Friday, 14 July 2017

Does The Name You Chose Suit Your Character?

How do you choose a name? Do you put down the first name that pops into your mind? Initially that’s what I used to do, until someone pointed out to me that there are a few things to take into consideration when choosing a name…

1. You Have To Be Comfortable With It

We associate names with people we know. If you like a certain name but know and dislike a person who bears it, will you feel comfortable using that name in your story?

Will you mentally shut that person out or will you be reminded of them each time you type that name?

Our characters have to be likable to us before they can become likeable to our readers. Will your dislike for that person transfer to your character?

2. It Must Be Easy To Pronounce

The English language can be, at times, misleading. How many words, and even names we spell one way and pronounce another? If the name you have chosen falls into this category, will your readers know how to pronounce it?

For years I use to pronounce the beautiful name ‘Sean’ exactly how it’s written ‘Seen,’ when it’s pronounced by the much nicer sounding ‘Shorn.’ Will the name you choose bear the same problem?

If you choose a difficult pronouncing name for your character and worse, one that’s not widely known, you stand to lose the effect of that name. A beautiful sounding name can be utterly destroyed if your reader doesn’t know how to pronounce it.

Your story has to flow. If the name you’ve chosen is not easy to pronounce, the readers will constantly stop each time they come across it. This will disrupt the flow of your story.

3. Foreign Sounding Names

The same as the above applies to foreign sounding names. They must be easy to pronounce. Consider the following:


These names sound exotic but they don’t exactly roll off the tongue. Should you compromise the flow of the story for the sake of a name?

4. Does The Name Suit Your Character?

Not all names suit all people and not all names will suit all characters. Like clothing and hairstyles, names go out of fashion too.

For example...

Let’s say your heroine is a lively, upbeat, modern lady. Will it suit her type of personality if we choose the name ‘Mabel’? ‘Mabel’ we usually associate with an elderly aunt or grandmother.

What about your hero? Let’s say he’s a young man who possesses a powerful personality. Will the name ‘Hubert?’ suit him? ‘Hubert’ would suit an elderly character or perhaps a ‘quiet’ character.

5. They Shouldn’t Start With The Same Letter

If you’re going to have two main characters in your story and their names start with the same letter, it will read a little awkwardly.


 David and Debra
 Sam and Sue
 George and Gina

6. Surnames

Like we carefully choose the first name for our characters, we have to be careful when selecting their surnames. Just like first names, there are certain surnames, which sound better than others.

When selecting a surname, make sure it has a pleasant ring, when used with the first name. Using names, which rhyme like, Jeff Jefferson, sound amusing. If this is the effect you wish to create then using it is fine.

7. Stereotype Names

Are you thinking of naming your character Adolph or Judas? There’s nothing wrong with these names, except for the fact that we tend to associate them with that single person in history who bore them. Will your reader trust your hero if you name him Judas?

8. Famous Names

I recall a quote I once read which went something like this…

“Nothing grows under the shade of a tree.”

If you name your character Elvis, Madonna etc.. Will your character be able to outshine the ultra famous person of whom the world knows? I doubt it.


When naming characters there are also a few other points to consider…

Naming them will not only depend on what kind of people they are, but who their parents or guardians were (if the parents or guardians play some sort of role in your story). After all, we don’t name ourselves, do we? So take into consideration the following…

1) What kind of people are the parents?

a) Free spirited?

Unusual names will rank highly amongst people like this.

For example,

 The seasons of the year
 Or perhaps a month in the year
 Or an object
 Etc

b) Conservative?

These types of people tend to use the full name rather than an abbreviated version of it.

For example,

 Kathleen instead of Kat
 Michael instead of Mike
 Etc

2) What Is The Parents/Guardians Nationality?

If they’re traditional, they will choose a name, which is popular in their country. Also traditional parents/guardians tend to give their children the names of their own parents or other relatives.

Look at the name you chose for your main characters. Does the name suit them?

