Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Name Game. Again.

A few days ago I asked for suggestions on Twitter about what to blog about today. Well, I’ll now proceed to ignore every idea (great though they were), and tell you all about what’s still on my fevered little mind.

Remember my last blog post, where I told you about finding the perfect name for my main character? What I didn’t go on to tell you was that the moment I did, most of my other characters rebelled and insisted on new names, too. Honestly, I’m 50k words into the new novel and NAMES ARE CHANGING. This is distressing. Because in the aforementioned blog post, I also mentioned that characters can shift with names. So I’ve got shifting characters all over the place. Maybe only in minor ways sometimes, but still. It’s like trying to herd ducklings.

And it’s not over yet. One of the most important characters in the series is still unnamed. Or, rather, he’s had lots of names, but none of them seem right. You know how when you have a new cat (if you’re the kind of person who might have cats at all, much less a new one), and you stand at different points around the room and call out different names while the cat sits there and washes its ears and pretty much ignores you for all of them, but then it might glance up and look vaguely interested at one? THAT’S what you need. That one name that makes the character look up with interest.

Unfortunately for me, Cat-boy seems to have found his name today. I say ‘unfortunately’ because, in all honesty? It’s not particularly a name I want to give him. It’s very unusual and I’m already a bit worried that I have too many weird names in this thing. But he seems to like it. He’s looked up. I can SEE him suddenly. Just like Amity, he doesn’t look at all like what I thought he did, but he’s come sharply to life, and how do you ignore that? How do you argue with it?

Damn these characters, anyway.

OK, on to practicalities. Where do you find names for your characters?

The first way is to sit around mumbling names to yourself. Personally, whenever I try this, it turns out that there are only about 20 or so actual names in my head at any one time, all of them wrong, and I just keep going over and over them. (John! No. Alex! Used it. Jack! No. Egbert! Are you mad?)

So: baby-naming websites. There are many and legion of them out there, but here are the ones I find most helpful:

Nameberry: Oh, I love this site so much. It has LISTS. Cool lists. Quirky lists. Lists like, Baby Names from Classic Rock Songs and Cowboy Baby Names. If you can’t find an awesome name on this site, you’re not trying.

Then there's Nymbler. You can enter up to six names that you like, and then the baby name generator will show you fifteen names inspired by those, and you can just keep on refreshing and refreshing it to show new batches of names. If, like me, your brain explodes when confronted with a list of hundreds of names at once, this is an inspired idea and highly recommended. Plus it's kind of like playing the slot machines in Vegas.

Finally, Name Playground. BRILLIANT site. It uses lists compiled by US Social Security to let you find out the 1,000 most popular names in any year since census records first began in 1880. You can also type in a particular name and you’ll get a graph showing exactly when it’s been most popular. A graph! I love this, in a geeky way. Hours of fun. See, here's my name:

Note how it peaked in popularity pretty much the second I was born (1967) and then plummeted. YOU TOO can find out things like this! Anyway, if you’re writing something historical or want to get a name right for a character who’s a particular age, this site is perfect. (Cat-boy’s name isn’t even on there. I told you. He’s trouble already.)

Do you have any other name resources that you use? Tell Auntie Lee all. And then, who knows – maybe next week we can get off this name-obsession and onto something else. 

We can only hope.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Naming of Characters

Getting to know a new character is like being on an archaeological dig: carefully dusting off a buried treasure and seeing it slowly reveal itself. Characters, to me, aren’t really created so much as discoveredto such an extent that if I get their names wrong, they definitely let me know about it.

Alex has always been Alex, if you’re wondering – his name came to me instantly. So did Seb’s. Willow’s took a while to get right. I spent several weeks desperately trawling through ‘name your baby’ websites, because the thing is, until you have a character’s name, you can’t write. Or at least I can’t. Then driving my car one day, a thought came from nowhere: ‘I wonder if she’s named after a tree..?’ (The writing-gods obviously felt sorry for me and decided to give me a hint.)

Weirdly, if you change a character’s name, the character changes. Remember Kara? She was originally named Mia, and was different in lots of minor ways. When I changed her name, she shifted. (If anyone’s curious, Kara was named after Kara Thrace of the new Battlestar Galactica series – I saw her as a mix of that character and Zoe from Firefly.) (Yes, I know: Geek Alert.) (Which also means – tangent – that her name is pronounced to rhyme with Farrah.)

Now that I’m writing something new, the naming process has again reared its sometimes-agonising head. I thought I had my new main character’s name right: Danni. But for the first 20k words or so, I had no idea what she looked like. None. I kept writing descriptions and then taking them out again, because they didn’t feel right, and who was this girl anyway, and ARGH.

Then I got an email from my lovely mate Julie Cohen, who reported that she’d just changed her main character’s name and suddenly her whole book was singing. Huh, I thought. I want my book to sing. I wonder if…

So I went back to the drawing board – and when I delved a bit more into the story’s world and my character’s backstory, I saw that her name just didn’t fit. I started thinking thematically, looking at synonyms for words that are crucial to the main story concept. The moment I saw ‘Amity’, I got chills. (Chills are good.) More importantly (but also kind of spooky), suddenly I could SEE her – looking nothing like I’d thought, yet utterly vivid in my mind’s eye. Now the problem is almost that she’s come to life too much. She very much has a mind of her own.

So…yeah. Names. You gotta get them right.

Friday, 13 September 2013

It’s a time of endings and beginnings

As I write this, Angel Fever has been on the shelves for less than two months. At the same time, I’m busy making headway in a new novel: the first of another big, epic series.

This wasn’t my plan. I’d planned to take a year ‘off’ (well, it’s all relative!), and write a one-off novel that was a bit more light-hearted. But then the idea for the new trilogy came to me out of the blue, and I was smitten. Fortunately, so were my publishers: the first book will be coming out in 2015 with Usborne in the UK. As to what it’s about…well, it hasn’t been announced yet, so I’m staying somewhat mysterious. Let’s just say that while it’s not paranormal, I think fans of the Angel series will really enjoy it, and that it’s got my writing taste-buds tingling VERY hard.

Meanwhile, saying goodbye to Willow, Alex and Seb has been both easier and harder than I expected. Easier, because in terms of my writing-life it’s definitely time to move on. I’ve been writing the Angel series for the last four years; there are other things I want to explore, too. And I feel like I’ve given the characters a fitting ending, which helps – the series ended exactly the way I’d hoped it would (I don’t always have control over these things…just ask my characters!)

And it’s also harder than I thought, because I love Willow, Alex and Seb – along with all the other characters in the series. More than that, I know them inside and out. In any scene I wrote, I knew exactly how everyone would react. Feeling my way into my new series now, I’m often having the sense of, “Wait – who are you people?”

But I’m loving getting to know them.

So…enter Amity. And Collie, and Rafe. And Cora and Harlan. New characters who I’m just now getting to know and starting to fall madly in love with. Especially Amity, my new main character. Most of the new trilogy will be from her point of view, and she’s a very different character from Willow. I think I’m going to love her just as much.

I hope you will, too.