Tender – But Should We Be?

A response to today’s daily prompt of Tender

I’ve been giving some careful consideration this week to the creation of characters, and the advice I could share on this.

Tender is a lovely word isn’t it. The tender loving care, devotion and gentle hands are conjured by its appearance on a page. It’s a beautiful description for a character and perhaps embodies a characteristic of personality trait we’d like to explore. However, I think it’s also how we tend to treat our characters – with caution. Your characters, once fully fledged start leaving the metaphorical nest and it’s hard to let them go. Harder still to let them crash to rock bottom. I for one, try to protect my characters. That doesn’t mean that I don’t let anything happen to them, but I always write in an escape hatch – a way out. A way to mitigate the dark circumstances. I can’t help but feel that maybe I shouldn’t – that they would be stronger characters with me hovering around with a parachute or eager to pick them up when they fall.

Enough musings for now – onto the serious business.

Character Creation – Names

(Because I’ve just realised how much there is to discuss around this topic – oh my)

I have a feeling that this part of my ‘writing advice’ series is going to take more posts than intended. That can only be a good thing – right?

Let’s start with the basics

Who is this character? Is it your main character, a supporting member of the cast, or a background extra?

If your answer is ‘Main protagonist,’ then carry on reading – if not, then I’m sure one day soon I’ll have information about the other types of character creation. Although, a lot of my advice is going to be very very similar…

Now, I struggle with names for my characters. Always have and probably always will unless I dive into a Tolkien-esq exploration of language and development. The problem with names, is that they mean so much!

Take Bob Brown as a name. What does it make you think of? It makes me think of someone maybe a bit boring, steady. I think of a middle-aged man and Brown – well it’s not an exciting colour is it. Those two simple words, two simple names come packed with associations we already have stuffed into our minds. What’s more, Bob Brown is alliteration, and when I see names like Bob Brown, Matt Murdock, Peter Parker – I think superhero.

Bob Brown – tax accountant by day, crime fighter by night?

Now transplant Bob Brown into a fantasy setting and hang on a minute. Do those two words have different associations in the world I am building? Brown – is it a colour of power? A symbol of status high or low? What if this is a civilisation where castes are allocated a colour. Brown could be the lowest of the low, Bob Brown could be rebelling against the absurdity of having your life mapped out because of your name and perhaps that is why he’s a super hero in this context?!

What if Bob is short for Roberta?  Bob is a woman trying to gain her shield as a knight.

Looking at the history of the name, Bob from Wikipedia- It most likely originated from the hypocorism Rob, short for Robert.

According to Wikipedia – Robert is a Germanic name.

Now if Bob comes from Robert, and Robert is Germanic, and Bob is my main protagonist in this story – then how closely do I centre the rest of the names in the book on Germanic language? If Bob is the only Germanic name, and the rest has a basis in Hebrew or Polynesian culture – then there might be some jarring.

There are some very very useful name finders online. Baby name search tools are wonderful – and I love forming new words and names from a selection of meanings and finding a name that utterly embodies the personality I’m aiming for.

My advice is to investigate current languages and to play with them for your fantasy worlds. Once you get the name of your protagonist clear in mind, you’ll be naming cities, towns, forests, gorges and everything else that they encounter. If Bob is a stranger to those lands, then it makes perfect sense for his name to be of a different sound and origin. If this is where he was born and has lived his entire life – then his name should possibly be more common in the surroundings.

In The Poisoned Well, I have a character called Redston – A baron. Now, this has raised several questions, are the names of my nobility based on geological features, or is Redston a one off? What I’ve developed is Redston’s backstory, which may never feature in the book, but he is a man of the Northern Mountains. Mountains that are rich with Iron deposits which make them (surprisingly) red. His ancestors were born in the mountains and they carry the name of their heritage with pride. He is proud to be Redstone. However, times move and his own Barony is further to the South in Golden Fort. This may be a fairly simplistic way of naming and world building, but I feel that this small snippet of history has given Redston a feeling of Authenticity. There has been a change in his life, an arc of development that he has undergone – off screen or off page as it were.

What does Redston as a name tell you as well? Red – firey, passionate, red-headed? Stone – stubborn, forceful, slow to move? But the Stone is shortnened – meaning that there has been a development in his history, this is an old name because it’s been corrupted over time. Just like places called Little Town might now be Littleton.

What are you thoughts? How do you find names for your characters?

The Dragon’s Bride

I’m Writing for the Poisoned Well is going well! I’m getting closer and closer to the end and then the editing will begin in earnest. However, for now I thought that I would share this extract with you. I hope you like it! Remember to leave me a comment 🙂

The Poisoned Well – Extract

They made a fire on the beach beneath the stars. No clouds covered the sky or hid the stars as they stretched out, wary of the flying bugs. Lyris buried her feet in the sands as they started to cool. Timmit told them about his travels by foot from Ipito to Golden Fort. He’d trained in the capital city before venturing out to live somewhere a little quieter, and further away from his family. Kit shared a story from the caravan, how Rafa had fallen in love with Kelanin and defied his guild to follow the wagon’s, forsaking his license of medicine. Arnit had declined to share a story of his own, and instead, Timmit had started to speak again.  An ancient folk-tale about a dragon who fell in love with a girl.

