Your name is…

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.’ – Shakespeare

And he’s right. You can call something a million different names, and it doesn’t change the object. By names like words carry visual images, interpretations that we can’t always anticipate as the audience struggles to understand that which they have been introduced.

For instance, when I say Mary, you automatically think of a girl.

If I say Jim, you think of a boy.

These names already come with connotations, just like any name you might here, and choosing your own name for your writing is as important as the writing itself. It has driven many authors to either choose something asexual, something ambiguous that may not carry culture connotations. Authors may choose a name that seems more fitting with the genre, which can prompt male writers to choose feminine names when writing romance, because the stereotype is females write better romance than males.

A few questions and arguments borrowed from other sites:

  1. Are you comfortable with your name in publicity? – Writing World
  2. Is your gender/culture met with prejudice? – BBC
  3. What is the stereotypical name/persona in your genre? – Writing World
  4. Do you need to switch genres? Change reputations?- BBC
  5. Is your name memorable? Or too common? – Writing World
  6. Where will your name be shelved? – Writing World

This is a very common topic, and it has been approached on Goodreads. I’ll put some of those top comments here – or at least what I find most interesting.

  • To be shelved next to a popular author
  • To be shelved by their favorite author
  • To be more memorable
  • To hide their family/background
  • To fit their name with their genre/settings – older names for older fictions, newer names for younger fictions
  • To fit the stripper trend of middle name + street name of first home (just to be funny, I think)
  • Change only last name so it’s easier to respond to public outings
  • Avoid hatemail/prejudice from a very touchy subject

My best advice would be look to your common genre first and choose a name to fit that, unless you’re comfortable with your own.

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Business Cards

Few things I want to say up front – if you make business cards for your author-face, please have these pieces of information on it: your name, email, and website. I would caution you against normal business card stuff like phone and address because you would not want to hand these out to casual readers or fans. You’re not advertising yourself, you’re advertising your book.

If you want to put your genre – go for it.

If you want to put the name of your series – go for it.

If you want to put a quote from your book or your favorite review so far, as quoted by some famous uppity-up author – then all mighty heck – go for it!

But please take into consideration who is looking at these business cards and why you’re printing them.

A lot of business cards are rather plain, with only a small logo from the business in the corner, but since you’re an author/writer, then you can have as much freedom as you want with these. I would recommend your cover, or another thought-provoking image for the back. Here’s a sample good design:

Slice of Life default

Maybe here you can include a few slices of covers from a book series, or character head-shots/drawings. I like using pictures more than words because a picture is worth more than a thousand words, etc. They sit better in my mind than a specific quote, which I’m less likely to recall. It’s easier to remember an image than it is a sentence.

If you can convince your cover artist to do a small design for business cards, maybe that might be a good idea. That way it doesn’t look the exact same as your book cover, but it still holds the same theme.

Your face could work – and I’m sorry how superficial it sounds – but you should have a nice set of photographs and be slightly photogenic. I would recommend to have professional photos taken. Plain backdrop, nice outfit, etc.

If you can’t have an image, aim for something simple. Print a word or short phrase from your writing. Like a code-word from your books, your genre, a simple phrase like the one shown below.

Hello Black

These are only a few ideas. If you don’t have any designs in mind and/or can’t make one yourself, I would recommend to travel to Moo and see what they already have. They have a huge list of pre-made designs, and this is their line of work. They’re good at what they do. I’ve used them a few times already.

“Lives of Tao” by Wesley Chu

This book I finished recently, Live of Tao – it’s a very interesting read. But, I find myself having difficulty picking out something I really liked. It performed well as a narrative – I found myself reading, pulled along by the story, and although I wasn’t captivated to the point I couldn’t put it down, it was a good read.

I definitely feel like this was more of a plot-driven book, where the alien was more important than the human, and the main character could’ve been switched out with out too much change in the plot. Not a bad thing – just a point I would like to make.

This book used a lot of design in the writing, and I have to stress this because there was a lot it played with: 3rd person perspective, 1st person thoughts from the human and body-residing alien, and 1st person background from the alien at the start of every chapter.

