Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Naming characters: The Upside of Creativity, and a Trap

July 10, 2012 15 comments

A writer-centric post today on one of the most enjoyable parts of being a writer – the creativity it allows me. Specifically, in making up names. I’ve talked before about naming settings (cities, planets) and items (vehicles, weapons, ships), but this post is strictly about naming characters…and a trap one can fall into.

A few months back, I did a beta read for a friend, and one of my critiques was alliterative names. It was a fantasy novella, out of my usual comfort zone of reading, so I didn’t know if that was a theme or style fantasy used. However, after the fourth character was introduced whose name started with a V, I was completely lost. I felt it made it difficult for the reader to follow, especially when a story has several characters that impact the overall story arc using that letter.

Let’s do a little quiz. Here is a photo still from one of my all-time favorite movies (and guilty shoot-em-up pleasures), Aliens. It’s a picture of two of the most visible and popular characters (not to mention two that survived quite long, so they had plenty of screen time). It’s Hicks and Hudson; everyone knows those names. What’s the quiz? BEFORE you scroll down to the answer, answer this – which one is Hicks, and which one is Hudson?

Answer: It’s Hudson on the left, Hicks on the right. Even I to this day sometimes mix them up thinking back to the movie, as they are in so many scenes together, they are integral to the plot arc, and their names start with the same letter.

Maybe you got it correct, maybe not, but the point I’m illustrating is that characters need distinct names from each other, and ones that aren’t overly clichéd (and by clichéd, I mean Cliff Stone for the tough guy, Melvin Poindexter for the nerd, Vlad Bloodworth for a vampire, and so on – they can take away from the story).

I fell into this trap with my first novel, Gabriel’s Redemption, and it wasn’t until the second story in the trilogy was released that someone called me on it. I never caught it. And it was pretty bad, I must say. Two very different characters, one the ultimate bad guy in the book, and one a heroic captain. One was MacFarland, one McTiernan. Holy crap, what a boo-boo.

The reason? I’ve used random name generators online for many character names, and I just keep hitting Refresh until one catches my eye. One that sounds right for the character and is easy to say (a popular character named Varsonofy Panteleimonovich Krestovozdvizhensky is going to stop the reader in his or her tracks). I had MacFarland from a previous idea and put it into the story, but when I got to needing a name for a ship captain later on, I resorted to the random name generator, and it looked good. Never made the connection.

So…did you get Hicks and Hudson correct? Any name issues you’ve run across in books, or traps you’ve fallen into?


And the writing begins again, in earnest – so my reading will suffer.

May 21, 2012 13 comments

The title of the post says it all. After a couple months off from actively writing stories (with the exception of a short), I’m jumping back in, feet first, to a full length novel in an all new universe. I’ve got the full idea (have for a few months now, itching to get out) and have started outlining a few chapters, but last night I realized some of my best work was less outlined/more pantsed, so I decided to start writing without a complete outline. Again I have the overall storyline, I know where it’s supposed to end and a general idea of how it will get there, and I’ve got the first 3-4 chapters all visually done in my Mindseye (wish I had that system…), ready to go. I’ll let the characters and the situation dictate how I get to the end.

But this means my pleasure reading is done. Yes yes, I know a good writer must continue to read, to hone his or her craft, but I’ve found when I’m reading a book at the same time I’m writing one, the other book leaks into my work. Same with watching television and trying to write. I find the dialogue, settings, even plot ideas jump into what I’m doing…and that’s bad. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but if I write a book with the same plot line as an episode of CSI:Miami (I chose that because that’s one I DON’T watch), or the same space travel tech as Old Man’s War, I’m in trouble.

I just completed a beta read for a good friend, a little mix of urban fantasy and high fantasy, and instead of jumping into Michael Hicks’ In Her Name: First Contact, which is next on the TBR, my reading will consist of viewing my own words. At least until the first draft is finished.

Anyone have that same focus issue when writing?

Could I have written 3 additional novels last year instead of tweeting?

March 28, 2012 9 comments

This morning, I noticed that I sent my 19,000th tweet, which is honestly an absurd number when I think about it. Nineteen thousand tweets, in just over a year on Twitter? Seriously? What the hell have I been blabbering (and probably annoying people) about?

How much time have I spent “writing” on Twitter that perhaps could have been used more wisely? Let’s break it down (for my own rationalization, of course).

• I first became “active” on Twitter in January 2011; call it 14 months ago.

• According to the Oxford University Press, the average tweet is 14.98 words (call it 15).

• According to Publisher’s Weekly, the average (median, actually) length of a novel is around 65,000 words.

