What’s in a name? Wait, which name?

I am terrible at giving characters names. I ran around with a character name in my head for years, only to give him something completely different in the end (though, for some reason, the syllable scheme stayed the same). I find it’s something of an afterthought for me, even though I like to think I focus on character in my writing.

But seriously, why am I so bad at this?

I think in my day-to-day life I’m pretty terrible at names too. I tend to remember people by their face or some characteristic that I’ve focused on. But if you were to ask me, “Hey, do you remember Kevin?” I’d give you a blank look. However, if you asked “remember that guy with the blue Honda?” I’d say “Yeah! That guy. What was his name?” Kevin will always be filed away as blue-Honda guy and not Kevin WhatsHisName.

My writing is not shielded from this terrible fault.

While I’ve been working on WOUND: Thirst, I notice that I’m getting some names mixed up. While, the writing and editing are all my responsibility, picking the names in the first place was also my responsibility and I am failing on both parts. There’s no defense for this. Serial writing feels like its about being in the moment, focusing on one piece at a time. But it’s not an exquisite corpse. I can see all the other pieces and, well, I wrote them. So even if Marla is just a secondary character without her own POV, I should still remember that her name isn’t Marlene. Her mother’s name is Darlene, I think. Wait. Which one is the mother?

So my of my character creation comes out in the action and dialog when I write. I look forward to discovering what they will do and who they are. Sometimes I’m surprised by the choices they make. I also know (because I’ve tried this before) that doing extensive character sheets bleeds a lot of interest out of them for me.

I like to have a soft outline for plot (or at least know where I’m supposed to end up) but let the characters define themselves.

CAVEAT: Writers often talk about writing their characters as if they have autonomy, small sentient beings that think for themselves. They aren’t and they don’t. It’s just that during the writing, some of those decisions are not cognitively produced, or, the decision-train that produces certain actions/words is so fast and so quick, it feels like it comes from somewhere else. It doesn’t. The magic is inside you and me. I just forgot what it’s name is.

Had I more privacy, I would write a list of my character names on a post-it note and keep it prominent on my desk. However, a lot of my writing is done in the dark, for…reasons… and I want to keep it that way. So, I’ve moved an all-caps character list to the top of my Scrivener binder, in the hopes that I refer to it from time to time and don’t have to suddenly go back and correct an old chapter.

Sorry, Marla.

Marla and Darlene – what was I thinking? I’ll make it up to them in an upcoming episode.

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Why write serial fiction?

Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay

I’ve been thinking about this question for a while and I wondered if it should be a blog post. I don’t know if I’ll be able to answer this question for you, but I can come close to an answer for myself, and, perhaps, in there you will find wisdom.

I’ve been struggling to finish projects for a while now and, although I am very close to finishing my first (slight) paranormal romance, I have a thriller that I’ve had outlined for a few years just sitting on the back burner. I like the story, too, and the characters and I want to turn it into a character-based series, but…finishing is hard.

Finishing is the number one piece of advice that successful writers tell new writers. (I don’t have the stats for that but it sounds right and if it’s not right, it should be right.)

The thing is, after all this time, I’m not a new writer. I’ve been writing for decades, but I rarely finish longer works (short stories, flash, and poetry are not an issue). I think my mind starts to wander on a project after about a month, so if I can’t get the writing done in 30 days, then off to greener pastures? I guess.

What about NaNoWriMo, you may ask?

Meh. I’ve never won it. I write under a pen name and don’t have writing friends physically close to me. And this last year has shown that I definitely have an end point to my online stamina. I think it’s a worthwhile thing and maybe I’ll give it a try this year, but, again, meh.

I’m revisiting the “Write a Novel in Three Days” post from Ghostwoods – a post so popular, they made it the 404 page. I do love the idea of working out a lot of the story before writing. Combine that post with Dead Wesley Smith’s resurrection of his pulp writers posts and perhaps the world was speaking to me: “Get all the meat out and then write like the Dickens.”

Which brings me back to my original question (see what I did there), why write serial fiction? Serial fiction allows me the satisfaction of finishing something small on a regular basis, while still fulfilling an overarching storyline. I think building in cliffhangers is energizing as a writer, particularly in my Wound series (at Tapas and Webnovel) as I’m posting it shortly after I write it. I know where I want all my characters to be at the end of the season, but I’m not entirely sure how they’re going to get there. And I am in love with writing it.

Serial writing allows me to play with timing and characterization as well. How much can I deliver to the reader about a person in just one line of dialog? What inner thoughts can I share about them without it feeling like filler? What peril can I put them in at the moment the scene ends? AHAHAHA.