I’m going to focus on the background because I think this is a very well-thought out decision.

At the beginning of every chapter, there is a short paragraph in italics that talks about the history of the aliens’ time on Earth. Each paragraph talks about a specific event through Tao’s perspective. For example, when he talks about the black plague, he talks about how some aliens hid their conscious in the body of rats and how it was a terrible time for him and his people.

This are an interesting addition to the book because where the author may have spent time including a huge background for a chapter, it would’ve been very boring with no action and a lot of summary. But by condensing it to a single paragraph before each chapter, the story is broken up, and slowly we learn about Tao’s perspective, about the intense relationship between him and the antagonist. It was a nice addition to the narrative.

I’ve seen similar quirks before chapters, usually a quote, a few words, and I think this was one of the most well-thought out additions. An easy way to provide background without interrupting the main story line.

After thought: 

From my perspective, this book was written primarily for a dialogue on morals. There are certain parts of the book, where the protagonist has to make moral decisions; there are times where Tao has to argue the difference between actions and intents. On top of that, the alien’s name is Tao, and from what I learned in class, the alien is named after the morals that we humans abide by.

This isn’t a bad thing, but I think it helps explains why the book is so plot driven, or driven by Tao and the other aliens, rather than the humans. This is more their story than ours, and their war on morals is more important than a human’s life.

Chapter Transitions

A while back, we discussed transitions from a paragraph to paragraph basis, but it’s different when you move from scene to scene, chapter to chapter. In the case of While Beauty Slept, chapters were like different scenes from the main character’s life as the reader followed her life story. And it made for very different transitions as Elizabeth Blackwell tried to capture only the most important parts of Elise’s story.

I did not meet the woman who was to transform my life until my second week at the castle. It was an encounter that remains vivid in my memory to this day, for it was the first time I glimpsed the darkness that lurked beneath the pageantry of court. The first tiny step in my loss of innocence. (Blackwell 57)

Every chapter started out like almost a thesis, laying out what was going to be the topic of focus for the following chapter. For the one mentioned above, it was a specific woman, and although she was our focus, the chapter remained oriented from Elise’s perspective and showed us a detailed scene of when the woman first appears.

I liked this organization because it showed us Elise’s whole life, but it only showed the most important parts, like a selective biography rather than a diary that showed every little aspect, which can drag and get boring at times.

This book showed that the organization of your novel/story is just as important as the story itself and can lend a great deal to the narrative of your book.

Blackwell, Elizabeth. While Beauty Slept. New York, NY: Berkley Books, 2014. Print.

Story Arc

I really liked my kitty story but while working on it, I had to ask myself, was this the best story? If the characters and conflict were the same, was this way the best way to tell it?

I had to back track. Write down the motif of the story, and then rephrase the theme in a question: which would you choose…? I then looked to Freytag’s pyramid, which outlined the specific pieces of a story arc in the form of a “heartbeat” – seems fitting for a story that’s supposed to have a life of its own. I checked to see if I had all my pieces in order.

freytag pyramid

Image courtesy of Ohio University. 

This is a good way to either check your work or help construct a story. Mainly because all stories should have a beginning, middle, and end no matter how much you protest. If you cut off a movie before the ending, you’re going to have a crowd of angry people wanting their money back. So even if you want to break the “pattern,” you’re still going to have to include the most basic parts of a story.

Exposition: setting up the story with the main character, background, setting

Incident: the initial conflict

Rising actions: the complexities of the conflict evolve

Climax: the high point of the story, the tipping point when the character makes a difficult decision. This is when the reader should be feeling most anxious.

Falling actions: all the consequences of the climax play out

Resolution: events are wrapping up, everything’s about fixed

Denouement: the end

Now, not all stories will resemble this strict single “heartbeat.” Others will take the form of an actual life with multiple “beats” as the story moves up then down and repeats itself through multiple conflicts, straining to reach the overall resolution of the character’s goal. But this is a good place to start!

How to handle rejection

I’ve been working on this story for submission, “Cankerous Feline,” and I submitted it a few weeks ago and finally got feedback the other day.

Rejection.

