Creating a character list

Creating characters can be fun. You develop their characteristics, physical traits, and their backstories. And you get to name them. Now you don’t always need to spend a lot of time on characters. If they are a minor character, you will spend less time developing them then say your protagonist. But as your protagonist runs into people sometimes those people at least need a name – and perhaps a description.

The pert waitress may come over and announce her name is Sally, interrupting your character’s dark thoughts. Sally won’t probably get even a last name. Heck, you probably could write the scene without giving the waitress a name.

But if your character runs into many of the same characters – perhaps who live in the same apartment building or down at the local bar, those people might be better off with names.

The other day, I was working on my current WIP. It is the first book in a second trilogy about Lina and Val, the main characters from my first trilogy, The Elemental. There was already a large cast of characters in that trilogy and now we are adding to that group. And that means naming more major, minor and bit characters.

I’ve written several posts about how to name characters. But the tricky thing is that after six books, I’ve used a lot of the names I like. Plus, I am writing fantasy so none of my characters have Christian names like John and Michael. I am for more unique names though there are a few common names mixed in.

Since I am working with a large cast of characters in this world, I do have a spreadsheet of the names. Actually, as I write any of my books, I usually have a spreadsheet with the character names, locations, travel times, timeline and chapter lengths.

It was when I was naming two thieves that my latest WIP that I realized that I might need a master list of names I’ve already used and in which book they appeared. It isn’t that I can’t use names again, but I would rather not always use the same names – no matter how much I like them. I mean I know not to use Val, Grayson or Soren as these were main characters, but what about Elias or Darius?

I’m not saying you need to do this, but it has turned out to be very interesting. I did find out that I have a character named Delwin and Elden in every one of my books. And I have 265 named characters over 5 full-length novels, my short story and my current WIP. That feels like a lot, and I expect this list to continue to grow as I write the rest of this trilogy.

Sharing a great writing website

The other day I was writing the scene in my latest Work in Progress, and I noted that I tend to use some words or phrases quite a bit. In a conversation, people nod, shake their head, shrug, and so on. And as this is the first draft, it is quite normal to fall into using these words or phrases. But I was thinking rather than wait until my next round of editing, what words or actions could I use instead?

Well, a quick search on the internet led me to this blog post of 100+ Ways to say Shrug by Kathy Steinemann.

Here are the first lines of her post:

“Perhaps you rely on shrugs as action beats to differentiate between speakers in dialogue; or maybe you’re on an early draft, and you write the first thing that comes to mind.”

Eureka! She hit the nail on the head. This was just my problem. I quickly read her post where she gave easy explanations and plenty of examples.

Looking through the titles of other posts, I saw many that were interesting. Here are some posts I thought could help any writer:

100+ Ways to say Shrug –

200 Ways to say Shake the Head –  (which in some societies is a positive thing rather than a negative)

200+ Alternatives for Wide Eyes –

And it isn’t just phases such of these…here are some posts on verbs or adjectives.

350+ Ways to Replace the verb “Take” –

500+ Ways to Replace the verb “Make” –

200+ Ways to say Embarrassed –

150+ Ways to say Confused –

150+ Ways to say Overwhelmed –

150+ Ways to say Disappointed –

200+ Ways to say Excited –

And if you peruse her site, you might find even more helpful blog posts. I know I’ll be returning to read some of these…after – or maybe while – I work on finishing my first draft.

Trying to stay on task…again

You would think with the COVID-19 pandemic run rampant in San Antonio, Texas that I would have all the time in the world to write, to finish my first draft of my latest book. We are after all supposed to be staying home…again. Yet, here it is that time is slipping by and I am not getting as much done as I would like on the writing front.

Sigh. This is a typical problem for me. And I am sure it is a problem for many Independent Authors who do not write full-time. It is my other life that is encroaching on my time. As I have said before on this blog, I have a problem saying no when it comes to volunteering. I am involved in four different school related boards – 2 local Parent-Teacher Associations (one in which I am president), our local council (that oversees 56 PTAs in our school district) and the high school orchestra board. Yikes, that is a lot.

And in addition to those volunteering opportunities, I also work part-time for my husband’s law firm and am the mother of two children – ages 12 and 15. (Yeah, and the 15-year-old is learning to drive so that is taking up my time too.)

So instead of being tempted by Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, I am finding these other obligations interfering with my writing time. I feel like every year I write about not having enough time and it looks like this year is no different.