© Nick Vernon

Sunday, 9 July 2017

How to Write a Mi££ion

How to Write a Million

How to Write a Mi££ion - Orson Scott Card


by Michael Ridpath

In the summer of 1990 I decided that I wanted to start writing. I had the means (a computer), I had a little time, and I had the desire to do something a little more creative than watching TV. So, being that sort of chap, I bought half a dozen books on the subject. The first few gave some thoughts on the wonders of being a writer, ran over some basic techniques, discussed Hemingway and Faulkner, and suggested some exercises which ranged from the interesting to the inane. They gave me some ideas to while away a few hours whilst making it perfectly clear that someone like me would never actually be able to complete a book, let alone get it published.

Then I turned to the two Writer's Workshop books, *Characters & Viewpoint and Plot*. Suddenly my interest quickened. These books were about writing real books and stories, the sort which are all around us, which people read everyday. They discussed the practicalities of making characters come to life, of planning and then controlling the plot. And, what was most important, they made me think that writing a book could be fun, something that even I could do, and something I would enjoy. Somehow the nitty gritty of how to put a book together seemed to make the whole activity much more exciting than inspirational thoughts on the trials and tribulations of being an author.

I couldn't wait to get started. But, I thought, I had better pace myself, write a few scenes, a short story or two. My first exercise was to write the opening scene of a novel. I wrote about the most exciting thing I could think of what had happened to me (coping with a large bond trade that went wrong), and then I exaggerated a bit.

After half an hour of clumsy tapping, I was hooked. Bugger the exercises, I wanted to write the whole book! So, I started a plan, much of it whilst I was munching a sandwich in a quiet courtyard just behind the Bank of England. Planning was difficult. I spent several weeks worrying over character and plot, and practical tips that eked from the pages of my two Writer's Workshop books were invaluable.

Eventually, I began writing. Much to my surprise, a year later, I actually completed a draft. I showed it to my wife and friends. The criticisms came flooding back; characters are too superficial, no sense of place, too many cliches in character as well as metaphor, not enough twists in the plot, the ending was no good, and many more. Depressed, I put the writing to one side.

But I missed it. Several months later, I dug out my manuscript and reread it. It wasn't all bad, and I could see what my circle of critics meant - I even agreed with them on most things. So, I set out to solve the problems. Once again the Writer's Workshop books were useful. How could I make my hero more sympathetic? How could I pace the plot better? The exisiting ending had to go entirely, what would work as a replacement? I found hints and clues that eventually led to answers.

To work again. Another draft, more criticism, yet another draft, and by the autumn of 1993 I had a book which was about as good as it was going to get. I wrote a synopsis and sent it off to some agents together with a couple of chapters.

I was fully prepared for a rejection. I knew that the odds were against finding a publisher for a first novel, however good, but I was willing to persevere, working my way down a long list of agents. But even if the book were never published the three years of hard work were well worthwhile. I had enjoyed writing it, my wife and friends had, eventually, enjoyed reading it.

I was lucky. The second agent on my list, Carole Blacke of Blacke Friedmann, liked my book. She sent it to a number of publishers with an enthusiastic note. Five of them began bidding against each other, and within a month I had sold *Free To Trade* to Heinemann for an advance which exceeded all my expectations. Carole subsequently sold the rights to thirteen countries. I can now afford to write during the day rather than in odd corners of the evening or weekend.

It would be wrong to pretend that publication isn't important; of course we all want to see our books in bookshops. But there is so much more about the process of writing a book that is interesting; rewarding and just plain fun, which I believe, is more important. I am convinced that it is the enjoyment of the writing process; rather than a desire for publication or an attempt to write what sells, which leads in the end to the creation of your book.

These books helped me understand something of this process, and made me realise it was something I wanted to do. I have subsequently read, *Dialogue, Setting and Revision*, all of which have an equally down to earth approach to the problems every writer faces. Read these books. Enjoy them. And start writing. It's fun!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

On Best Sellers

The biggest selling book of all time is of course The Bible. Hardly surprising given its place and significance in our history. But, strictly speaking, the Bible doesn't count for our purposes because it's not supposed to be fiction (though some might disagree.)

