What’s in a name?

Greetings from an early morning (aka, I should be sleeping).

You might notice this is my first “work in progress” update in a while! Let’s take this as a good sign, shall we?

While I haven’t yet made very much progress on my novel, I’m at least still thinking about it. I’ll take my “I suddenly want to write my antagonist’s back story out” moment as a promising feeling and cling to that while I can.

But there is a recurring thought that I still can’t answer, and since I have readers (some of whom happen to be writers), what better way than to help shed light on my dilemma?

Simply put: Can I make do without last names in the book (and potential ‘series’)? If I can, should I?

This is a hard decision because the world building is still going on, which is both good and bad. I don’t have to decide right now, but then again, why not now?

So, what’s in a name? I’d love to say that writers can just pick any name that sounds good or has a wanted underlying meaning, but that would be ignoring the very real stigmas existing in this world. I almost feel a duty to combat it, although I’m a bit uncertain on the ‘how’ and if it would actually work.

In my book, there is a very logical explanation as to why first names have a certain origin. I envision the world to be very diverse, and I already know that “stereotypical” names are anything but. Anyone can be named anything, no stigma attached.

I’m afraid that by adding last names of different origins than the first names, it will add a layer of “well this character must look like this” or “this character is (insert origin).” Am I just over-thinking or anticipating?

As of now, I came up with a few solutions:

  1. add to the world building and banish (or replace) last names altogether,
  2. add the last names of varying origins/ethnicity anyway (screw stereotypes!), or
  3. simply physically describe characters to dispel any preconceived notions (or attempt to, but people might still pull a Rue on you…)

Or maybe none of this matters in a book, but only once it becomes a movie?

Do you have a preference? I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or other solutions on this! Especially if you strongly feel about fair and equal representation of minorities/ethnicities as I do.

Ali J.

P.S: If you’ve ever faced this “this name means ‘rebel’ but on another it means ‘flower'” dilemma, you know how frustrating google searches can be. So if you know of trustworthy sites with relatively accurate names & meanings, please let me know!


NaNoWriMo lessons

Greetings fellow creators!

As you probably know (or inferred from the title), I decided kind of last minute to jump in and take part in NaNoWriMo. At the time I thought I was nuts, scratch that, I still do! However, it’s only day 5 and I somehow managed to sort of impress myself.

I’ve been hitting the suggested word count every day – granted, with a few bouts of ‘cheating’ for my “long day at work, home late” days – but the moral boost it provides is rather splendid. For someone with the “I want to publish a book” common thought, the reality of writing once in a blue moon is kind of a self esteem depleter (yes, new word).

But here’s what I learned from these short few days:

  •  Things I never contemplated pop up (the world has to come alive, doesn’t it?).
  • Problems I hadn’t foreseen arise (looking at you, curse of the character naming!).
  • Anything goes for that word count (sprinkle on those extra everything: a, the, that…, even the Untitled titles).
  • Writing every day does get the fingers flying off the keyboard faster!
  • Not everything I write is crap! On the fly things can be truly ingenious.

On the plus side, by browsing the genre forum, I discovered a genre that might actually fit my story! Futuristic fantasy. Not that it’s extremely important right now, I’m just excited about sub-genres to investigate once the actual writing/editing is over.

I’m afraid my monthly posts will return in December. I’m rather swamped with work (my first batch of midterms to grade, and it takes forever, gah!) and obviously my story awaits…

I end today on page 16, with 8595 words!

So let us brave the uncertain waters and wade through together!

Learn on,
Ali J.

Rediscovering Creativity

Perhaps that title is too grand for what I’m feeling, but then again… maybe not.

These days, the more I want to write my story, the more I find myself having to create something else. By all means, it’s related and prompted by my story (like the cipher), but today’s attempt at designing a bracelet has led me to believe I need to actually make it – whether it’ll turn out like the one in my mind or not is another story.

I can come up with three reasons for this:

  1. Due to lack of satisfactory google images, I have no choice but to make my own (probably better in the long term, right?),
  2. I finally have something to rekindle whatever I’d phased out of my life (making bracelets is definitely one),
  3. I just really really can’t wait to leave Japan. (That sounds bad, and you lack context, so know that I love Japan but imagine that feeling during high school when you just reallyreallyreally want to leave/go to college? Yeah, it’s like that.)

If I could draw better maybe I wouldn’t feel the need to actually make a bracelet, but that thought since this morning has actually given me the idea that I should make bracelets with the kids – clarification: not my kids, my Japanese students. That might be living on the edge…

All that to say, writing is definitely an adventure, and definitely not just about writing. I’m sure some people manage to create things just inside their head, but if I have the ability and the free time, I might as well make whatever I can. Hooray for getting more in touch with my creative side! =)

Initial cipher completed!

How exciting, my first of many ‘work in progress’ updates!  (At least, I hope.)

I haven’t said much about what kind of book I’m writing, but… I’m still trying to a) figure that out completely, and b) fit it in one sentence. I suppose I should keep it a surprise for when I have a lot more of it to condense?

