Saturday, October 20, 2012

What's in a name?

What’s in a name? A lot. The names we give our characters mean a great deal. I saw two short youtubes while searching for some back up on this topic. One was Keith Gray who gave the great example of Luke Skywalker, which is a great name for a savior of the universe.  The guy can walk on the sky. You feel immediately that this guy is destined for great things. He also brought up Harry Potter and how Harry is supposed to be a kind of everyman or, in this case, everyboy. All around him are characters with exotic and striking names. Lord Voldemort, Sirus Black, etc… but Harry is the perfect name for our hero. It makes the reader identify with the average side of him, the vulnerable side. He has an extraordinary past already. It’s very helpful for him to have this ordinary name .
The second youtube I saw was from Michael Connelly and he was talking about the character Harry  (Harry short for Hieronymus) Bosch.  He got the name from the painter  whose work is  complex, convoluted and disturbing and unforgivingly distinct.

By giving the name to this detective who works the streets of LA he not only makes him stand out but he gives the impression of complexity of both character and setting.  Even if the reader doesn’t get this, MC does and it becomes part of how he thinks about the character and inspires him to write a more complex and layered hero.
A lot is in a name.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


All a writer can do is work on the various aspects of craft and write a prodigious number of words, struggling (because without the struggle the writing is as useless as recitation) to find the right words to be used in the exact right way. And the rest, as the great Henry James wrote, “is the madness of art.”

But showing up and giving honest effort, dreaming big when you can, gives the writer the opportunity to write well, the chance to be in the right place at the right time. Randall Jarrell, the poet, once compared writing poetry to standing out in the rain, hoping to be struck by lightening. Sounds a bit ominous, but you get the idea. Maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t, but if you’re never out in that rain, you will never be struck by lightning. Okay, Jarrell’s quote. Good for poets. They’re notorious street-corner and outdoor cafĂ© loungers. But what about novelists? We’re the grunts, the worker-bees of literature.  We need things to happen. We can’t simply stand out in the rain and hope for the best; we need plot. We need to go places, do things, MAKE things happen. We need to move! And you can bet a lot of our traveling will be to far away places. It will not only be soggy but treacherous and unforgiving and very, very hard. 

Read, of course.
Work on craft, of course.
But above all write. You become a better writer by writing. You can't learn it any other way. The people who become writers aren't necessarily the ones with the most talent or best connections--they're the ones who keep at it.

Or so I think today.