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How to Breathe Life into Your Characters

Part 1: What is in a Name?

Traci Kenworth

 

How do you go about naming your characters? Do you just close your eyes, dip

your finger onto the page, and choose that one? Or do you meticulously search for one? In any case, the one you end up is going to say a lot about your character. It’s instantly going to give us an image of who he/she is. The type of profession we see them in. Family person or single? And more come to mind.

Take Harry for instance. If we look into the meanings of baby names it means, “Army Ruler.” But when I think of the name Harry, I don’t see that. I see an average Joe, just trying to get along. A family man who brings home the bread. Solid. Dependable. Someone who makes a good Grandpa or friend. Harry’s got a lot going for him, if you want his type of character in your story. But if you want, say a British character, or a villain, his name wouldn’t do at all.

All right, let’s try: Caydan. His name means, “Fighter.” And he sounds like a hero, tough as nails, someone who will go the extra mile. Someone devoted, tough when called for, and a popular guy. Friends growing out of his ears and the like. Oh, and his name is American. So that leaves out a foreign tribute. He definitely makes Harry come across as a bit boring, a bit set in his way. Caydan promises danger, romance, intrigue.

Gabriel means, “God is my strength.” This name evokes heavenly references, of course, but it was one of the most popular old-fashioned baby names. To me, a Gabriel sounds like he would be Lord of the castle, a gentleman of means. He also sounds a bit edgy, on the outskirts of what society might find as the norm. Compared to Caydan and Harry, Gabriel is unique. He could be the hero or the villain of the piece. He could even be a “she.”

Which brings us to the heroine names. Let’s start with: Abedabun is Cheyenne for Sight of the Day. Her name could encompass many different character traits. She is the maiden that saves the village, a Present-Day champion of Native American values. We have loads of possibilities with this one. She can be anything and everyone. A secret agent perhaps? A mother defending her children? A heroine who has been framed for a crime she didn’t commit?

Whereas Abigail is stoic, someone certain in the path they choose. She is old-fashioned, perhaps a bit wealthy, upper-crust. One doesn’t see Abigail fighting off alligators, running from terrorists, or blazing a path of glory. But she could. Twisting the fate/name of a character broadens their horizons and ours. It calls for us to stretch as writers. And that alone could make planting the seed of her name worth it.

Queeny. Wife. Grandmother. Someone trying to break out of the mold. She wishes for so much more out of life than what has befallen her. She strives to make a better live for her children even in the face of danger. She is courageous, a bit rebellious, freedom-loving. You could do so many fascinating things with this character. She has no boundaries, no limits.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? Picking names that resonate with our ideas of the character? We can take Harry and Abigail together and make them uproot from our perceptions. We can make them heroes or villains, a force to be reckoned with, or a prop for laughs. They can be the loyal friends of our hero/heroine, or monsters waiting to be noticed. The truth is, any name can become unique because it’s how we see it, what our imagination pulls forth. So the next time you need a name for a character, stroll through the possibilities of baby names, their meanings, their origination, hidden perks that can bring them to life.

And paint that picture of them. Let them soar into creation, designed to be all that they can be, with just a whisper of a name. That’s the first test of breathing life into your characters…

 

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Writer At Work

Traci Kenworth

 

So what do our days really look like? Where do they take us?

Well, for me, it begins after I get the kids off to school. About 7 a.m. if not sooner, I try

to be at my computer. I do the email and boards thing first then settle into whatever project I’m working on at the moment. Most weekend mornings, I try and write for the blogs I’m part of: Totally4YA, the YAFF Muse blog, and my own WordPress one. Once I knock these out of the way, I get down to business with writing.

Now, admittedly, all that “writing” time is not always spent doing so. Sometimes it’s research time. I’ve recently researched ghouls, Native American prophecies, skin-walkers, and Genetic Engineering. Research can take hours or days depending on what you’re looking for. Fascinating things catch your eyes, lead you off on a merry chase to discover more about the subject.

Those mentioned above are in reference to a horror story I’ve been working on initialed, SH. I wanted my creatures to be something different than traditional vampires, werewolves or zombies. So I’ve begun to blend, blend, blend the myth with new twists. I love re-working legends. You can take a creature’s fear of the sunlight and make it into so much more. How they came into being can be twisted to suit your purposes.

I’d say 50% of writing time is done researching for me, that’s how much I want what I’m doing to make sense, explore the impossible. The other half is meant to pull the research, characters, plotline etc. together. It’s hard to explain the “magic” that happens to a non-writer. You simply sit at the keyboard or with a pad and a pencil/pen and “listen” to the characters tell their stories. It doesn’t always happen right away. There are days when you fight to get a sentence out of them, and others when the flow can’t be stopped. But as you progress, you realize that you’ve really got something here: a story others might be interested to read/hear.

And so you keep at it, fighting, pushing, and sometimes shoving toward that ending. Is it difficult? Yes and no. But the joy of the finished product can’t be compared. A lot of people want to write a book someday but the truth is it’s harder than it looks and can take years of practice before you even get noticed. There are no short-cuts, no secret formulas. It’s mostly sit in the chair and work to apply what you’ve learned to what you still are learning. It never becomes stagnant.