These little thrills give me the motivation to work on the longer pieces. I was going to say they were like warm-ups, but I don’t want to diminish my serials in any way. I just as strongly about these stories as I do the novel-length stories that aren’t finished. The finishing with serials isn’t really the point, not initially. Some publishers suggest you have an endpoint in mind, or the entire piece mapped out – that seems more like novel serialization then serial fiction. That’s fine, but it’s different. Serial fiction is about the chase, the journey, jumping from cliff to cliff to cliff.

There’s an end, sure, but what a ride!

Negativity and writing

At the time of writing this, the world is a mess. This isn’t about that, but that ain’t helping.

There are times when I’m late posting something because I’ve just been burdened with other work or am lazy. Once or twice I was just uninspired, which is against everything I think about when it comes to the work of writing. This week though, my issue was one that I deal with on a regular basis: seeping negativity. This week I nearly drowned in it.

While my private life is just that, I do find myself spending nearly every day with a terribly negative person. It is not a relationship that is easily severed, though distance can sometimes be achieved. When days are good, I find myself impenetrable to the dark aura and the distant yells. When I am in a weakened state, less confident in my identity or ability, those tendrils sneak past my defenses and seriously fuck up my day. Or two days, or three. I can usually cap it there, but I’m increasingly weary.

My situation is not uncommon and I think I could find some help in talking about it more. Not just with professionals, but with people (especially fellow writers) who deal with a similar issue and who find themselves wasting a lot of writing energy just protecting their own happiness.

What say you? Do you have tips on how to remain hopeful in the face of negativity?

Meet me in the middle

Getting stuck and unstuck in the center of writing.

I tend to have trouble with middles and I think this is common. Normally I am a “pants” writer, someone who discovers the story, the characters, the whole package, as they write. This has typically ended with me getting bored about halfway through and abandoning the project. In the darker moments, I suspected that I was never going to take writing seriously and that it would always be something I played at. I didn’t have the “stamina” to make it through a whole story. I just wasn’t good enough.

Then, after listening to countless podcasts, watching videos, reading blogs of other writers, I realized that I can combine the best of both worlds. The moment I start to feel the enthusiasm wane while discovery writing, I could stop an outline the rest of the story. I expected this to help me through the fear I have about outlining in general: that telling myself the story in an outline would be satisfying enough that I wouldn’t go on to drafting. That is still a fear and I am teetering on the edge of that being a possibility now.

With The Shape of Us, I wanted to experiment with telling a story from an outside point of view. The game from the NPC perspective, as it were. After the first three episodes, I quickly realized that I needed to outline a full story for Sykes and Baron, a true plot in the background that my POV characters were getting a glimpse of. It then became an exercise to see how much of that plot should bleed through to make it relevant to the POV character’s life at that moment, but also allow the reader to piece together the background story. So I plotted out a 14-episode “season” for The Shape of Us and right now we’re at the half-way point.

I didn’t post on Friday because I didn’t write episode 8. I could give a number of excuses, but I wasn’t ready. I felt that having a space at the mid-point would seem intentional (it was not) and comfortable (it was definitely not). Also, not many people are reading this right now, so the insecure part of me thought “who would miss it anyway?”

I did. I missed it. I fell in love with these characters the moment I finished episode 1 and I am determined to give readers glimpses into their lives, one unwilling bystander at a time. Whatever behind-the-scenes method I use for writing these episodes, in the end it won’t matter. What matters is if I’m satisfied with how the story plays out. So far, so good.

The next seven episodes start posting tomorrow. I hope you enjoy them.

Rant: The Last Bookstore – What the hell is this shit?

As if the whole world has to be Instagrammable — and yes, it must since soon the only way we’ll be able to feed ourselves is with that sweet, sweet influencer affiliate money (I’m counting on you, Hot Pockets)…

This article from June floated along my Twitter feed this week and I was immediately destroyed by the images of book sculptures and color-coded cases. I get it, I do. The aesthetic nature of book displays can be satisfying and the physical book itself can be a medium for a new art and blah, blah, barf.

I’d really like to read something puce.

Whatever, man. Whatever. While the website allows you to order from their book catalog online — and, full disclosure, I was prepared for that online store not to exist in some sort of Presence-Only Hipster Timeline — I find the shifting of our artistic consumption priorities from experience to the mere recording of experience and displaying of experience to be…sad.

Not that I’m some sort of extroverted adventurer, but I’ll be damned if I line up my books by color. (Hides my shelf of black, Penguin classics. “Those don’t count!”)

Source: The Last Bookstore in Downtown L.A. Is Still an Iconic Spot