The mighty Arian would watch the girl from the mountains above the castle where she lived. With all of his years of life upon the world, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid eyes upon. He was a guardian the pass between Veglen and Ipito and he watched over the girl and her family, and visited her in her dreams. Till one day, word reached his cave that the Princess of the land was due to marry. Jealous, he made a deal with the old gods, and traded his scales and impossible hide for breakable flesh of a man. Though he retained some of his mighty power, an ability to communicate with the beasts, the birds and the serpents of the sky.

‘I heard he kept his gold too,’ Kit interrupted and Arn, who had been sat listening to every word, punched the traveller in the arm.

‘Dragons are famous for their hordes of coin,’ Timmit conceded, ‘though it is believed that Arian sacrificed his wealth for this, a chance to wed his beloved before she could marry a Prince from a distant land.’

‘He probably couldn’t carry it down the mountain,’ Kit was stretched out, with his hands looped behind his head, and this time, Lyris prodded him in the belly. He yelped, gripped his side and rolled to his knees. ‘Alright, alright,’ he laughed and gestured for Timmit to continue.

Lyris must have heard the story a thousand times, but sat watching Arn over the firepit the myth meant more to her. The young woman wrapped her arms around her knees, and with a final glare at the repenting Kit, watched Timmit as the dark-haired man continued once more.

‘Arian came down from the mountain,’ the Smith paused, waiting for Kit’s additional commentary. The traveller grinned, but remained mute, ‘and he approached the castle with an aura of splendour. The guards knelt before his power and he was granted an audience with the King. Arian made his request, to take the hand of the King’s daughter. For he was certain that she loved him as truly and as deeply as he loved her. For they had spoken in dreams about their desires. The young woman wanted to travel the world and save it, too bring light to dark places and the hearts of men. She had no desire for wealth or nobility and Arian knew that there was no heart so pure as that of his love. The King, believing that Arian was the Prince sent from the distant lands, was eager to agree the match and the next day. Arian was bound to his bride. The ceremony complete, he turned to the girl beside him and lifted the veil from her face.’

It had been difficult, to see Arn all throughout the day, without any chance to speak to him alone and ask her questions. To reach out and touch him, or pull him into a dark corner and forget that the rest of the world existed. The young woman watched him now, fascinated by his expression as he listened to the story that he too, must have heard a thousand times.

‘Arien had trusted the king,’ Timmit continued and poked the embers of the fire with a stick. Sparks shot into the air and scattered in the wind, drifting like fireflies over the beach. Everything smelt like wood-smoke. Sand covered her feet and hands and the young woman shifted. It always looked so soft, until you sat on it for too long.

‘Arien was furious to find that his bride was not the princess. His love had hair the colour of smelted gold and eyes as dark as the night. He turned his wrath on the king, and demanded to know what trickery this was. The princess, his bride and now his wife, was a woman with dark hair like yours Lyris, and eyes as pale as the jealous moon. The King grew angry and demanded to know why Arien, a prince of distant land could treat him so poorly. Arien explained that this was not his love, the woman he had come to marry. The King was confused, this was his only daughter, and a whisper rose through the court. Finally, a young woman stepped forward, with her hair the colour of the setting sun and the darkest eyes the dragon had ever known. His love, a servant, daughter of servants and granddaughter of servants. She had watched the ceremony with tears in her eyes, and her lover marry the princess and bound with blood.’

‘What happened to them?’ Lyris had heard the story, but there had been different endings. Sometimes, the King annulled the marriage and the servant and the dragon lived happily ever after.

‘Arien was bound to his wife,’ Timmit finished the story, ‘for his foolish belief that beauty could only belong to the rich and the powerful. When in truth, beauty is something that is born within, and more often found in the humblest houses.’ He prodded a lump of coal and avoided the young woman’s gaze.

Kit snorted and stood, brushing the sand from his trousers, ‘or he regained his form as a dragon, melted the King on his throne and flew away with the servant on his back.’

Arn stirred, his own hair the colour of burnt copper in the firelight. He lifted a shoulder in a shrug, ‘they say that he grew to love the Princess, though when the Prince from a distant land arrived, the servant girl was offered to him in marriage. Part to punish Arien for his secret love of the maiden, and in part to hide the fact that the King’s daughter had been married to the wrong man.’

‘What do you believe?’ Lyris joined Kit on her feet. Together they doused the last flames and scattered sand on the embers.

‘I believe that it’s a story,’ Arn smiled, and staggered to his own feet with a groan. He watched her, across the pit but kept his distance.

‘Come on,’ Kit slung an arm around her shoulders and led the way back to the boat, ‘tomorrow we’ll be docking in Toscun, and you’re still never going to beat me at dice.’

‘Because you cheat,’ Lyris and Timmit responded in chorus.

‘Everyone cheats,’ Kit laughed, ‘you just have to be the better cheat.”