A writer’s work like housework is never done. It keeps building into searching for an agent, rewrites, more rewrites, hoping to catch the eye of the elusive editor, rewriting again, and even after the books sees print there’s promotion to be concerned with. In today’s market, the reality is, you have to get out there and run the bases to earn your readers. And once you have them, don’t ever take them for granted. They support us to do what we love to do.

It all begins with that first page and carries on to the last. And then, even before you’re done with one story, you must begin the next. You never want to come out of the gate betting on just one horse. At the moment, while I’m re-writing SH, I’ve got Walking in the background, calling out for its rewrites. And then there’s a new story clamoring for my attention. Like I said, the Muse never sleeps. It may get rusty from time to time but it merely needs recharged. Watching a movie, reading a book, observing life can jog it.

Then the challenge begins again. Can I do it? Will it even see light of day? Sometimes it’s frustrating. The road to publication is paved with rejections but don’t lose heart. You came into this business to tell stories, to share them with others, if you never reach bestsellerdom, that’s okay. You did what was in your heart, touched lives out there, all in all, you did your job. And that’s all anyone can ask. Good luck with your writing.

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1. Which hour was most daunting for you? 13
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Suzanne Collin’s Mockingjay
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? More mini-challenges perhaps?
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? I loved being able to inter-act with the contests and that, to keep you motivated.
5. How many books did you read? 9, but only a chapter each of 8 non-fiction ones.
6. What were the names of the books you read? Daughter of the Forest, The Lawmen, Getting the Word Right, How to Succeed at Being Yourself, Page after Page, Chapter by Chapter, The Breakout Novelist, Wallflowers Can Dance, and How to Write a YA Novel.
7. Which book did you enjoy most? Daughter of the Forest–it was haunting.
8. Which did you enjoy least? Getting the Words Right–a necessary evil though as a tool to help with my writing.
9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Very likely. Reader, perhaps cheerleader.

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I finished all 410 pages of Daughter. Now I’m going to have to quit for the night. May take this up in the morning if I awaken early enough.

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I’m on page 286 of Daughter.

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Finished my non-fiction chaps of How to Succeed at Being Yourself, Writing & Selling the YA Novel, Chapter by Chapter, Page after Page, and The Breakout Novelist. I’m off to supper and then will return to reading Daughter.

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I’m still on 199 for Daughter, but I’ve read a chapter of Getting the Word Right, The Lawmen, and When Wallflowers Dance. Keeping on with the non-fiction for now. Have added a new one, Page by Page by Heather Sellers to the mix as well.

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I am 199 pages into Daughter of the Forest. I am switching now to the non-fiction books to get my chaps in for the weekend. I will be running an errand this afternoon, so not sure if I’ll return in a couple hours for the next update but I will get back to reading afterwards as soon as I can. I am really liking Daughter. It involves a woman’s gift to be one with the animals in the forest and a dangerous grizzly bear bent on the destruction of the same woman and the village she has been kidnapped to.

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I’m on page 120 of Daughter of the Forest.

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First up for the Read-a-thon was supposed to be a western, Longarm and the Shoshone Silver by Tabor Evans but I’ve somehow misplaced it, so I’m going to be starting off with another oldie on my shelves, Vella Munn’s Daughter of the Forest. It was published in 1995 and comes in at 410 pages. On reserve, I have Suzanne Collin’s Mockingjay(one I’ve been looking forward to for a while, so squee!!)published in 2010 and at 398 pages. Then there’s Ellen Hopkin’s crank published in 2004 and at a whopping 537 pages. I’m not sure I’ll get through all of these today, or any but I’m going to try my best barring phone calls, errands, etc. I will attempt to update every couple hours as to where I am(what page I’m on etc.). I will also be reading some non-fiction books: Theodore Rees A. Cheney’s On Getting the Words Right, Frederick S. Calhoun’s The Lawmen, Angela Thomas’ When Wallflower’s Dance, Joyce Meyer’s How to Succeed at Being Yourself, K.L. Going’s Writing and Selling the YA Novel, Heather Seller’s Chapter After Chapter, and finally, Donald Maas’ The Breakout Novelist. All of which, I read a chapter in every weekend per day.

Here’s the blurb for Daughter of the Forest:

The forests of the Pacific Northwest are lands of mists and rain, of towering trees and salmon-choked rivers. Where forest approaches sea, there live the Tillamook and the Nisqually, two tribes tied to each other by hatred.

Madsaw, war chief of the Tillamook, kidnaps Twana, step-daughter of the Nisqually shaman. Though their people are enemies, and to love a slave violates tribal law, Madsaw finds comfort and desire in his captive’s arms.

Each lover’s heart conceals a secret. Madsaw hides his grief and anger over the murder of his first wife. Twan’s burden is far heavier: her spirit touches those of the forest’s creatures, from the gentle deer to the powerful, half-mad grizzly bear who stalks the Tillamook village–and everyone who knows of her power hates and fears her.

United by a love stronger than any fear, Twana and Madsaw are determined to find peace and happiness, no matter what perils they must face.

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