Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Name Game

This post is somewhat inspired by the lovely Brigid Kemmerer, who reached out to the Twitterverse last week looking for a surname for one of her characters. The names of my main characters are usually carefully selected. I go through the baby name books and look up the deeper meaning of names, choose monikers that complement each other for my love interests, things that are easy to pronouce, or that represent a character's heritage...but for all of the third tier characters who don't come into action all that much, I just need a name.

I'm working on something new that has a lot of these third tier characters. They are more like scenery, populating the world around my heroine. First names are easy, they can be pretty generic: Liz, Ann, Mark, Michael, etc. Last names are a little more difficult. I can't use Smith or Jones for every one.

One of my favorite resources is the obituaries. Yes, it's morbid, but it's a real name and I feel like the person will always live on a little bit in one of my books. I was also inspired to look through my old yearbooks. I can mix and match first and last names from my old schoolmates, and there's a fairly plentiful list. And so I can write off my celeb gossip mags, I sometimes use celebrity names, as long as they aren't too widely recognizable.

What about you? What are some of your name resources? Do you use friends, family members? Make them up? Please share.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

OMG. I'm back in High School

Not really. But in this whole trying-to-get published journey, I am strangely reminded of my relentless High School boy chasing.

Similarity 1: Analyzing Communications
I got a mix CD from a boy once and analyzed the lyrics for every single song, assuming he was sending me subliminal messages about his true feelings for me in music. Since the majority of the songs were focused on the theme of "love", I came to the conclusion that he did in fact, like me. (I was right by the way).

I do the same thing for communications regarding my writing. I obsess over every word, analyze the meaning and look for hidden messages within the text to see if I can figure out the true emotion for my work.

Truth 1: The people sending these things likely do not put as much thought into creating them as you do analyzing them, ie, the boy may have put the love-themed songs on the CD because he likes them and wanted to share them.

Similarity 2: The call
When I got the first call from my agent, I missed it. As soon as I saw a missed call from a 212 area code, I proceeded to shriek loudly, dance around the kitchen for about ten minutes and then spent another ten minutes calming myself down so I wouldn't sound like an absolute spaz when I called her back.

After my ritual was complete, it was after five and I got her voicemail. The brief thought ran through my head, "Should I hang up and call back tomorrow?" Yet with Caller ID, she would know I called and then see I didn't leave a message and I would be a freak. Message was short, sweet and to the point.

The next day while I was waiting for her return call, I kept my phone with me at all times with the ringer turned up high so I wouldn't miss it. I may have also had my husband call me once or twice to make sure my phone was working. When that 212 number came up again, I let it ring twice and then picked it up, so she wouldn't know I had glued the phone to my hand earlier in the day.

I once had a crush on a guy named...we'll call him Brett, and after a very romantic afternoon at Denny's, he said he would call me later that night. I lay down on my rug with my face right next to the phone just staring at it, willing it to ring. Did I pick it up every now and then and check for a dial tone.? You betcha! Then after I hung it back up, I thought to myself, "Oh no, that could have been the exact moment he tried to call me." (my parents didn't have call waiting.)

Truth 2: The call will come if someone likes you (or your work), and if they don't, no amount of obsessing will make it happen.

Similarity 3: It's too perfect

Brett did call that night, just like he said he would, and asked if I wanted to do a repeat of our Denny's outing the next day. Hell yes I did! I hung up, floating on a cloud of teenage hormones, but after the high wore off, I thought, "It's too perfect. There is no way this can possibly be happening to me."

I decided it would never work out. After one or two outings, he would inevitably find something wrong with me and the short-lived relationship would be over. Do I ever wonder if this book may not be the one that gets published? Absolutely.

Truth 3: This is not necessarily a bad thing. A healthy does of reality can bring your head back out from the clouds and enable you to say, "It may not work out with this boy, (book) but it doesn't mean I'll be single (unpublished) forever."

And on the bright side, since I write YA, dredging up this torrent of teenage emotion only gives me more fuel for my writing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On Staying Organized

There is no place more terrifying for my husband than my office. There are stacks of books and paper on every available surface, poorly scribbled sticky notes stuck on the top of my desk. If you open the closet, you're likely to be buried under a pile of junk. No one can ever find anything in there, but you know what? If you asked me where I keep the hand puppet I made for the 1992 Arizona State Fair, I'd be entertaining you with a puppet show in less than five minutes.