Which in itself, isn’t a bad thing. Rejections, especially those of writing, are based on opinions and are subjective to the editor’s experience, which is why you hear of writers that had to submit a half a million times prior to acceptance.

And not all rejections are bad. This one was quite pleasant to read and entertaining to reflect on.

This literary magazine had an option – and I don’t know how many do this – where it allowed writers to not only submit for possible publication but also for critique from their editor(s). I thought this was great! I’ve never heard of a publication that actually sent you back feedback. That in itself seemed like the best review process – if they were already reading and judging the story and could give a sentence summarizing their thoughts upon the conditional letter of acceptance or rejection, what a great added benefit! (And I can’t praise that enough.)

Anyways, (s)he gave me some good advice on setting the plot earlier on in the story, which makes sense. Setting the scene is an integral part of writing the story. The main character needs to be shown up front, the plot or conflict at least hinted at, with a huge lob at setting – because if you can’t imagine the scene or personality, the reader’s already lost.

So, I fixed that – or am in the process of fixing.

But I also wanted to share an interesting fact. The editor mentioned he wasn’t a cat person prior to giving the feedback for the story, and I just want to say it up front, neither am I.

I’ve never owned a cat. Never been around cats – due to my mother’s severe cat/hay/pretty-much-all-animals-and-plants allergy. And I refuse to be around cats due to a scarring experience where a cat mauled me while I was sleeping. Still have the scars from that.

So if I convinced him/her that I was a cat person, thank you! I appreciate the compliment! Which proves the effects good research can have. Thank you YouTube:

Inter-webular: A Community of Writers

‘Interstellar’ means between stars, which makes inter-webular between the world wide web which for some reason contains less syllables than ‘www’? That’s weird. English is weird. You know what’s not weird?

Me. Nah – I kid. I’m definitely weird.

But, I thought it was interesting how much potential is on the web. You can literally do anything if you have an idea for it. And, I think people have taken this rule and run with it. There’s a website for everything: how to write, why to write, ideas on what to write…You can search a million synonyms for the concept of writing: books, novels, stories, etc. and so much will come up! I’ve compiled a list here, but of course it’s short. The inter-webular is limitless.

Scribophile

This website is basically an online writing community, a digital critique group. You can edit/comment on someone else’s post (either part of or the entire story), and you win these little karma points for your good deed! Once you have enough karma, you can submit your own story for feedback. This has been my favorite site so far!

Wattpad

This one is pretty interesting – I’m not signed up yet – but in theory, this is a website where you can post chunks of stories. And, I’m assuming this is a good place if you just like to write and don’t want to be officially published on a money-making basis, more if you want followers and readers – like a fan base. Pretty cool in theory. Be a good way to start your publicity. Especially since you can update your stories in chapters and readers/followers get messages when you do.

Page 99

I do like this one. This is a website that caters more to your style of writing rather than the big edits that writers/editors will focus on. If you still need to work on your syntax, word choice, dialogue – the entire stylistic approach, this is a good website for you. Submit your 99th page and get feedback from the community!

WordPress

This is just plain good for blogging/websites, publishing anything for any apparent reason, as long as it’s within the general nature of the internet, which is of course, everything. I use this for fun, use it for school, apparently the school/state use this for teacher evaluations…Must be good if companies are using it. But, either way, I like it’s ease of use and customization. You don’t need to know HTML to use it.

Inkitt

From my understanding, this is another community for writers/readers. You publish a story, and people can read them. But while Wattpad offers a strict reader/writer relationship, Inkitt offers a lot of contests, catering more to the writer community. It uses a ‘like’ rating system, similar to Facebook, to let people review stories. I would see this more as a publicity thing, mainly to accrue followers.

Nanowrimo

This is probably the most famous of all the websites. It’s a month-long writing “contest,” where you compete with yourself to finish a goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s supposed to give people the pressure and motivation they need to finish a project. And in return for participating, you get to meet up with other writers in physical groups or online forums. You get the nice writing tips, contests, discounts for finishing…all sorts of good stuff. I would recommend everyone try it once, to push yourself and see how much can you write.

