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These are my writing posts from my former blog, spanning 2009-2012. To see new writing posts, click on the blog tab above. To see these archived post organized by topic, click "For Writers" above.

Entries in new orleans (2)

Monday
Oct172011

5 Tips For Not Screwing Up Your Character's Name by Suzanne Johnson

It's genre Monday and today Suzanne Johnson is going to cover a topic I seem to always have trouble with--naming characters in a way that isn't confusing, redundant, or just plain wrong.

For the record, these tips also apply to naming your children. :)

Take it away Suzanne...

Hello, my name is anonymous

Photo by quinn.anya

 5 Tips for Naming Your Character (aka I Screw Up So You Don’t Have To)

I’m in the throes of writing the third book in my upcoming urban fantasy series, and have spent the last hour looking at a key scene involving my heroine and a regent (think: big boss) vampire who might or might not be a murderous necromancer. So far, the vampire’s name is VAMPIRE. Catchy, eh?

Names are no different for paranormals than for romance—or any other kind of fiction. They have power. They resonate (we hope in a good or bad way, depending on the character) with readers. Sometimes we struggle to find them, and sometimes they come to us unbidden. They are important, in other words. And if we are writing series....we’re going to be stuck with them for what we hope is a very long time.

So here are a few lessons about character names I’ve learned the hard way. Think of it as “Suzanne screws up...so you don’t have to.”

The cardinal rule: LOVE the name because you never know how long you might be stuck with it.
I’m like most writers, I suspect, in using a hodgepodge of methods to come up with names. My heroine—technically the only character in my series who cannot be killed—is Drusilla Jane Jaco. What a horrific name for a young, cute blonde wizard, in retrospect. When I started the first book in the series in 2008, I thought naming her after my great-great grandmother would be fun. A little in-joke between me and, well, me. Three books later, I’m tired of finding new ways to explain how she goes by DJ and was named after great-aunt Dru and hates her name blah blah blah, because that has to be done in Every. Single. Book.

Just because Charlaine Harris got away with it doesn’t mean you should try.
Just as you don’t want names that are uber-pretentious (Lord Ar’guth’nirz) or unpronounceable (Cthulhu), you also don’t want names so plain they put your readers to sleep. In one of my manuscripts, Beth Harris was Beth Harris for 93,000 words...until I realized she was bland and vapid, and her name proved it (my apologies to any of you named Beth Harris). The exception to this rule is if your own name is Charlaine Harris. In her ridiculously popular Sookie series (technically, the Southern Vampire series, from which HBO made “True Blood”), Harris planted tongue firmly in cheek and gave the well-endowed Sookie the surname of Stackhouse. Her vampires were Bill and Eric (again tongue in cheek...Eric, who was a Viking when he was turned vampire, uses the last name Northman). But still, I wonder, now that the series has reached book number twelve or something like that, if Ms. Harris ever wishes Bill were named...Jackson, or something un-Bill-like.

Want a really cool name for your character? Use surnames. There are several good online databases of surnames, even broken down by country. One of my own favorite characters is named Mirren. And yes, he was named after Helen Mirren (but don’t tell him since he’s a big macho alpha male and would feel emasculated. I’ve managed to keep that secret from him so far).

Use a name that’s pronounced like it’s spelled.

Just for your own peace of mind. I love my merman twins Rene and Robert Delachaise and their daddy Toussaint, but I know people are going to pronounce their names wrong unless they’re from South Louisiana. It really doesn’t matter except that I like their names with the correct pronunciation: “Renny” and “Row-bear” and “Too-sont” “Della-shay.” So if I’m the only one who enjoys the way a name sounds tripping off the tongue, isn’t that kind of like a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear?
Check your history.

This is a lesson most applicable to writers of historicals or paranormals. Poor, dull Beth Harris’ love interest in my paranormal romance was a 400-year-old Irish vampire named Galen, born in 1570 in the area near Kinsale and turned vampire when he was in his early 30s. I loved Galen Murphy. He was Galen for months and months...until a savvy beta reader, damn her, did a little research and pointed out gleefully that the name Galen was not in use in Ireland in 1600—in fact, it didn’t make it there until the 1800s. So Galen bit the dust, replaced by Aodhan, a fine bit of Gaelic that today is Aidan. But he’ll always be Galen to me.

Variety is good.

Look at your cast of characters as a whole and make sure there aren’t similar names. Not starting with the same letter, certainly, but also not all hard consonant sounds or soft vowel sounds. Did I follow this advice? Of course not. It’s why, three books into my series, I still have major characters named Jean and Jake. Never mind that Jean is an undead French pirate and Jake is a honey-tongued devil from Picayune, Mississippi, who owns a Bourbon Street bar. Jean and Jake; Jake and Jean—and throw in DJ, just so we’ll have another J going. And remember Aidan, who replaced Galen? His brother’s name is Owen. Aidan and Owen. Owen and Aidan. Vowels. So confusing. Don’t do it.
So, there you have it. Now, I’m still looking at my new vampire, who has to compete on the playing field with DJ, Jake, Jean, and Alex (my only character with the good sense to take a unique, likeable, pronounceable name). Perhaps Adam? No....

