Naming Names and Other Muse Misadventures


Computer sticking a tongue out
The muse be misbehaving

I confess.  I hate naming characters.

 

I’ve working on one short story this week (Story #2, about superheroes) and looking at doing two others.  The week started out trying to find names for Short Story #1 (a fantasy story).

The naming process involves looking at the setting and picking the names based on that.  So a secondary world fantasy is going to have names of a certain origin, and a contemporary story will have modern names.

Meaning?  Phht.

The INTP part of me has never understood writers who look for names based on meaning.

The reader me scratches her head.  How would the reader know the importance of it?  It’s not like I would see the name Mary and run to a baby book to look it up to see if I could figure out any hidden meaning that might lurk in the story.

But naming I must do, and even the muse concedes that they have to picked at some point…

Story #1 is a secondary world fantasy (which I optimistically thought I would write first, but muse had other ideas). I used to use a baby name book.  The problem is when people see me reading the book.

“When are you expecting?”

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

Sigh.

My process has always been to scan through the names and write down a handful of that I like until something clicks.

Muse nearly always tries to head for the Ks.  It really likes K names.  So it looks at some of the other names and goes, “I don’t like that name.”

So somehow the result of this is that I start the story without the name.  Muse is like “I don’t care,” so I wind up with XX for the main character–do you know how hard that it is to type?!

It won’t take very long before muse grudgingly realizes the character does need a name.  It does have an effect on how the character develops (the cool, nerdy stuff muse likes).

But muse wants to spend almost no time on it.

We both agree that surfing baby name sites is really annoying.  They usually have this tiny window where you scroll through the name while all these ads for baby products flash at me.  An ad with a cute baby pops up over my name searching, asking me if I want to sign up for a newsletter.

I’ve been known to hop over to the Navy website and grab last names from the admiral’s list.  It includes all the retirees, so it’s quite long and a diverse list.  First name?  If I’m at work and need a name, I open the newspaper and start looking through the writers.  This is hit or miss, given that most of the writers are men, so I’m missing out on half my characters.

So muse pops a placeholder name in the story, intending to change it later.

Sometimes that happens.

Sometimes the doesn’t.

And sometimes the placeholder name annoys muse, so it changes the name to another placeholder.  For the superhero story, I end up starting it in first person so I don’t have to deal with the name.

Except that I do.  The reader me always finds it annoying when a writer does first person and never mentions the character’s name.

Muse sighs and plops a nickname in it.

But that gets all manner of questions, like why the character has it.  And that’s not important to the story.

Muse sighs again and plops another name in.  Adds a last name from the newspaper.

I’ll probably change it again before the end of the story.

Or not.

 

Filling the bucket of learning


This video popped across my feed yesterday, courtesy of Me-TV. Disco was at its height when I was growing up, and I remember hearing this song over the radio.  I like the visuals in this one better than the Night Fever one in the link.

I can’t sing.  At all.  I was so bad at rhythm that the Army tried to kick me out twice for my marching.  When we were marching off to war with the press watching, the acting first shirt put me at the end of the formation so I wouldn’t embarrass him.

So when I watch a video like the one above, it amazes me that one of these singers could replicate this song now.

Even as a writer, I wouldn’t be able to replicate something I wrote a year ago.  I could redraft the story, but it would come out different.  I would hope it would come out as something better.

Because I’m always learning something new.

I’ve been reading a book called The Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracy.  It’s part of the Personal MBA, which is reading a list of books to have the basics of business.  I’ve read Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog! and I didn’t care much for the book.   Partially because it seems like his goal is to jam as much into the day as possible (a problem with a lot of time management books).  But also, I think, because he focused heavily on emotions to make the sale.

I’m an INTP on the Myers-Brigg scale.  Means I like logical and analytical.  Emotional appeals can work, but I’ll be a skeptic first.  If someone is trying to sell a workshop, I’ll scroll past all the “shouting” to find out the price first.

This book though…it had something in it that caught my attention.  It said that learning was like a bucket of water. You have to constantly fill up the bucket because it doesn’t stay full, or continue learning.

Little girl on beach filling up bucket with sand.

Which reminded me of a writer that I used to love.  She first came out with awesome book in the 1990s.   It was a series. The main character was different than any I’d seen before, and it was a woman character.  In an action role!  She had a team of interesting characters surrounding her.  I just took a workshop on Teams in Fiction, and it identified one of the reasons I really liked this series.

So ever time I went into B. Dalton’s, I checked the shelves for this writer to see if there was a new one out.  When I found one, I snatched it up, took it home and read it in a day, then reread it.  I would happily still be reading this writer today.

If something hadn’t changed.

The writer became a best seller and stopped filling her bucket.

It happened by about book five.  I just knew at the time that the books weren’t quite as good.  I still bought the books for a while, thinking they would get better.  But the other team members I liked disappeared. They were replaced with a collection of characters who filled space but weren’t a team.

So I stopped buying the books, since I could use the money for books I was enjoying and wanted to keep.  I still read the books, but I checked them out from the library.  I was always disappointed and finally decided they weren’t worth my time to read.