• I’ll estimate that 20% of my tweets are RTs, not original content.


19,000 tweets x 80% (original tweets) = 15,200 tweets

15,200 x 15 (average word count of tweet) = 228,000 words

228,000 / 65,000 (median novel length) = 3.5 novels

Therefore, I’ve come to the conclusion* that I could have written three and a half additional novels in the 14 months I’ve been tweeting, by simply replacing tweets with sentences in a story.

I’ll never tweet again. Right after this one. Oh, and this one. And of course the kitteh one. And…


* OK, it’s not really a conclusion…just a bizarre comparison I thought of before my coffee hit.

Finally got some serious writing done..thanks to ignoring the Twittah

March 5, 2012 9 comments

Very productive weekend on the super secret project. In and around 10k words written, which combined with some previous chicken scratch puts me approximately 15% into my target book length (and based on my outline sketch, that looks about right). It’s been quite a while since I was able to lay down some uninterrupted word count, and the main reason for this is my propensity to get sidetracked. I mean…ooh, squirrel!


I made a conscious decision to NOT go on Twitter from the first seconds at the keyboard Saturday morning, until the first seconds this morning. I sent a tweet Saturday morning:

I think I’ll declare today #SilentSaturday (for me at least). Stepping away from my beloved Twitter and getting some actual *WRITING* done

And another Sunday*:

Yesterday’s no-Twitter #SilentSaturday worked out so well (over 6k written), I’m doing follow up:#SilentSunday. Bye Twitter, see you Monday

*Observant readers may point out that sending a tweet Sunday morning means I used Twitter during that 48 hour span, but I’m not counting that. And since this is my blog, nyah nyah nyah.

Twitter has been a godsend for relationships, help, support, and marketing. But it’s also been a time-suck at many points. I find myself typing a few lines in my WIP, sitting back to think about what comes next, and clicking over to Twitter. Big mistake. Putting it aside for two full days worked out better than I expected. And I didn’t even use my Sunday to its full potential (some family obligations).

Will I give up Twitter, the way I have Facebook? Probably not. That being said, I will most certainly do some non-Twitter days – well worth it.

Have you ever turned your back on Twitter? Could you?


Using profanity in writing – is it necessary, or even missed?

February 22, 2012 32 comments

I woke up this morning (but unlike Jim Morrison, did not get myself a beer) to a very complimentary 5 star review on Amazon for Gabriel’s Journey, the trilogy collection:

“The reviews for it were fantastic, but you know how that could go. I’m in between reads so I bought it. What a pleasant surprise! Well written, with the right amount of humor as well as a distinct lack of profanity. Enjoyable in all aspects. Just what I needed, another good author on my watch list. Highly recommend this one!!”

Something in there really stood out to me, something I struggled with early on, but something I’ve stuck with, and I’m glad I did. It’s the phrase “distinct lack of profanity.”

The Gabriel stories are military stories at their heart. The lead character is a Navy Commander who has been through a lot, continues to go through a lot, and is surrounded by military throughout the trilogy. The general consensus is that many members of the military can rival truck drivers (or vice versa) for their florid language skills. However, I took a slightly different tack with my stories, and I’ve heard feedback in both directions.

A brief background: I wrote my first book, Gabriel’s Redemption, not with the intent to publish, but more as a challenge to myself (National Novel Writing Month) to finally finish a story, and perhaps even more so as something I wanted my kids to read (two boys, 10 & 13 at the time). Therefore, I went light on the violence, extremely slim on the profanity, and absolutely zero on the sex.

After it ended up being published, I did get some feedback about the language (or lack thereof) used by hardcore military guys and gals, and after (only after) my kids both read the story, I did go back and add in a little color. But I still kept it light, on purpose. I’ve read a lot of books where the F-bomb is used liberally, far more than is necessary, and it pulls me out of the story a bit. I’ve always told my kids that using profanity is a sign of an uneducated vocabulary, that the speaker is using swear words to get a rise out of another when a different word would be just as effective, and perhaps even more effective. Stand-up comedians would be a good example. Eddie Murphy and George Carlin can use profanity well, but many others just use it for the sake of getting a laugh, unnecessarily.

I rarely use profanity myself; never in casual conversation (even with ‘the guys’), and usually only when the hammer misses the nail, or the pot boils over, or the computer crashes. And that leaks into my writing. I want my stories to be accessible to a wide range of readers, and wouldn’t want anyone pulled out of the story because of unnecessary profane language. Is that a 100% accurate portrayal of military life? Probably not, but hopefully (a) the rest of my military portrayal is spot-on, and (b) it doesn’t take away from the realism of the dialogue in the overall story.