In honor of names, my recommended read this month is Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows, Book 1)
, a funny, sexy urban fantasy by Kim Harrison and the first in her long-running Hollows series. In it, you’ll find Rachel, Ivy, Trent, Jenks, Kisten, and Al. (AL, you might ask? Well, yeah, he’s a demon and it’s short for Algaliarept.)
 

 





What’s been your most problematic character name?

 

Suzanne Johnson is an author of urban fantasy “with romantic elements.” Her first book, Royal Street, a magic-based fantasy set in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina, will be released by Tor Books on April 10, 2012. Two more in the series will be released in Fall 2012 and Spring 2013. Find Suzanne online at her Preternatura blog, or read about her books at her website.

*Look for more from Suzanne here every 3rd Monday of the month!

 

 

 


“...a sexy, sizzling tale that is sure to have readers begging for more!" –Jo Davis, author of I SPY A DARK OBSESSION

 

 

CRASH INTO YOU is now available for pre-order!

Read an excerpt here.



All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing or re-posting. Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author. ©Roni Loren 2009-2011 |Copyright Statement|

 

Monday
Sep072009

Where Y'at? Regional Dialect

 

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but in case you haven't been reading (and why not?!) I'm originally from New Orleans. I had the privilege of growing up in the place of spectacular food, drive-thru daiquiri shops, Mardi Gras parades, haunted plantations, and above ground graveyards. Don't let the Hurricane Katrina aftermath scare you, New Orleans is a great place to visit and is home to some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet. It's also home to one of the most unique dialects in the country. The mix of Cajun, French, and Spanish influences has created quite a language amongst the "natives", including myself.
So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, each region of the country has its quirky terms and turns of phrase. An everyday saying to someone in Texas may be completely lost in translation to a reader in Maine. This is okay if your story is taking place in a certain region and you're using the dialect to create authentic dialogue, but if this is not the case, then you're just going to confuse people. This is usually most noticeable when you read books written by a British author. Even though we speak the same language, many of the terms and phrases are unfamiliar to us.
At first, I didn't give this much thought. I mean, it's obvious what's regional and what's standard, right? Hmm. Not so much. There were things I've said all my life that I had no idea were specific to Louisiana. When I moved to Texas, I met a few furrowed brows on these things. So when writing, you need to make sure that you're regional influence isn't obvious, unless you want it to be.
For fun, here are a few Louisiana terms and their definitions. If you watch True Blood, insert Rene's (from season one) Cajun accent--that was authentic (a rarity for television/movies. We don't twang, people.)
I'm sure you can see how some of this could get me in trouble as a writer, lol.
N'Awlins Lingo

Where y'at? = Where are you? We also are referred to as y'ats because of this.
Ax = ask - I never realized I said it this way until I moved to TX and my coworker was like, you're so cute, you reverse the letters aks instead of ask. I still have to make a conscious effort not to do this.
Been Having = have been having ex.) I been having that shirt forever
Bobo (not boo boo) = small injury
Boo = term of endearment
Cher (sha) = term of endearment, "my sweet"
Bra = a form of address between men, like bro or dude, (not an undergarment), podnuh serves this purpose too
Brake Tag = inspection sticker for your car. I still say this one.
By your house = at your house ex.) I slept by your house. We don't use at in this way.
Make dodo = sleep
Dressed = to order a sandwich with everything on it
For = often used in place of at or by ex.) the party's for seven
Gris-gris (gree-gree) = voodoo ex.) he put the gris gris on me
Inkpen = pen (okay, I'm using a website for reference because I still don't realize some of these are regional. Does everyone else not say inkpen? lol)
Coke = any soft drink ex.) what kind of coke you want, Dr. Pepper or Sprite?
Interstate = any major road. We don't say highway or (god forbid) freeway. That gives away a tourist every time.
Make groceries = to shop for groceries
Neutral ground = the grassy part in the middle of a road, the median
Parish = our counties
Parraine = godfather
Nanny = godmother (not hired help)
Pass by = to stop and visit (not to drive by) ex.) I'll pass by your house later.
Mosquito Hawk = dragonfly

Stoop = the front steps on your porch
Yeah you right = You've got that right
Pirogue = small boat, canoe
Parade = things must be thrown to the crowd--beads, cups, doubloons, coconuts, brussel sprouts (veggies for st. patricks day only). Parades with just waving people on floats don't count. We'll get angry. :) Yes Macy's, that includes you.
Crawfish = NOT crayfish or crawdads
Oh, how the spellchecker loved this post. Now you can understand why I'm so screwed up. :) P.S. in the picture above, that restaurant in the background, Court of Two Sisters, is FABulous. If you ever visit, don't miss their Sunday brunch.
So I'm curious, what terms or turns of phrase are unique to your area? Have you caught yourself using regional speak in your writing?
**Today's Theme Song**
"Iko Iko"--The Dixie Cups
(player in sidebar, come on,
everyone needs a little Mardi Gras music in their day)