Category Archives: Character names

Self Editing: Eveything you need to know

I had planned a post at some point similar to this, but when I read the talented Sharon Zink’s page I decided to share it.

Sharon is an amazing writer and I have had her on my blog. She also does the same job as me in that she offers manuscript appraisals; the same level of detail.

So I decided to share this link because it really is a masterclass in writing and everything on here is exactly the kind of thing I say to clients all the time when I assess their manuscripts…

Take heed fellow scribes!

I am now about to write the homecoming chapter on Pelicans… this is exciting, it’s the final chapter when we reveal the last of the missing pieces… and it’s raining so I am loving the sounds of rain on the roof as I write! The morning goes pitter patter… ❤

Have a wonderful day everyone!

http://sharonzink.com/writing-tips/all-first-drafts-are-sht-so-heres-a-masterclass-on-self-editing/

 

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Getting to know your characters …

New cover WNOWW

 

Characterisation is a vital part to process, as you know as a writer, and one of the things that’s really important to make that VITAL connection to your reader. It all ties into voice, so we see, think, hear and root for the character.

Indeed,  I have talked about characterisation here many times in one guise or another.

I challenged myself writing an African-American with Lydia and have been overwhelmed with how much people have loved her. In fact they say they like all the characters in While No One Was Watching and yes they are all likeable because I tried to keep them real, while at the same time not stereotypes — which can be hard. Some might think they are stereotypical. The test is the number of people who want to know what happened to them once the book was over and so far that seems to be what people are saying. And I do hope to use Lydia again 🙂

It’s more of a struggle writing the more flawed character and I have always been aware that Amy in I Am Wolf is both complex and flawed and there are aspects of her the reader might not like. How she treats Mark for a start but I have worked to make the reader see why and warm to her, I hope — and that has been tricky. She has, as they say, a lot of baggage. But how much should the reader like the character? 

Well, it would not feel authentic if all characters were flawless, nor if all characters were evil. It’s about getting the right balance so even the hero has flaws and the evil character has redeeming features. Or at least that’s how I do it. My fiction deals with reality but with a touch of something unusual — or that’s how I describe it. It is grounded in reality, but I do like it if a character is ordinary but feels extraordinary. This was how someone described Lydia and I was chuffed with that.

There have been many challenges with the new novel and characterisation is most definitely one of them. I want Amy to be a victim who wears a mask, but I also want her to feel like a real person and I confess I still struggle with her.  She’s the kind of character who bosses me about and I have to keep her in check! But I think I’m almost there as I approach the end of another edit and hope it’s about ready.

Getting the characters right is so important for that connection I go on and on about (yeah I know!) But they are your vehicle for doing justice to the story. And as Stephen King put its, love before horror. Make the reader care about your character before you put them in peril — if you want the reader to stay for the journey.

And we all love it when we get to know characters and especially, as a writer, it’s great when people say they want to meet the characters again. Of course there are many trilogies and crime series where we do just that. And taking that a step further look at how close we come to feel to, let’s say, soap characters.

I was watching Daybreak this morning when Lorraine made a suggestion that I have been saying for years! I want to see a character in let’s sat Corrie, who pops down to London for a bit or forever, or a character in EastEnders who moves to Manchester (lots have!) make an appearance as the same character in the other soap! Hell — how many EastEnders characters end up in Spain? Maybe one  could pop over to Benidorm for a while! I think the public would love this and I think we should get more liaison between TV production companies to do this to characters?

Writers of the novel do it all the time, in a way when characters have walk on parts in other novels, so why not take that further?

One of the questions Parthian asked me and one I now ask other writers is — and I would love people here to comment — if you could be friends with any FICTIONAL character, you have created or read or watched on TV, movie etc. who would it be and why?

Mine — well here I am talking characters I have created — would be Lydia Collins.

Have a great day everyone!

Indeed!

Indeed!

 

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Making a connection and a Kennedy challenge for you, where were you?

At the heart of good writing is a connection.

That is why I love character narrators so much. I like the reader to hear and feel as the character and not hear the author.