But I occasionally picked up one, hoping for that old magic.  In the last one, it looks like the writer must be having a decline of sales because she circled back around to the roots that started the series and tried to replicate it.

And failed.

She’s been writing for 20+ years and should have been able to turn out a much better book than that first one I read.  But her bucket was empty.  She’d stopped learning long ago, and no longer has those tools.

But learning means not just grabbing the next book and reading it, but finding resources that actually push the skills.  The bucket should always be overflowing.

I’m in the process of learning about subplots, and as from above, selling.  What are you learning today?

I’m in a new Story Bundle called Short Flights (of the Imagination). My story is from my GALCOM Universe series, called Watcher Ghost. But I wanted to share the image of all the stories in the bundle so you can pre-order it and get lots of great speculative fiction stories (like we really don’t have all that much to read :).

Short Flights (of the Imagination)

Weird Typos and Other Distractions


Dena Wesley Smith has a post up today about typos.  In this case, it’s what every blogger has probably experienced–someone zooming in to inform us that they caught us in a typo.

You have sinned!  You made a typo!

I don’t know what it is about typos, but they bring out the worst in people.  I suppose if you attach writer to that and suddenly we’re supposed to be perfect with the words.

Hmm.  Tell that to my fingers.  I am constantly making corrections because I am a lousy typist.  My fingers get tangled up and sometimes I have words that are mostly spelled correctly,  but have an extra letter in there.  Particularly as I’ve gotten older (to the point of reading glasses), it’s harder for me to tell if I have too many i’s and l’s, especially if the font is small or condensed.

But then sometimes extra words creep in, and where they’re not supposed to.  I wandered into an existing scene, did a quick spell check (three typos, not too bad), then read it.  Found this:

Hope passed added the flatware to the plate and passed up up, but left the glass behind

Clearly I was thinking it too many directions when I wrote that!

I like checking soon after I write because occasionally I run into one where I have to stop and think about what I was trying to say.  If it’s too long after, I have to strike the sentence entirely because I don’t remember.

Working on Multiple Projects

This week, I was part of an online INTP discussion, which was quite fascinating.  Filing was actually the major part of the discussion, and how hard it is just to put pieces of paper in files.  It’s like details, and I don’t have much tolerance for it.

But, also my natural state, I like hopping between projects.  Sometimes it’s a break, or a way to get a different perspective.  Sometimes I even get bored.  Doesn’t mean the story is getting boring, but that I need a break from it.

At the moment, I’m working on a science fiction novel, a mystery short story, and a fantasy short story.  Both the short stories are set in Morro Bay, California.  I’m thinking of wandering around between them, following the flow of what I want to work on.  I ended up getting hung up on the fantasy for a week because of a combination of getting stuck (let critical brain in and went in the wrong direction) and wanted to get it done.  The result is not as much done as I wanted to. I probably would have figured out the problem if I’d hopped to a different story.  Sometimes I need a little time to process where I need to go next.

Washington DC’s big party: The Inauguration

That’s only a few weeks away now.  We will be shut down close into downtown because all the streets will be closed.  Expect it to be cold.  We were 11 when I went out to my car yesterday.  Probably no better.  But that’s typical weather for this time of the year.  At least things will finally get back to whatever normal is after that.

Only six more weeks until Spring!

Being an INTP in the Military


When I first got out of the military, I was able to do a Myers-Brigg test to see where I fit on the 16 personalities.  I’m an INTP, which is probably the smallest percentage out of all the personalities.  But when I saw the results of that test, I realized how true they were.

Among other things, I found the Army to be very toxic to creativity.  I did not do a lot of writing when I was in, though I had purchased a computer.  Part of the problem was that I did live in the barracks, and it’s hard having to be in the room and wondering if someone was going to interrupt me for work.  I was the only person in my platoon who lived in the barracks, and I often got tagged when one of the other platoons said, “Sorry, we can’t do this.”

But everything was also very structured, rigidly so.  I did the training schedule every week, and we mapped out each day, hour by hour and followed that schedule.  If we were going to a training site at 1000, that’s where we were.

And no one liked messy of any kind.

I’m messy when I work.   Messy, but not disorganized.  It’s just a part of my process.  Not like a coworker’s desk that I visited a few weeks ago that scared me.  I thought if we had an earthquake, he might actually be in danger!

My squad leader always fussed at me because of my desk.  At my second duty station, there was a sergeant who would go behind me and straighten up to his standards.

Then there was my room in the barracks.  It always had to be ready for inspection at any time.  There were weird rules like if you had a single magazine, you couldn’t have it sitting on the desk. It had to be put in a drawer.  Um, I read library books.  What was I supposed to do with them?

So even when I went “home” at the end of the day, I couldn’t really be me, and me is important is being creative.

When I got out, it was like all those years of being forced to be so neat exploded, and I got really disorganized and messy.  It took a while to rally all that back in to a more normal state.

But because of all this, I always thought I was terribly disorganized.  I was completely shocked when a co-writer admired how organized I was.

Sometimes things are not always what they seem!