Blogger

Similar to WordPress, except much more rigid in its web design, Blogger is another site you can write to your heart’s content. Mainly for writing. Actually mostly just for writing. If you want to write, post, and already have an account with Google, this is an easy outlet. I used it for a while. Would recommend purely on its ease of use.

Stream of Consciousness: Part 2

One thing I like about the book I’m reading – the book called Flex – is that the character has a very strong train of thought. He thinks about his guilt, his plans for the future, whether something will or won’t work out. His thoughts really encompass the breadth of possibilities, and there’s one scene I really like.

His ‘mancy, this love, was illegal. If anyone at work unlocked the door to Paul’s office, they’d find the evidence for the military to press-gang him into the Unimancy squad. They’d brain-burn him, take his daughter away. Because ‘mancy was evil, it had annihilated Europe, it was the ultimate crime. (Steinmetz 30)

By including a character’s thoughts, we show their humanity and prove the depth of their thoughts. This paragraph does a good job of emphasizing this about Paul – the main character. It showed his worries, it showed what he worried about and what he was scared of happening. It gave proof that this was a cause for concern.

While writing, I think it would help to stop every once in a while and ask your character, what are you thinking? When does their thoughts matter most? Because when you’re in action, you might not have the strongest thoughts, but when you’re standing at the fork of two paths, when you’re in the middle of debate, then it might be worth to hear what you have to say. Why do you make the decision you do?

Show thoughts when it matters most. When it adds depth to the story, when it helps the character to figure out what’s going on, to show the reader why the scene or reaction matters. Show me what I should be thinking.

Steinmetz, Ferrett. Flex. Nottingham, UK: Angry Robot, 2015.

Stream of Consciousness

It’s interesting to think of the components of a scene: dialogue, action, imagery, stream of consciousness… These are all necessary components. You need to see where the characters are at, what they’re doing, what they’re saying, what they’re thinking…Which is what I would like to focus on today!

Thoughts!

Not my thinking because I’ve been told I think in weird tangents even though I feel like my mind is made up a series of 3D venn diagrams – bubbles that merge, un-merge and move thoughts around in circles, that constantly grow and shrink with worry/excitement. But, for the sake of our characters, for the sake of their simplicity, we’ll imagine they think in linear patterns.

Example:

What he’d done was wrong. He knew that. But her tolerating his presence felt like a benediction, a sign he deserved some place among the wealthy and beautiful, and oh God, he’d lied and was going to Hell. (Steinmetz 16)

This would be considered a stream of consciousness – a continuous flow of thoughts/reactions to an event. After the character slept with a woman, convincing her to bed through the use of magic, he felt guilty, and this paragraph reflects on that guilt, that satisfaction, then guilt again.

These kinds of thoughts should be in all scenes, maybe not always as long, maybe longer. Never in humongous chunks that take up most of the page. But, they do a good job of giving the reader the purpose, direction, plot, and help them identify more with the protagonist.

Steinmetz, Ferrett. Flex. Nottingham, UK: Angry Robot, 2015.

Word Choice

Bird. 

When you read that, what did you imagine?

I thought of a cartoon bird, the kind you draw with an “m”.

If I say pigeon, what do you see?

Probably a pigeon. It’s a specific species of bird, so it’s hard to imagine anything but a pigeon, which is why word choice is crucial here. The mind constructs definitions through images, so every time you see a word, the time it takes you to read is the time you brain needs to see every word and interpret its meaning, which is why using highly visually-stimulating words is so crucial. Why word choice is such a big deal.

It also works with verbs.

She drew a dog.

She sketched a golden retriever.

Sketched to me is more descriptive in nature because it’s a specific type of drawing, when your hand makes light pencil marks to draw the outline of an object. Draw on the other hand is very bland. To draw something visualizes a drawing, a finished piece, rather than the action of the verb.

I would not suggest active-editing while writing, but going back through your work to look for better word choices where possible. If you can’t think something, try using a thesaurus, and if worst comes to worst, type in a description in google, like “word that means tiny and fragile”. A lot of times someone’s already posted it on a forum somewhere. (Microsoft Word has an automatic synonym feature – if you right click on a word, under synonym, it will give you a list of options.)