‘You’re full of brass

To plan the words – or to let them dictate?

This weekend started with an impossible goal. Intending to get everything finished for The Poisoned Well, I decided, yesterday, that I was going to write 20,000 words in two days. No big deal. Then reality dropped by and this obviously has not happened. I’ll Detonate that target now and gladly; ka-boom! Although I have made a respectable amount of progress and I’m pleased with the development of the story. I just about hit my target for today, when a writing friend from across the globe in New Zealand explained they were planning to write 15,000 words. Naturally, a challenge was set and the race is on. My brain is already a little tired today, so there was no way I was going to reach 15,000 words! However, Hollie has managed an amazing 4,000 and I’m 1000 words up on my target and ready for the week ahead.

Now, onto the serious blogging.

I’ve started to do a series of posts about writing a novel, so here is part two: Planning

To plan, or not to plan?

Now, having attempted novel writing myself, and finishing the first manuscript: Burning Embers, I feel I have a good idea of how to get this ball rolling. I’ve also be reading up on other writers and their techniques to what can feel like a long slog. The conclusion, is that like anything, there are several different ways to plan a novel.

1: Using a program to write. I’ve never done this, but I know a lot of people swear by it. There are a lot of free programs, and paid ones out there. They seem like a useful place to store information, write character sheets and keep motivating. Such as at: Bibisco

One thing that strikes me about this kind of software, is how easy it is to plan to an exacting detail. You can set how many chapters, what will happen in each one, their intended word count and then map the arc of your book in a diagram.

Pro: You’re able to set clear targets and goals. You’ll also be super organised!

Cons: Does it allow the same flexibility? If you’re going to go over your word count for that chapter, will it feel like a bonus, or a negative thing? Knowing myself, I think I’d have too much fun setting up the minutia and then not get as much writing done. It’s hard enough with facebook, and reading daily prompts, and twitter to get a clear head and just get the words down.

Then there is perhaps the opposite to using a program to plan out the individual steps.

2. No planning. When the LOTR extended box-sets were released, I was addicted. I probably know the words of every single interview, better than I know the films. Viggo…if we tip over…save yourself…

One thing that always remained clear in my memory though, was the discussion about how Tolkien approached the LOTR. After the success of the Hobbit, he set out to write the sequel. Now, there’s a lot of complaints about G.R.R.Martin finishing a Song of Ice and Fire, yet it took Tolkien 12, (17 according to some sources) years to write the Lord of the Rings! 12 YEARS! Now, the image that stuck with me, was the way they described Tolkien’s approach. He sat down and he started to write.  He didn’t know where the story was going, and eventually he got stuck, scrapped it all and started again – from the beginning. This time, he got a little further, until he reached a point where he couldn’t continue – scrapped it all, and started again.

This is in the day before the computer! It was described as the waves rushing up the beach, every time they got a little further until we had the Lord of the Rings that we know and love. It sounds exhausting.

I like to have flexibility when I write, I like to be able to let my characters breathe and develop their own voices and ideas. This is possibly because I am rubbish at Character sheets. In the role play community people ask me – so how much planning did you put into this character and their arc and I get all embarrassed and mumble…I wrote the bare minimum so you would let me write on your site… however, I think it’s a good idea to have some vague concepts in mind and at least a direction.

Now, I was always going to advocate for option three – the middle ground. Option 1 is a planned hike with your day sketched out to the minute. You have everything in your bag, that you might possibly ever need. A strict schedule to keep you moving, and gps on your phone so you don’t stray from the path. Option 2 seems like setting out on a journey, with just your boots on your feet and wondering where you’ll end up. There’s a certain amount of mystery and allure to this, I must admit. However, Option 3 – you’re prepared for a hike. You have essential supplies to get you through and regular way points to tick off at each chapter.

3. Middle-Ground Planning

When I start off on a journey, ready to write a longer piece of fiction. I like to have a clear idea of a few things. They’re listed in Getting Started as well.

  1. Approximate word count. How big of a beast is this going to be?
  2. Audience? Adult, Children, YA? (Inevitably the answer for me is YA)
  3. What do I plan to do with the project when it’s done? My current intention to publish The Poisoned Well on Wattpad has meant that I’m aiming for chapters with around 2000 words in each.
  4. What is the destination – roughly? I love to have a good start, but then I like to now where I’m aiming for. As a few chapters get ticked off, then a plan starts to form, of how I’m going to get there. I can draw a few lines on the map at least. Then a few more chapters down, and I work out how I’m going to mess with the straight lines, and make a more interesting narrative.

I like to think of this as a middle-ground plan, a rough guide. It’s not without its downside. I could probably do with being more focused at the beginning of a project and do some world-building first. It’s hard to build a map around a narrative, and feels less realistic. Then you realise that you characters have been walking in the wrong direction, and it’s edit the map, or edit the text…I could probably take a bit more from planning the tiny details, but then I could probably loosen up a little more as well.

Let me know how it goes, or if you use a different programme for writing. I’d be interested to give one a go on another project.

Happy Writing

Fibi