But I’ve had an idea for one part (maybe several once I actually write it), where the protagonist finds strange symbols around the city, which she’ll realize is cipher and will somehow crack it.

Well, I don’t know about you, but coming up with a cipher is kind of hard work. I spent a few days brainstorming right after having the idea, then I let it sit for a few weeks until today where– behold, something went right. I now have a cipher!

Granted, it’s only a draft and will most likely evolve, but I’m still super excited nonetheless! It’s like having a paragraph to work on rather than a blank page. ^-^

Of course after I wrote it, I found myself thinking “but how will I ever input that in my document?” A question to tackle down the road, and maybe by then, I’ll know someone with a tablet and– things might happen.

Until then! I’ll continue thinking, writing a bit, editing and writing. Cheers!

Obstacle #9: World building

It’s been a long 4-day week… My really long weekend was obviously too short and I guess more tiring than I thought. I’m still recuperating and yawning all day, every day.

Thus, I had to ask someone for today’s topic. I give you my attempt at tackling world building. (Or, how-to-explain-that-awesome-place-inside-your-head-to-non-mind-readers.)

I might have dipped my toes in this topic in another post, but here goes diving, watch out for the belly flop.

You might think this only applies to a specific genre (like fantasy or science fiction), but I’ll go out on a hunch here and say nope. Certainly, those worlds require a lot of effort, probably more than just describing a real town and changing its name. But even if your story takes place in the “real world,” you still have to build parts of it. Basically, you can’t get away from world building, but you have the choice of dealing with it with your fingertips or diving head first.

What’s a good plot and kick ass characters in a mediocre world? At best, a good story. But you could make it a-mah-zing by fleshing out that world! Isn’t making up that world one of the best things in a story? Sure it’s challenging and requires hard work and a lot of revising, but it’ll be worth it when you’re done.

But don’t take my word for it, I’m no expert, and to be honest I’m struggling with this very concept for my short story right now. I have the basics down, I think, but I have to keep asking myself “what kind of world is it?” and imagine scenarios to see how everything unfolds. Usually, I’m not fond of planning anything a lot. Apart from what pops up as the idea and the random bursts of awesome thoughts, I might write a blurb about the main story line and keep it at that. The rest? It just happens, go figure.

But I digress. I’m sure there are writers out there who spend hours and hours planning and fleshing out their worlds, and that’s great, keep it up! I’m more the type to have the main idea and start writing, I’ll deal with the rest later. I’ll let you know how it works out for a longer-than-I’m-used-to story though, it might not work out so well…

Then there’s the “how much is too much” question. Obviously, we get free reign to decide just how in length to describe that world and take the readers for a ride, but too much description and people will start flipping pages, or simply not being able to read your story. ): I could slather you with examples, but we probably all read something like that in high school. But the opposite won’t help either, if you build a new world, don’t undersell it!

You don’t have to explain your world to me, just show me. You don’t need 5 pages describing the complexities and workings of your world, society, etc. Give me the basics, and fill in the rest throughout the story in little tidbits. Sometimes the tidbits are the most telling.

Anyway, that’s my take on world building, now I need to work on mine…

Obstacle #6: Writer’s block

I guess I did something right in my last post (Revisions), a fair few of you seemed to share similar feelings. 🙂 (Is this ‘like’ similar to the Facebook ‘like?’ Bring on the confusion!)

Today’s topic: the ultimate writer’s bane! Writer’s block. (Cue dreadful music.)

I’m pretty sure this doesn’t require an explanation, unless the assumption that eeeveryone experienced it at some point or another is wrong. Which it could be… If you’re one of the lucky few, do give the rest of us some tips!

I’ve read and heard plenty about it from famous writers to strangers and friends. All in all, we all get stuck for different, endless reasons at different points in our (writing) lives. In no particular order, these include:

  • bad mood
  • lack of inspiration
  • not enough time (aka too busy/tired/etc)
  • any previously mentioned Obstacle
  • obstructions by things outside of your control
  • procrastination
  • etc, etc, etc

The answer to unblock yourself, if you’ve guessed it, depends on you. I’d like to say there’s no one cure for everyone, but there is one common practice to aim for: let your mind wander! And as many reasons as we have to lock down our minds and creative juices, there are even more to unlock them.

Maybe take a day off from work, read or re-read a book, have a day in and laze around in your PJs eating junk food watching movies or TV shows all day, go take a hike (literally, not– you know), go somewhere you haven’t been and sit there for hours people watching. There are a lot of things you can do, anything that’ll let you think or ponder freely should do the trick. It might take a few tries to find your niche, or if you’re like me it probably depends on your mood that day. (Helpful, right?)

I would guess a good number of you already carry a small notepad or notebook for notes, which definitely helps. I’ve found myself on public transportation when inspiration roundhouses me in the gut. Or you know, the inevitable time you’re trying to fall asleep. Better write those down, they don’t usually come back… (True story, I lost a perfect ending this way before!)