In short stories I like to make that connection quickly so even in 1000, 2000, 3000 words the reader has been in that world for a while and feels for the characters. It takes sharp writing and a keen sense of character to effect that in a short piece. I see the reader as being with the character for a short while, but long enough to care.

In the novel the relationship is allowed to develop and the hope is the reader forms a really strong connection.

I feel as if I had an intimate connection to the characters in my novel for a long time before I let anyone else meet them and now it seems lots of people are meeting them and seem to be liking them. I knew they’d love Lydia! Phew! So it was just the best to hear my mum (yes I know she’s biased!) say she loved the novel so much she was sad it had ended and is now reading it again because she missed the characters! Wow. That was always my hope, but again wow. I hope everyone else feels the same way!

As we begin the countdown to the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, I’d like to invite people to send me a short (say no more than 1000 word) non-fiction piece on where they were or where someone they know was when you/they heard Kennedy was assassinated — be honest but be poignant, say what it meant, how you/they felt, what was happening to you or them in your real lives (like the characters in my novel) and I will select the best ones to be posted here on the blog on November 22nd, say three or four during the day and the person who wrote the one I love the most will be awarded a free signed copy of the novel.

As I say in the afterword of the book, the world only stops a couple of times in a lifetime — for me it was when the twin towers fell out of the sky, and perhaps for a short time when Diana died. These moments are pivotal in our lives and while I wasn’t here when Kennedy was assassinated, it has still influenced my writing. And it’s a moment many still remember.

I’ll post about this again, but get thinking. Send the extracts to: writer@debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk, don’t post them in comments.

Thanks and have a great day!

Kennedy Poster 3

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Believe in your characters … make them ‘shine’ …

I was watching the revered Stephen King on BBC Breakfast this morning, a rare interview and I have to say he is still the writer I would most like to sit down and  have a coffee with.

One of the things that I always say about his writing is his ability to write believable, yet flawed characters. Their success I think hinges on the fact we are all champions of the underdog, we fall for the characters and root for them. And as I tell my clients this is essential.

This message came across loud and clear in the interview I just watched as he prepares for his sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep. He was asked about Kubrik’s interpretation of Jack Torrance and the other characters in the film version of The Shining  and he confessed to not liking the film because it was ‘cold.’ He said there was an emotional detachment to the characters that he had not written in his book. In fact he said you have to ‘make the reader fall in love with the characters’. He wants you to feel warm. And he said, I thought interestingly, if the reader roots for them, they care about their plight and it’s easier to scare them. Or as he puts it so succinctly: Horror comes from love.

Great thought and I had something similar scribbled on the notes I have started making for my workshop in Bath on writing psychological thrillers. I don’t write horror per se but then it very much depends on what you define as horror. Salem’s Lot still sits up there as one of the scariest horror books for me and I don’t know I have the ability to scare in that way. But Dead Zone is my favourite because it taps into the human psyche  in a less overtly horror way and this is something I aspire to. In psychological thrillers it’s about taking the normal and creating around it the worst possible scenario, so the horror is real but more ‘of this world’ — so a missing child, a phobia, kidnapped, waking up not remembering who you are … etc. See what I mean?

I wasn’t going to blog about this today but I decided it warranted discussion while it was still fresh in my mind. As a writer I was very influenced by Stephen King, the way he not only has these memorable plots and great stories, but the reader becomes part of that world, wholly immersed and indeed rooting for his underdogs. I don’t think my characters have the issues many of his have, perhaps less disturbed although if I was asked to name one who most felt like a Stephen King character I would probably say my protagonist in Isle of Pelicans, awaiting a rework once I finish I Am Wolf, previously known as the Reluctant Clairvoyant — ex con, moves to San Francisco and the voices are back. He’s a good guy who got lost along the way.

But then again, aren’t a lot of our characters — doesn’t art not imitate life anyway?

While many might knock Stephen King for not being a ‘literary’ writer I still think he writes great stories, excellently and has the page-turnability I need from a good book. So Doctor Sleep is most certainly on my Christmas list.

I can only hope the characters you’ll all meet in While No One Was Watching are anyway near as good as his — but I have a feeling you will be rooting for them …

To whet the appetite …

 

Gunshots silence the world. Kennedy is assassinated. Fifty years on it’s a moment we all remember, even those of us who weren’t here.

