Is it writers’ block??

NOT WRITING

I haven’t been writing on my two on-going books lately—just seem to have lost the energy to make them go.  This has happened before, and I always come out of it, but so far, nothing seems to interest me enough to sit down and write.  Ennui has been my companion for a couple months.

I assume that most authors hit a brick wall at times, and I also assume that this feeling will go away, but it’s frustrating.  When I’m in the throes of creating a book or story, it follows me around and bangs in my head until I can get to the computer and get it out.  When the muse returns, I find myself creating plot lines and characters in the shower, in bed, while driving.  It’s like living with someone who nags me all the time to write!  Write!  Write!

That nag is not there right now, but she will be back, exhorting me to tell my stories, to make a difference.  I look forward with a little trepidation to her presence in my head, pushing me to create, Right Now!

Probably other authors reading this can relate, maybe not, but that’s my story, or rather, my experience.  For now.

Thanks for listening.

Nan McKenzie, January 29, 2018.

Author of Bigfoot and Bigfoot Returns 

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What’s in a name?

By Janice McCaffrey

According to Orson Scott Card’s Characters and Viewpoint (2010) characters’ names have “many associations” for readers. Surnames signify ethnicity and family connections. Given names can identify where and when a character was born. A name can help with the character’s physical description or hint at their personality. (pgs. 54-55)

So how do authors choose names for their characters?

Dickens is probably the most famous for creating names that convey a character’s looks, personality, or place in society. In Bleak House Mr. Nemo is an unkempt looking man who owes six-weeks rent, has no friends and is found dead from an opium overdose. Accident or suicide? No one knows for sure. When readers are told that nemo is Latin for ‘no one’ they understand that people did not acknowledge him. And learning it was not his legal name tells them how he felt about himself.

Icelandic storytellers refer to historical figures that same way. A prime example is a woman in one of the sagas whose name is Aud the Deep Minded. Then from other sagas there’s men known as Helgi the Lean and Bork the Stout.

Card advises that authors vary the first letter, number of syllables and sounds of characters’ names in a manuscript. The example he gives is how “monosyllables like Bill, Bob, Tom, Jeff, Pete lead to boredom and confusions.” But he also cautions against using “a lot of flamboyant, bizarre names unless that’s an important part of the story.” (pg. 56) Of course, when writing historical novels authors can and should use full names of real people. However, that does get confusing when families have used the same given name for two or more generations.

Anyone who has read a Russian novel will understand another of Card’s points. Simplify characters’ names and use only one name per character. I find stories easier to read and identify with their characters when I can pronounce their names. Easily knowing and remembering who’s who also helps. Not like Anna Karenina where her husband is Alexei Alexandrovitch Karenina and her lover is Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky. I’ve wondered why Tolstoy used the same given name.

Then I read the Introduction in a Barnes & Noble edition (2013) written by Amy Mandelker. She says that one of the themes throughout the novel is mirror images. Besides Anna’s two men having the same names Anna itself is a mirror since it is spelled the same frontwards and backwards. Her maid is Annushka which is a nickname for Anna. The daughter’s name is Annie and Anna adopts a protégée by the name of Hannah which is the Hebrew form of Anna. Tolstoy knew how to get the most out of a name!

Another suggestion from Card is not to have all the characters in a story have names that “mean something” . . . unless it’s an “allegory and [you, the author] deliberately want them tagged with symbolic names.” (pg. 56) My comment to that is if the meaning  of the name is important to the characters’ back story or description be sure to include the meaning some way or other to inform your reader.

As we search for creative names for our characters we should remember that over the years, for better or worse, characters’ names have become part of our cultures’ mindset. Thanks to Dickens we know that a person who is selfish and/or doesn’t like the Christmas Spirit is a Scrooge. Hearing the phrase “Double Oh Seven” conjures up a picture perfect version of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. (For me that will always be Sean Connery). How about Norman Bates, Jo March, Darth Vader, Lolita or Mr. Darcy? Novelists have given us characters whose personalities and deeds will never be forgotten. A challenge to every fiction writer.

What’s in a name? Evidently a lot!!

THE END

Are You A Writer?

Writers are compelled to write. If you are one of those people, even when not sitting in a favorite nook with a keyboard or notebook, characters are wandering through your thoughts asking you to write their story. From conceptualizing a book to completing a first draft can be a long journey, usually years, but some hardy souls dive into writing a novel in just four weeks.