Sure you can force yourself to write a paragraph or for 15 mn every day, or adhere to a certain time (5 to 5:30) every day to get some writing in, but I can’t do that. I find myself wishing for a routine, but if I had one, I’d grow terribly bored… (flashback to agonizingly boring high school schedule) But if you love routines, well hey, set it up and who knows, miracles do happen! Don’t give up too early though, apparently it takes about 4 weeks for new habits to set in and feel normal. Good luck!  頑張れ!

Work in progress update

As for me, I’ll just say that after having a brilliant idea to consolidate two separate short stories into one – for a series – I was stuck. I couldn’t even start writing anything but the setting and even that went through a re-write soon after. It’s been weeks, or uh– a few months to be honest, but just earlier this week I got around to writing a tidbit, and now it seems the juices won’t stop flowing!

Ideas after ideas, from seemingly totally unrelated things that just click and tada~, it’ll fit in there somewhere. I amaze myself sometimes, especially with genius strokes (not to be too modest :P). So I hope I’ll get a few pages written and/or re-written for that first chapter, and maybe soon I’ll be able to post a brief summary of the first book! Stay tuned. 😀

Obstacle #2: P.O.V, 1st vs 3rd person

Second post of my Obstacle Series. I think I’ll post them on Fridays, that way I have a weekend and the week to mull over the topic… IF I can find more topics. (Hint hint: give me suggestions!)

Today’s topic is point of view! Whether you’re writing for your high school/college English class with a carte blanche topic or writing a story you want to submit to a contest, you probably wonder sometimes about which P.O.V to use. (Oh you don’t? Great, see you next week!)

Let’s look at our most common options: 1st and 3rd person. Unless you’re writing a “choose your own adventure” book (and/or fanfiction), I don’t think you use 2nd person P.O.V.

Please note I made ‘protagonist’ plural for simplicity’s sake (no “his/her” thing, it gets old).

1st person P.O.V

You write from the protagonists’ P.O.V’s (most commonly, from what I’ve read anyway), and unless your protagonists refer to themselves in 3rd person, you’ll be writing with “I.”

Everything is from the protagonists’ perspectives, so you don’t need to – and it’d be rather hard to – describe them (physically, personality, etc) in great lengths. Their actions, thoughts and observations do it for you. You can, and probably will anyway, use other characters/rumors/remarks/etc to give your readers a broad overview of their appearance, social status and the likes. (The Hunger Games come to mind.)

It can also be easier to relate to the protagonists and really get familiar and comfortable with them – unless you’re writing characters readers aren’t meant to relate to at all, then by all means.

Every P.O.V has a downside, and of course there are many styles including different narration (omniscient vs limited), but bias comes to mind. After all, everything is from your protagonist’s eyes, so usually readers will side with her/him. (Or is that just me? I feel like half of my friends are more– opinionated when they read than I am, but to each his/her their own.) Then there’s the downside of not being able to describe what ‘s happening at the same time in another town, etc, without breaking away from 1st person P.O.V because it’s limited to your protagonists’ here-and-now (or in the past) moments.

There are ways to get around it, of course, especially the more you write and read. (I should really be taking my own advice half the time.) I don’t know if for some writers it requires cunning or it’s just normal. Hmm.

3rd person P.O.V

You thought of a character, and you want to follow them in their adventure(s). Great. You’ll be using s/he and their names. (Harry Potter comes to mind.)

Unlike 1st person P.O.V, you’ll probably end up describing them to some degree, either as an introduction or still via other characters. Their actions and thoughts will still provide glimpses into their minds, but since you (or someone) are narrating, you can offer suggestions or raise questions the protagonists can’t or don’t see at the moment. (See note.)

Other events (aka plot) might be mentioned in a brief interlude or description in relation to X, but it can be woven in, sometimes so subtly readers might miss it if they blink. Readers can pick which character they like most without the protagonists’ P.O.V’s biases getting in the way.

So, 3rd person P.O.V’s downside? For some, it can be harder to relate to the protagonists without reading “I” or “me,” and it might not feel as if the readers were in the story themselves. (But that might also depend on how good the writer is?) Depending on preferences, there might be too much or too little narrator ‘interference.’

Note: There’s still the question of omniscient vs limited, but either I’ll get to that in a later post or completely bypass it.

It’s a hard choice to make as it affects the entirety of your story! Both of my posted short stories are 1st person P.O.V for some reason. If you’ve read them, do you think they would’ve read the same had they been in 3rd person?

  • Which P.O.V do you prefer?
  • Which P.O.V is your default when you write?
  • Why?
Work in Progress Feedback

What do you think about alternating P.O.V chapter? It’s not uncommon for chapters to be narrated (either 1st or 3rd) by alternating character, so how would you feel if one chapter was 1st person and the next 3rd person? I’m debating this option for my short story, but I haven’t really read it… If you have suggestions, please let me know!

That’s all from me this week, I might’ve inspired myself for next week’s topic. Stay tuned!