As always, I say that I am going to buckle down and start writing. My plan is to set aside an hour a day for writing with the goal of finishing my first draft by the end of the month.

Whether I will be able to keep up with this and not feel the need to spend my time soliciting donations for an upcoming silent action (though so many companies won’t be in the place to donate) only time will tell.

For the rest of you, here are links to other posts to help you stay on your writing task.

Tips for avoiding internet distraction (including email) – click here

Tips for setting and keeping writing goals – click here

Good luck to us all! And stay safe and healthy!


Writing out of order

As I have been writing this blog for nearly 8 years now, finding writing topics has become harder and harder. I feel like I have covered so many topics multiple times. Sometimes I try to look at what I am currently writing for inspiration. I am still working on my first draft of the first book in a follow up trilogy to my The Elemental trilogy.

Now I am not a planner. I do not outline my books before I write. I do have a loose outline and typically plan out a few chapters at a time. And often I do have the end of the book in mind when I begin writing. But since I only have a loose outline, I am free to let my characters dictate how the story goes. This method works for me – usually.

I and many other writers typically write our stories in order, one chapter after the other. That is the logical way to do it.

However, doing this is not always the best way. There are times when I seem stalled with a scene or a section of my book. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block. It is more not feeling the section. Maybe I am unsure what needs to happen or how to write what I can see so clearly in my head.

Out of Order - Liquipedia Rocket League Wiki

So, when this happens, I do something that I often suggest if you do have writer’s block. I pick a different scene to work on. It could be something that happens a chapter or so later. Or it could be a scene I’ve been thinking about for the end of the book. No one said you had to write in chronological order. Sometimes you need to write what excites you.

With my book The Heir to Alexandria, I had several scenes that I knew would happen when I first came up with the idea for this book. So, I did write a few of them first or wrote them when I was inspired because I knew they would be used in the story.

Of course, if you pick a scene too far advanced in your story, you may not know exactly what is happening and whatever you write may have to be reworked to fit into your story. Or if your story goes in a totally different direction, you may have to delete the scene all together.

I won’t say that jumping around writing different scenes is the best way to write a novel. But if you are stuck or have a scene in mind, there is nothing wrong with writing something that will appear elsewhere in your story. Write what inspires and excites you. The main thing is you are writing.

Why writers must be readers

I’m sure you have heard it – from teachers, other writers and in books on writing – “Writers need to be readers.” Or something to that effect.

Writers work with words and it is in their best interest to know them well. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician not listening to music or a chef who never samples other foods. Reading and writing go hand in hand.

Reading is not simply important for writers. It is essential to making them better writers.

Benefits of reading:

  • Reading other works of fiction can give you strong fundamentals in story structure and plot development. You can learn many techniques just by reading a variety of other works.
  • Reading allows you to see what works and what doesn’t work. Not all books with thrill you. You can learn a lot from books you don’t enjoy or don’t finish.
  • Reading can inspire you and ignite your imagination.
  • Reading can motivate you to move forward with your own work.
  • Reading lets you gain new knowledge on a variety of different topics. It allows you to understand language better and can expand your vocabulary.
  • Reading can expand your world. It allows you to step into someone else’s shoes and experience new things.
  • Reading is a great way to escape. Skip learning anything and just enjoy being transported into another world.

And you don’t have to read just fiction. You can newspapers and magazines or non-fiction and how to books. Writers should read a variety of works.

I know sometimes we are busy and feel we don’t have time to read. Or sometimes we are so absorbed in our own work that we may not want to be distracted by reading. But there is always a time for reading whether it is daily, on weekends or just on vacation. You can read while you eat your lunch at work or while waiting in the pickup line at your child’s school or while they are in gymnastics or karate. Take this time to read a magazine instead of scrolling through Facebook.

And if you don’t have time to read, you can also listen to audiobooks on your commute, while doing chores or while exercising.

Side note – I’ll admit that when I am in the midst of writing – really in a groove – I resist reading. That is because often when I read, I do get absorbed into the story and all I want to do is keep reading. Then I end up reading when I should be writing.

You write for your readers. No amount of learning grammar rules and writing techniques can replace understanding your readers and to do that you need to be a reader yourself.

So take some time to read, to enjoy what you read. Get lost in the language, get lost in the story. Everything you learn as a reader; you can use as a writer.