In his office everything is neatly tucked away. Everything has a place and that place is generally labeled in hand-drawn calligraphy. The contents of the drawers are organized by purpose: pens and paperclips in one, stapler and hole punch in another, and camera cords and iPhone plugs in the bottom; all perfectly coiled of course.

We've had our disputes over the matter. My husband also likes to reorganize, so I'll be trying to cook dinner but not be able to find my pans. He moved the trashcan once and I think it took several months before I quit throwing tissues at the empty spot on the floor.

What is it that makes our organization styles so different?
Memory. I have a good one. He does not.

When he decides the pans would be better off in the larger cabinet (and they are), he moves them. But all I remember is where I put them in the first place and I'll keep going back to their original home because I didn't partake in the relocation or even witness it happening. Of course, he can't stand when I leave piles of old mail on the kitchen table...understandably.

It definitely helps to have both styles of organization. If I forget the date of the show we were supposed to go to, he has it written down on his calendar. When we leave the show, and he has inevitably forgotten where we parked, I'll always remember.

This brings me to the point of this long-winded blog entry. I'm experiencing the same problem in my writing life. After adding new chapters, developing new characters, and changing the order of things in my editing process, all I can remember is how they started. I'm working on the second book and still throwing tissues at the floor.

I painfully have to admit that perhaps my husband's meticulous organization does serve a purpose, and as much as I scoffed at the character bible, I think I'm going to have to make one. I'll still rely on my memory. It comes in handy when a character enters a room and finds the knife that she stashed there eighty pages ago. But by making a bible, I can keep track of the details. It will be like a map to the trashcan in case its location changes.

Do you use a character bible or just write by the seat of your pants? Discuss.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

There's More to Write than Just Novels

I didn't always write novels. In fact, the idea used to petrify me. Three hundred pages of copy? How can someone do that? I recalled a research paper I wrote in college that was seventy-five pages and finishing it on time nearly killed me.

For a long time I wasn't ready to embark on a novel, but I still wrote and keep writing. Business letters, ad copy, email copy, packaging copy, articles, ghost blogs, market reports, trend copy, proposals, press releases and web copy. Each type of writing involves a different skill set...for example web copy.

I've posted before about overusing words, but for web copy, you have to overuse words. A site will rank higher on search engines if the keywords are found organically, but you also want it to read professionally.

When preparing to create copy for a website, I first determine the search terms and write them down on a piece of paper that I keep next to my keyboard. Below is an excerpt I created for Hairspray Salon in Providence.

Dress your tresses in style at Hairspray Salon, a full service hair salon located conveniently on Wickenden Street in Providence's beautiful East Side, Rhode Island. Create bold and chunky highlights, find out if blondes really do have more fun, or lengthen your locks with lavish layers. Our experienced hair designers are well versed in all forms of hair care from foiling, to one press color and perming, extensions, dreads and ethnic hair care. Whatever your hair vision is, we can turn it into a reality.

Can you guess what my keywords were? In order of importance: hair, Providence and Rhode Island.

Below is the excerpt again with the words highlighted.

Dress your tresses in style at Hairspray Salon, a full service hair salon located conveniently on Wickenden Street in Providence's beautiful East Side, Rhode Island. Create bold and chunky highlights, find out if blondes really do have more fun, or lengthen your locks with lavish layers. Our experienced hair designers are well versed in all forms of hair care from foiling, to one press color and perming, extensions, dreads and ethnic hair care. Whatever your hair vision is, we can turn it into a reality.

In one paragraph I managed to get the word "hair" in six times. One way to achieve this is to use the word in different ways. "Hair" is paired with other words so it isn't always "Hairspray" or "hair salon". I have "hair designers", "hair care", and "hair vision" too. This makes it sound like a different word even though it isn't.

Of course a lot more goes into SEO besides well-executed copy, but it's the first stage in getting your site noticed. Do you write other things besides novels? What do you write? And how does the process differ from your creative writing?