I want to restrict my study of the bestseller to fiction - because to me, any book about things that aren't obviously real, would have to pretty powerful to inspire millions of people to buy it.


Would it surprise you then to discover that the most verifiable bestselling novel, ever, is in fact Charles Dickens "A Tale of Two Cities"?

Surprised the hell out of me. Yep, apparently we've consumed over 200 million copies of this saga about the French Revolution and its affect on English mores.

After that, we're on more familiar ground with "Lord of the Rings" at around 150 million - and apparently this figure isn't skewed by the book often being sold as three books - they're still only counted as one.

The redoubtable Agatha Christie comes in third with "And Then There Were None', which in pre PC times was called "Ten Little Niggers" - a cracking good read with a brilliant twist, written in 1939.

Here we get the glimmerings of one of my first conclusions about writing bestsellers. That from the first three entries what's clear is that so called 'literary' writing is not always what counts. It's emphatically the story that is more important.

This is especially apparent when we look at number five in the list. (The Hobbit is at number four - but clearly Tolkien had the advantage of writing number two.) The fifth bestselling novel of all time is in fact "She" by Rider Haggard.

What? I hear you gasp.

Again here we see another indication that story is king.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "The Little Prince" weighs in next, for reasons not immediately obvious. I mean, it's a cute story about kingship and aliens but 80 million copies? Must have been a slow news day.

Next, at number seven, we're at least not so flummoxed by the news that "The Da Vinci Code" has earned its place in the top ten bestsellers of all time.

I can already hear that rumbling out there. You're wondering about young Harry, aren't you? Patience, please.

Number eight reveals our twentieth century obsession with all things warped with "Catcher in the Rye" - the book that arguably spawned a handful of psychopaths - and to this day I still find impenetrable. I'm often struck by the thought that it really must be about something, though I'm still not quite sure what. Maybe that's its adolescent appeal. (I prefer the more familiar ground of Camus' "The Outsider".)

Number Nine - and one my favorites: "The Alchemist" by Portuguese visionary Paulo Coelho. At least here a profound message is disguised as a great piece of deceptively simple writing.

And what about number ten?

Don't hold your breath, you'll be disappointed to learn - perhaps even disgruntled to know - that "Heidi's Years of Wandering and Learning" by the less than familiar Johanna Spyri takes that coveted spot.

Well, knock me down with a fevver, as they say in London.

It was at this point in my research that I decided that perhaps the focus of my newest writing course should be on modern bestsellers - because I'm not sure there's much to gleaned from all of us running out to recreate Heidi-esque novels. But perhaps we shouldn't be overly dismissive either. There are indeed elements in "Heidi" that are duplicated in all bestselling novels - but you'll have to wait for my latest course to discover them.

So, I can feel that tug on my arm again...

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" comes in at number seventeen, believe it or not - after such evergreen classics as "Anne of Green Gables", "Black Beauty", "The Name of the Rose", "Charlotte's Web" and the other Potter's "The Tale of Peter Rabbit."

I think what's interesting about these bestsellers is that they're probably not the books you were expecting to see.

I mean, where's "The Godfather" or "Jaws" or "Jurassic Park"?

Top ten movie lists tend to feature the most recent films simply because more people exist to go and see movies nowadays - and gross numbers are what count.

But this does not always seem to be the case with novels.

Each new generation still finds entertainment in the well worn classics it seems - but that doesn't explain why so many classics aren't featured in the bestselling novels list.

Of course most so called bestseller lists produced by book retailers and publishers are often self serving. They list the books they want you to buy - and will often feature books they think people should buy, but don't (not in large numbers anyway.)

I will shy away from conclusions at this point.

Think of the above as a preamble to a major discussion on the content, format and structure of bestsellers, which I intend to release soon, entitled, "Rob Parnell's Anatomy of the Modern Fiction Bestseller."

I'm sure it will shed much needed light for you on the issue of what makes a novel a bestseller - and the fact that duplicating it is well within your grasp as a writer may surprise you too.

Look out for my latest course (my first in over a year) in an inbox near you.

Thanks for reading.

Keep Writing!

© Rob Parnell