What are your thoughts on seeing profanity in what you read?

It’s been a humbling, exciting, wonderful Year One of writing

February 3, 2012 7 comments

Today is Friday, February 3rd, and tomorrow morning I’m getting on a plane to Mexico with my family on a week’s vacation, one we have done for the past seven years this same week (a Super Bowl party on the beach is better than hanging in some dude’s basement watching it). Today is also the one-year anniversary of something that turned out to be fairly significant for me: my first book sale.

One year ago yesterday (2/2/11), I uploaded Gabriel’s Redemption to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. One year ago today, I was driving to the airport at seven in the morning when I saw an email on my phone from Smashwords with the subject line “Purchase Notification.” Ho. Lee. Crap. Someone, out of the blue, bought the book I wrote.

Here it is, one year later, and it’s been a helluva year – one that saw two more books released, and some fantastic feedback and reviews received. I’m still flabbergasted (love when I get to use that word) at how the year went, and I’m incredibly humbled.

I just want to give huge shouts of thanks to my fellow writers for their unending support, and all those readers out there who supported in a different way – by buying, reading, reviewing, and spreading the word about my books.

I’ve had success beyond my wildest dreams. Gabriel’s Redemption was written as a personal challenge to myself, and as something I thought my kids would get a kick out of; never did I think it would have gotten to this point. A point where just yesterday, on that one year anniversary of publishing my first book, the first shipment of the paperback versions of books two and three arrived in the mail. Wow…just…wow.

I’m both thankful, and inspired. 2012 will be even more exciting.

Pssst…those two new paperbacks are now available to be ordered, and I’ve got a secret blog-reader-only discount code for all three…

Gabriel’s Redemption (1) ~ Gabriel’s Return (2)Gabriel’s Revenge (3)

Super Secret Createspace Discount Code: HBV5NXDP ($3.00 off – don’t spend it all in one place)

How Justified makes me a better writer…or at least humbles me to try

January 19, 2012 12 comments

Confession: I time-shift everything I watch. I hate commercials. I mean, I delay the start of a show by 15 minutes so when I do finally hit the Play button on the DVR remote, I can watch my one hour show in 44 minutes. What does this confession mean? Nothing, except that Tuesday night, I did what I haven’t done in maybe two years…watch a one hour, prime time television show live. Why? Because it was the season three premiere of friggin’ Justified, for Pete’s sake – perhaps the best written, best acted, best shooting’ show I’ve seen since…well, maybe ever. (Maybe BSG or Firefly, I’ll admit).

The reason I enjoy it so much is that it give me impetus, motivation, and perhaps a kick in the ass to write a better story myself. The dialogue, the one-liners, the incredible characters, the plot arcs with individual subplots all tying into a larger story, the realistic acting right down to the facial expressions, are all so high quality, I feel myself bowing before the screenwriters (figuratively of course).

In Monday’s premiere, Boyd Crowder (maybe the coolest bad guy on TV, played by Walton Goggins) and Raylan Givens (the underrated Timothy Olyphant) had these little, minor exchanges (like many others they’ve had) in the US Marshal’s office:

  • Raylan: Did you do something you shouldn’t have?
  • Boyd: Well, that’s a pretty low bar, Raylan.
  • Raylan: There’s still a sizable amount missing.
  • Boyd: How sizeable, Raylan?
  • Raylan: Well over ten dollars.
  • Boyd: Well now, if I found that kind of money, I’d be in Mexico by now.
  • Raylan: Boyd, I’ve been to Mexico, I don’t think you’d like it.
  • Boyd: How so?
  • Raylan: There’s a lot of Mexicans.

All told in deadpan, straight face, one to one conversation that showed such an amazing character interaction, I was blown away. And the story itself? Even better. By Season 3, they’ve interwoven three different villains – the Crowders, Mags Bennett, and now the Dixie Mafia with a surprise visitor from Detroit – into the overall arc so well, you’d have no idea the same story is still going on…yet it is.

Special shout out to Wynn Duffy, played by Jere Burns (love that guy) for the show’s most memorable and laughable quote: “Raylan, I’m sorry. I would like to be of more help but I’ve gotta get back to watching women’s tennis.” And for a little slapstick value, Joelle Carter’s character Ava’s cast iron skillet to the face bit was excellent. Not a stretch, not gratuitous, but like everything else in Justified, it fits right in.

Entertainment factor aside, and there is a massive one, Justified shows what a story can be in the hands of a talented writer (or group of writers), and for that I’m thankful. And damned jealous…

Aspiring writers, take an hour out of your week to catch Justified and see what a story really is. (Or like me, take 44 minutes…)