.

And then I realized: This is the exact same process I used when I wrote The Persistence of Memories, which I consider a personal benchmark.  Slightly different platforms, but the process was the same.  It was enjoyable and exhilarating to write because I’d laid all those ground rules and stuck to them.

So I thought:  what if I set up another 750Words account?  I’d follow the same leads as above with whatever second project I happen to have going.  This can be my evening writing session.  MS Word would only be used for localized save points, revision, rewriting, formatting, and other post-production work.

So that’s what I’ve done, starting it Wednesday night.

And I started it with another trial run of the Apartment Complex novel.  Despite my frustration with it over the past few months, my brain returned to it at least once a day.  I took that as a sign that I should definitely return to it as part of this newly-implemented process.  No giant outline, but just enough pre-planning to know where I need to go for the next couple of scenes.

One entry at a time, enjoying the moment.

Here’s to hoping this works!

On Calling It

naruto shikamaru facepalm
I feel your pain, Shikamaru.  I really do.

It’s 8:21pm on Tuesday the 17th, and I’m officially calling it:  The Apartment Complex story is on hiatus.  On the back burner.  Put aside for a bit.

It’s been three and a half months of thinking I could write the damn thing.  I’ll get some really good work done, and it’ll work for about two weeks, and then it’ll crash and burn.  Each and every damn time.

It’s not that it’s a story I can’t write.  It’s definitely not that I don’t enjoy the story.

It’s that it’s not yet ready to be written.  There are still far too many gaping holes in it.  I don’t quite know what it needs, and just throwing more words at it isn’t helping.  Nor is trying to restart it again and again.  And trying to make myself believe it’s just a rough patch definitely isn’t helping.

I’ve decided, it’s time to call it.  It’s at the point where I’m just wasting my time now.

So.  Now what?

As it happens, I’m actually doing just fine with In My Blue World, so I’m going to continue with that as my 750Words project.  I’m really enjoying writing that one and I’m having minimal issues with it so far.  I’m glad I started that one, because that one’s saving me from feeling the “OH GOD I SUCK” that every writer gets.

Which gives me the evening writing session to do…what project?

Good question.  I’ll have to think about that.

At least I’m finally starting to go through my spiral-bound notebooks that have been collecting dust.

dbz midle finger
TAKE THAT, AGGRAVATING WRITING PROJECT!

 

 

Getting back on the horse

cat on horse
Yeah, I’m not sure, either.

After all the frustration of the last couple of weeks, I’m glad to say I’ve got my writing back under control.  I’m back to getting my daily practice words working on a rough draft of the next project, while spending my evening sessions working on attempt number four of the Apartment Complex story.  I’ve given that project a lot of thought over the last couple of days, figured out (I hope) what works and what didn’t, revised how I’m going to approach it, and I’m just going to go ahead and write the damn thing without any reservations.

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered numerous false starts, and I know it won’t be the last.  That’s part and parcel of the writing biz, unfortunately.  All I can do is soldier on, one way or another.

Getting back on the horse can be frustrating in itself, especially when your brain wants you to be running full tilt from the beginning.  That rarely works out though.  Sometimes you just have to be patient and relearn the process to fit the kind of story you want to write.  Take it as it comes, and eventually you’ll suddenly notice you’re back up to your normal processing speed.

[Yeah, I know… I’m going a bit overboard with all the idioms in this post.  Sorry about that.]

ANYWAY!  The good thing about all of this is that I’m going in the right direction, and that’s the most important part.

Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again

One of the worst habits I have as a writer?

Trying to convince myself that my current project is going okay and just needs a bit of TLC and revision…when in reality it needs to be completely tossed and restarted.

I’ve been trying to convince myself — and you, the blog readers, when I mention my progress here — that the Apartment Complex story is just suffering from growing pains.  It was far from my best work, but I said that all my beginnings are crap, and I’ll eventually nail it a few chapters in.  I said that maybe I was just looking at it from the wrong angle, that maybe I was writing in one format when I should be writing another.  I said that I’ll fix it in rewrite.

Yeah, that’s all bullshit, and it’s about time I owned up to it.

I don’t hate this story, far from it.  I believe in it, and I’ve got some great things to say with it.  So I’m going to start over — AGAIN.

Which of course begs the question: am I trying to convince myself this is a story worth saving when it actually isn’t?  Well, no.  Most all of the outtakes I’ve written for this project using 750Words are of infinitely better quality, so I’ve already proved to myself that this story is worth writing.

I know exactly what’s wrong with it, and it’s what I call my ‘let’s go out for some hamburgers’ mistake.  [It’s named after an embarrassing story attempt I wrote in fifth grade.]  It’s a problem of static characters: I have great characters that I know I’ll have fun writing, but all they’re doing is standing around talking.  What little action there is, is forced and pointless.  I’m trying to steer this story in a direction it does not and should not go, and that’s a big problem indeed.

That’s not how fiction works, and it’s really not a fun way to write it, either.  When it happens, I’m hit with a feeling of disappointment almost immediately, that I’m just wasting my time and words.  It feels like there’s a big freaking gap in the plot between the opening and the second half.  I’m not doing my story justice, and to continue in this manner is folly.

So.

Time to start over.  Again.

Either that, or put this aside for a little longer and start writing a different project, like In My Blue World.

I’ll keep you posted.

