Monday, November 21, 2005

Drama!!! (Not)

I think I'm having a drama queen phase. You know all that "I'm going to break the rules!" stuff about going back and rewriting even in the middle of a first draft?

It turned out to involve one chapter.

I added two incidents to chapter five. They really improved chapter five, and I think they establish some clues or hints to something that happens later in the book, so it was worthwhile, but it was hardly worth all the accompanying drama.

Now I can pick up where I left off, early in chapter seven, since chapter six is the one that has to be entirely rewritten with location research.

One other thing I often struggle with (aside from the dramatics) is naming characters. I think in a way it must be harder than naming kids because you've got this pre-existing personality and you have to find the perfect name to fit or convey that (or if you're being funny, contradict it), without going too over the top with it, like Dickens sometimes did and JK Rowling sometimes does (though they are writing a bit larger than life, and it may be a British thing that a character with a big belly has to be named Mr. Fatmiddle).

My problem now is that most of my cast of recurring characters already has names. Those names have appeared in a printed book, so I can't decide now that I'm not so sure that's the perfect name for that supporting character whose personality is just now starting to take shape. You may also have noticed that a lot of my supporting cast doesn't have last names. Part of that is because last names can be hard to come up with (for me, at least), and part of it is because I try to work in names in a natural way that flows with the way people talk and think. The characters who have last names generally are those who've been formally introduced to my narrator character, but her best friends don't have last names because, seriously, how often do you think about your best friends' last names (unless you call them by their last names)? You're more likely to think or say, "I'm going shopping with my friend Mary," than "I'm going shopping with my friend Mary Smith."

But now in the third book, I'm having to give some of these people last names, since they are in situations where more formal introductions to other characters might be required. I have a couple of characters who were only mentioned by first names in book two who will now appear in book three, and I needed to give them a last name (they're a married couple). I flipped through my baby name book, looking for first names that are derived from surnames, which is a good source for aristocratic-sounding surnames, and I needed something aristocratic-sounding. I found one where the name description even mentioned it was associated with nobility. Great! I didn't even try to match the first names to the last name to see how it sounded, because in the context I was using it at the time, someone was referring to the couple as a unit by the last name. It was only later, when I had to use that last name with the first names, that it sounded kind of familiar. A quick Internet search revealed that there is a real person with the same name as one of those characters, a minor celebrity associated with a royal scandal. Oops. Now those characters have a different last name. I'd probably better Google the new names, just in case.

In other news, a British newspaper did a list of the Top 20 Geek Novels of All Time. I think I've read about eight of them, thanks to years in a science fiction book group. I say "think" and "about" because I'm not sure if I've read the particular Asimov books in question. I know I read a number of his in the book group, but (potential blasphemy alert ahead) they all tend to blur together for me. There's nothing distinctive about any particular Asimov novel that makes it stand out in my brain. I think it's because he tends to write "idea" books, while it's characters who stand out for me to set books apart. His characters (to me, at least) are kind of bland and exist mostly as mouthpieces to express his ideas.

If you don't hear from me tomorrow, you'll know that the Geek Police have raided my home and sent me for re-education.


Caryn said...

I'm always worried I'll give a character the exact same name as someone famous. For last (and first) names, you can try the name generator here:

I also like to flip through a phone book.

Shanna Swendson said...

Ooh, thanks for the tip.

With the phone book, I'm too worried that the first and last names together will stick in my brain and I'll end up using the name of a real person in my city. I do like flipping through hotel phone books when I travel for last names, though.

Caryn said...

When you go back to New York, you could maybe pick up an old phone book there. The phone companies love to give those things out. Or you could have someone there call the phone company and request an extra, then save it for you. That ought to give you plenty of names!