But what if that’s not the moment you remember? What if you watched it all from the grassy knoll but when you turned around you have dropped your child’s hand … and worse, much worse — she’s gone. Now people are shouting and parents lay over their children to protect them. But not you. You were so caught up in the moment you forgot your own child. Does that make you a bad mother? Some point and run up the grassy knoll. Others say the gunshot comes from that big old building they don’t even know the name of … yet. But they will. Of course they will.

But you don’t. You don’t do any of these things because you stand still and you stare into nothingness. Your child is gone. But imagine far worse than even that, than even a dead President — imagine your child is still missing fifty years later. And it all happened while no one was watching.

So when people remember where they were and what they were doing when they those gunshots silenced the world — you remember something else. You remember it as the moment you opened your eyes and the world you knew was gone.

But why is Eleanor Boone still missing? What did she know?

Coming November 1st from @parthianbooks … I have a song composed especially for it to be released next month to go with the book trailer.

And the first edition cover is a special 50th anniversary cover … more on that soon.

Preorder now if you dare … LINK  … when you order King’s latest book …

 

 

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It’s all in a name …

I know, I know you are probably already beginning to hit the overkill with the news of the Royal Baby, although I am eagerly awaiting the first pictures and wondering about the name.

Waiting for your first novel to finally be published is a little like waiting for a baby to be born — maybe? What do I know? I think the pain comes a lot earlier though, right? Rejection before the sunshine?

And now we wait to see what it looks like — even if the name came long ago?

But what of the name?

I have talked about names before and I mean titles and characters. I really think names are important — just as they will be for any baby, in particular of course as future King of England. So what of names?

I have to know a name feels right for my characters and sometimes I look up the meanings of names to make sure they really fit and make sure they seem age or era-appropriate. I also make sure they don’t turn my characters into a stereotype. They just need to feel right.

I think I have told you before, but I will remind you that I was advised to change the name of my African-American psychic from Delores to something else as it had a stereotypical feel to it.I liked Delores and struggled to think of her as anything else — but as I was reminded Whoopi Goldberg played a psychic in Ghost (and of course an African-American one) and while that wasn’t her name in Ghost, it was her name in Sister Act  (but spelled Deloris, you can also spell it Dolores). So I could see why she said it. I had a whole list of names on my whiteboard but the one that won was Lydia and now I can’t see her as anything else.

Names matter.

I often read stories in my work where I feel the names are too ordinary and while in real life maybe that happens, in fiction you can be more inventive or perhaps you use the boring name as a way of saying something about characters? Or add a nickname that surprises the reader. If I read one more Sophie, just back from university ,the daughter of our generic older lady character narrator who sounds just like the author, I might have to let out a small scream! Okay maybe I am being dramatic — but it happens a lot! The name not the screaming — although …

Really think about your names. I love the opening to The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell who looks closely at names in a really humorous way.

So what about titles?

I think titles are also really important and as fickle as it sounds can also influence our book buying — really.

There is no copyright on titles so as in my novel there is another of the same name — I think I would only have changed it if the said novel bore any similarity in theme to mine — but it doesn’t. This point was raised by my lovely editor but it just had to be that title as it fit so well.

But what I would say is we have had to discuss the cover in conjunction with the title. Since it’s about a missing child if the cover just showed a little girl, a title like While No One Was Watching, could imply one of those — we have a secret, what happens when Mummy’s not home feel to it — if you  catch me. So it is important and this is more connected to how the book is marketed. I want my cover to say classy American thriller. We’ll see!

I find titles come easy and often I have it right away but other times I have no title when I start writing and it comes later. This is particularly true for shorts. Sometimes I change it as I write it but I always know when it feels right and thus far no one has asked me to change a title.

I grappled with title names for the Alcatraz thriller that begs for a rewrite — it’s never been submitted. It started life with various names and one that stuck for a long time was The Reluctant Clairvoyant which seemed intriguing. Then after an Arvon course I toyed with the idea of just Reluctant but that felt too literary and right now in its resting phase it stands at Isle of Pelicans since this is the meaning of the name for Alcatraz. I quite like that.  Who knows if it will change again.