*

Credit where credit’s due: Victoria Schwab’s recent tweet that she’d completely rewritten her latest project, Vengeful, was the impetus for this decision.  She’d originally written it last fall, only to come to the same conclusion I have about mine: this is not how I want the story to go.  She tossed that version and restarted it on January 10, and finished it 116k words later just the other day.  Kudos to her!

I’m not looking to hit that same insane goal in that short of a time, mind you.  I’m just looking to write this story the right way!

[Also: Yes, this is one of the reasons I took last week off from blogging.  I wanted to have a good long think about it first before I made my decision.]

Writing without a net

sw tfa jb

After three attempts at starting the Apartment Complex story, I think I finally have it under control.  I’ve nailed down the introduction of the characters, established the setting, and started them down Main Plot Line Boulevard.

That was a hell of a lot tougher than I expected.  Now for the fun part of writing the rest of it!

In retrospect, I don’t think I had as much of a problem when I was more of a pantser writer.  Probably because I didn’t really pay too much attention to such things as weak openings and so on.  I just riffed until I got the hang of it and fixed it later.  I’ve been trying to move away from that ever since, and let me tell you, it’s harder than it sounds.  I’m learning to trust my instincts more, instead of freaking out and getting nowhere.

The irony is that this is exactly what my characters are going through as well.  One of the biggest themes of this story is learning to trust someone completely and without any second-guessing.  In writing this story so far, I’ve been fighting the Writer Demon — you know the one, the ‘OH GOD THIS IS ALL CRAP’ Demon that wants you to purge all these words and take up golf or something.  But I’ve also been fighting it with self-trust.  I believe in the story, I know I’ve built up a strong plot and strong characters, so all I need to do is shut that demon down and forge ahead.

This is what I mean by writing without a net.  For me it used to mean writing in my old pantsing ways, but now it’s about moving forward despite all my doubts and worries.  It’s about trusting that I’ll pull this off, one way or another, and I’ll be proud of the result.

It’s stressful as hell sometimes, but the payoff is almost always worth it.

 

annette funicello
A NET.  I SAID ‘A NET’.  STOP THAT.

On the Run

anime music listening

Oops!  I seem to have forgotten to prepare a post for today!  Sorry about that, and thanks for waiting!

We’ll be on vacation next week, and I’ve been hemming and hawing over whether I should write posts or fly-bys.  I could easily write them tomorrow if need be, but at the same time I shouldn’t feel guilty if I post a fly-by instead.  Except that I do.  Writing can be like that.

As always, I spend a bit of vacation prep debating what writing-related things to bring with me.  Sometimes, like our recent Disney trip, I won’t touch it at all.  Other times, like our previous London trip, I’ll actually get work done.  So it’s a toss-up.  I’ve learned not to overpack like I used to.  I never bring my laptop anymore, though I might bring my tablet, especially when I want to do a bit of revision or reading of what I have so far.  For this trip, that’ll most likely be it, aside from the notebook and a few printouts for the Apartment Complex story.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to this break.  It’s been an unexpectedly busy first quarter so far at the Day Job, which means continual and very annoying interruptions from my work by the client reps, asking when my work will be done.  Eesh.  I just want a week to not think about much of anything at all except the next time we head over to Rainbow for more loco moco or kalua pork.

Is it 4pm yet?

 

On Calling It

cat throw away
Source: spoon-tamago.com

I’ve been frustrated with my work on the Apartment Complex story for the last few weeks.  Not the prose itself; that’s actually been pretty good.  What I am producing is stuff I can work with and revise.  I’m talking about the overall production.  It’s too scattershot.  There are too many gaping holes where I hung a cardboard sign saying ‘put something here later’.  I think I’ve proven to myself that I’m not good at writing out of order; I’m definitely more of a linear writer.

In short, I don’t think my longhand idea is quite panning out the way I wanted.  It feels like I’m wasting time.

I didn’t plan it out as well as I thought I did, and I’m paying the price for it.  I don’t necessarily think I need to revisit the outline; more that I need to be more immersed in the story.  It’s the writing style I’m used to and the style I’m good at.  By writing in a linear fashion and immersing myself into the story and the characters, I begin to understand what is needed and what I should avoid.  I’m also able to pay attention to minor details that I could use further down the line.

That’s not to say that I’ll never work this way again…I actually enjoy writing longhand.  It’s more relaxing, for starters.  I’m not focusing on a screen for hours at a time, for another.  Not to mention I get to write anytime and anywhere.  I just have to remember next time to start it when it needs starting, and not sooner.

That said… I’ve called it this past Wednesday.  I’m starting the Apartment Complex story over and trying again, this time straight to PC, as linearly as possible.  I haven’t gotten too far in the story, so I should probably be back up to speed by the end of the month if I keep up the same speed and dedication.

‘Calling it’ has to be one of the hardest things a writer has to do sometimes.  It’s definitely not a decision that comes lightly.  The biggest weight is the bitter truth that we’ve just wasted all that time on something that isn’t working for us.  Well, maybe not wasted per se, but it certainly feels that way.  There’s also the frustration of having to decide whether to continue or restart the project in what feels like the correct way, or to put it aside and start something else.  It causes us to take a good hard look at our project and make the decision whether it’s truly worth following through or trunking.

I’m already dedicated to the Apartment Complex story; I’ve been looking forward to writing it since I was in the middle of writing Lidwells. [I’m feeling the same exact way about In My Blue World, to be honest, and that one’s further down the road.]  I’ve decided I can salvage what I’ve done over the last month, and I can turn this around.

But it’s still one hell of a hard decision.