In November each year during NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, many writers take the challenge. If you look at https://nanowritmo.org, you’ll see how it works. The website is interactive and supportive, so if you need a boost to finally finish the first draft of that special book, this might work.

The concept is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. Not everyone can take a month off and just write. If your busy life demands attention, but you are driven to write anyway, you are a writer. You will finish your manuscript without the push of time and camaraderie found with NaNoWriMo. However, critique groups are extremely valuable and a necessary party of producing a professional manuscript.

People in my critique groups over years have said, if they are in the middle of a book and must take a break because life gets in the way, they miss their characters as if they are living, breathing people who are part of their lives. There are very few times writers don’t write. One key is to always be ready to record a note, no matter where you are. I found working twelve hours a day didn’t stop me. Our guru, Dennis Foley, has some of us carrying markers in our cars so if a thought comes at an awkward time, we can write a reminder on the side-window without running off the road.

Finishing a first draft is just the beginning. Multiple edits are required to make it publishable. A running outline of your story line, including twists and turns, is a start, but some writers use no format, they just write. Others develop extensive character descriptions and pages of scenes before ever beginning to write the book. I began writing years ago without an outline of any kind and completed two books that have since been rewritten many times and finally to completion after discovering two creative writing books.

  • Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering: Mastering The Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing,
  • Jack Bickham’s Scene & Structure

I have read many excellent books on writing with varied useful concepts, but using skills I learned from Brooks and Bickham pulled me into a different realm. In the past year, I have rewritten and extensively edited three novels. They are breathing life, and after professional copy editing, are finally ready for publication. I finished a fourth one yesterday and will submit it to my copy editor today.

Another tool I’ve found helpful over the past year is to use a text to speech product to review a final manuscript draft. This sounds tedious, but is valuable for identifying word repetitions, missing words, missing periods and sentences that need reconstruction. There are many options including Natural Reader, a free online product. (https://www.naturalreaders.com); Microsoft word following the menu for Review>A Read Aloud Speech; and Kindle, where you can easily save your entire manuscript and listen to it.

Writing The End provides mixed feelings. It is a huge achievement and a relief to finally have the whole story written. If you find you’ve reached the end, yet are not satisfied with the action, intrigue, rising tension or final scene, consider reading a few of Larry Brooks’ analyses and deconstruction of best sellers at (https://www.storyfix.com).

If you are looking for a critique group or help with writing, check out the active local writers group at https://authorsoftheflathead.org

Betty Kuffel

The Courage for Memoirs

By Karen Wills

In her novel, Dreamers of the Day, Mary Doria Russell has her somewhat fictionalized version of T.E. Lawrence a/k/a Lawrence of Arabia Lawrence of arabia announce his intent to write a memoir. Then he asks, “Have you heard the old joke about Job sitting on his dunghill?” Lawrence goes on, “He tells his friends all his troubles and at the end one of them says, ‘Yes, but you know…there could be a book in it!’”

The book referred to would be a memoir. But what does that mean? According to my Random House Dictionary, it’s “records of facts or events in connection with a particular subject, historical period, etc. as known to the writer or gathered from special sources.”

People send their memoirs out into the world for varied reasons. Montana’s Laura Munson wrote, This is Not the Story You Think It Is, about her decision to refuse to see herself as the victim in the breakup of her marriage.

A friend of mine who worked both as a teacher and school psychologist gained wisdom about American public education both in the South during the Civil Rights Era and on through the days of No Child Left Behind. She is writing a memoir using her varied experiences to explain her philosophy of education. The stories that shaped her views are gripping and credible.

I had a teaching experience of my own that showed me clearly the power of a well-written memoir. A student of mine was flirting with the idea of admiring Hitler.  I assigned him Elie Wiesel’s wrenching Night followed by the same author’s Dawnelie wiesel 2These depict the horrors of the Holocaust and its aftermath.  I followed that with parts of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. By semester’s end, my student had moved 180 degrees from his first leanings. That’s the power of a courageous memoirist.

My son has suggested that I write a memoir as my life has always fit into the forefront of the social movements and trends of my lifetime. Honestly, I don’t have the nerve. My adventures feel private and my wisdom too often the hard-won result of foolishness I’d rather keep to myself.

But here’s to the brave, vulnerable, generous people who share their stories and views in memoirs. Humanity needs them.

river with no bridge

Now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kindle

https://karenwills.com

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