Now before I leave I want to tell you about the CafeLit 100-word challenge. I was prompted by the Reader’s Digest, a couple of years ago to write a few pieces of flash in EXACTLY 100 words. I am not really a good flash fiction writer so I used existing stories and wrote them in 100 words. I have a few and I used one of the CafeLit website yesterday: http://www.cafelit.co.uk/Butterflies.html

I then asked for more and a little flurry came in. So why not have a go?

Here’s the link: don’t submit to this blog, submit as instructed in the link and I will pick it up!

http://www.cafelit.co.uk/100WordChallenge.html

So I thought I would post another one of my attempts here. It’s more like a snapshot of a story but if you can show the conflict and get voice in 100 words you’re doing well. It’s a great exercise if nothing else.

Come on, even some of you non-writers could have a go at this and I will take contractions, as in he’s or they’ll as a single word since Word does. And the 100 words doesn’t include the title.

Have a great day everyone.

 

Cracks

 

If you step on the cracks you disappear. It’s what Mum used to say.

Kids believe anything.

I’m standing outside Morrisons watching some woman herding brats across the car park, while I wait for a line to turn blue. Or not. It’s in my pocket. Couldn’t see it in there: fluorescent lights.

Darren’ll be with Brit – bunking Maths. Thinks I don’t know.

LOSER.

I think about what Dad’ll say, then try to unthink it. Since Mum died he doesn’t notice things anyway.

I slide my shoe forwards.  I wish Mum was here.

Then I step on the crack. And wait.

©Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, 2013

I write because ...

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What’s in a name?

Names in fiction are really important and this is the thought in my head as I hear in the news someone has called their child Hashtag, or perhaps they will join the artists formally knows as Prince and be known by a symbol, ‘#’.

I wonder how much attention you pay to names.

I read a lot of work where the names are rather ordinary and in a way conform to stereotype. The middle class housewives called Jean or Margaret, with the husband called William or David and the daughter at uni called Sophie.

I guess we can’t help falling into stereotype to some extent, but then the danger is the character becomes Mr Regular, and what makes them stand out from real people and perhaps more importantly, someone else’s fictional characters?

Names are important and I have to say I do take a while making characters feel non-stereotypical and this also means thinking about the name. In my first publishing success, for example, I enjoyed naming our seven-year-old protagonist Leo or Leonardo Renoir Hope. We then find out his sister is called Monet, but no middle name as he thinks his parents ran out of artists names when they named the rabbits Rembrandt and Picasso. I did go onto say if his dad had married the scientist he dated before they might be called Einstein or Galileo. This was a bit of fun but I think it helped make our time travelling hero unlike any other.

I always think about this and in fact in the latest novel Amy Greene (a fairly ordinary name — true) calls people she meets Mr or Mrs … and then something like Sauer Kraut the German reporter, until she finds out he’s really Swedish so she calls him Mr Meatballs... etc. Obviously not to their faces, but she likes to nickname people and I found this fun.

You might wonder if the name really matters, but when I presented my novel While No One Was Watching  to the agent that worked with me for a while and almost signed me (so near and yet so far) the editor suggested the name Delores for the African-American sixty-something-year-old psychic reminded her of Whoopi Goldberg. Now I could see her playing the character in the movie (he he) but I think the editor was thinking about the character in Ghost (nothing like my character!) and she wasn’t called Delores, but do think Delores was  her name in Sister Act? So I got the point. And it is a minor one and not one that would lead to rejection per se. But what I did was play with names that fitted her — I had a ton of them on my white board for a few days as I worked on edits … and in the end she became Lydia, Lydia Collins and now I can’t see her as anything else.

So I think names do matter and I can think of a ton of fictional characters … how about you?

So if you don’t give names a lot of thought … maybe you should?

Now if you had a character called Hashtag or ‘#’ I wonder what an agent would think about that?

Stranger than fiction?

I had nothing for Fiction Clinic so a nice short post tomorrow, I won’t have time to crit anything now so please don’t send something today … mad mad busy, which is good! And another workshop in the school tomorrow!

Have a great Thursday!

Loved this, had to include it:

 

 

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