What’s in a Name? More Than You Think!

Disclaimer: The following analysis of characters and their names are solely my opinion and conclusions I’ve drawn from being a wordsmith, character creator, and a lover of names.

williamshakespeare1

Juliet, from the play, Romeo and Juliet, speaks this famous line. She argues that it doesn’t matter that the young man Romeo whom she loves is a Montague, her family’s archenemy.

But Juliet is wrong. Names are important. Especially when it comes to creating names for characters. And on a more mundane note, who the heck would lovingly pen the name, Toilet, on their newborn baby’s birth certificate. Or Virus? Cesspool? Booger?

I read a lot of fantasy and I love when I can tell that an author put a lot of thought into creating their characters’ names. When my oldest brother read the names I had brainstormed for a book we’re working on together, I smiled until my face ached (okay, fine I’m using hyperbole) because I was pleased that he was pleased with my inventions. Creating names is a lot of fun!

Popular Character Names in Book Series

In Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the wizard Harry Dresden’s full name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Not only is Harry’s name fun to say, but his first name is a nod to Harry Houdini, a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, famous for his sensational escape acts. Dresden’s also named in honor of David Copperfield, an American illusionist and magician who was born in 1956. I’m not sure about the background information on “blackstone” though. I do know that it comes from the Blackstone Group, which is a financial firm founded by two dudes in the 1980s who used the German and Greek parts of their names to create a cryptogram: “Schwarz” is German for “black” and “Peter” or “Petra” in Greek means “stone” or “rock”. Thus, “blackstone”.

HarryDresden

Harry Dresden

Another popular character in urban fantasy, is the one and only Anita Blake. I adored this series and still mourn for the style it was written in over a decade ago. I miss Anita solving crimes, raising the dead, and putting them back to rest. Her full name consists of four syllables. Her first name sounds softer and more romantic to me. Also, Anita certainly had a softer side in the beginning of the series (i.e., her stuffed animal penguin collection). Her name is derived from Sanskrit and means full of grace, mercy, favor, variety, a leader, without guile. In the series, it’s implied that her name is from the Spanish language because her deceased mother is Mexican. Her last name, Blake, is a mystery and where it is derived from is uncertain. According to Mr. Wikipedia it could come from “blac”, a nickname for someone who had dark hair or skin, or from “blaac”, a nickname for someone with pale hair or skin. Another theory is that it is a corruption of “Ap Lake”, meaning “Son of Lake”. I think this uncertainty and duality of dark and pale suits the character of Anita Blake just fine since she has gone from being a character symbolizing justice and daring not to dabble with the dark creatures of her world — vampires, for example — to not only protecting them, but doing the horizontal mambo with them every day, all day.

Anita Blake

Anita Blake

Popular Character Names in TV Series

Olivia Pope’s name is interesting. Her surname evokes images of holiness, righteousness, and power. However, one could argue that the title or word “pope” also conjures images of the exact opposite due to corruption and hypocrisy in the Catholic Church. Likewise, the character, Olivia Pope, in the television series Scandal, is a woman of contradictions.

olivia pope

Olivia Pope

As a crisis manager, her job is to solve problems for her clients who add to the existing drama in her personal life. Her first name comes from Latin and means “olive branch”. Olive branches are a symbol of peace or victory, which fits Olivia perfectly. The fictitious character of Olivia Pope is partially based on real-life crisis manager, Judy Smith. I watched the first two episodes of Scandal and couldn’t continue. There are no dragons and too much mundane drama that I avoid in the daily news. I found it tragic that Olivia, a beautiful, talented, and intelligent woman couldn’t have her happy ending. Granted, it’s her own choices that often keep her from it. Or maybe Shonda Rimes, the show’s creator, wanted to portray a realistic woman who forfeited the search for an impossible “happily ever after” and instead settled for or could be satisfied with “happy enough”? I have no idea. I like Happy Endings. That’s why I often play RPGs and live vicariously through my CGI characters. 😛

Anyway, I predicted that Ms. Pope’s slippery slope into tragedy would continue to worsen and if I became a fan my heart would most likely break. I’m all about keeping my heart intact. 🙂

Another character with a cool name is Nikita from the series (first a movie), La Femme Nikita, which is French for The Woman Nikita. Nikita. Nikita, Nikita. That’s it. No last name. And that’s all that’s needed.

Nikita

Nikita

Why? This name is loaded with goodies! Nikita is an assassin that is paired with great assets — beauty, intelligence, and the ability to kill with ease and efficiency. Her name isn’t even originally French or female. It originated as a masculine Greek name and subsequently a Russian name exclusively for males. The name has been recently adopted as a French name for girls.

 

 

 

Popular Character Names in Movies

Keyser Söze isn’t the name of a breakfast bagel. And no, I’m not referring to one of Moe’s (Welcome to Moe’s), (Tex-Mex eatery — delicious!) salsa. Keyser Söze is the name of the main antagonistic and driving force in The Usual Suspects, one of my favorite movies. I won’t spoil the movie’s epic and mind-blowing twist ending for those of you who haven’t yet seen this cinematic masterpiece. Traditionally, Keyser is a last name and it’s a development of the early Germanic name “Kaiser”, which was derived from the Roman imperial title “Caesar”. In the criminal underworld, Keyser’s great skill,  ruthlessness, and reputation are of epic and mythical proportions. For example, handicapped con artist Robert “Verbal” Kint describes Keyser as “a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. ‘Rat on your pop and Keyser Söze will get you.’ But no one ever really believes.” Poor dears. They should believe.

Keyser_Soze

Keyser Söze

Keyser may be a man of violence and enjoys spreading fear, but like some mega-villains he’s a man of his word. I looked up the meaning of the word “soze” in Turkish and was prompted to look it up in Kurdish. It means “promise“. Keyser Soze is most likely a pseudonym and a small piece of the puzzling, deceptive, and criminal world the “usual suspects” dwell in.

Speaking of the criminal world, how could I not mention John Wick? Before John Wick, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 beckoned action, thriller, and suspense lovers, I didn’t think any movie could bank on the explosions, the mystery, the gunfights, and the gloriously twisted plot that the writers of The Usual Suspects had created. During a heated and no less humorous conversation between a father and son (both elite members to the Russian maffia), important information about John Wick is revealed:

Viggo Tarasov: It’s not what you did, son, that angers me so. It’s who you did it to.

Iosef Tarasov: Who? That fucking nobody?

Viggo Tarasov: That “fuckin’ nobody”… is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him “Baba Yaga.”

Iosef Tarasov: The Boogeyman?

Viggo Tarasov: Well John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman. He was the one you sent to kill the fucking Boogeyman.

Iosef Tarasov: [stunned] Oh.

Viggo Tarasov: John is a man of focus, commitment, sheer will … something you know very little about. I once saw him kill three men in a bar… with a pencil, with a fucking pencil. Then suddenly one day he asked to leave. It’s over a woman, of course. So I made a deal with him. I gave him an impossible task. A job no one could have pulled off. The bodies he buried that day laid the foundation of what we are now. And then my son, a few days after his wife died, you steal his car and kill his fucking dog.

The name John is Hebrew and translates to “Jehovah has been gracious; has shown favor”. And the fact that John Wick is unstoppable and for the most part untouchable seems nothing short of a miracle.  Reeves, who plays John Wick also compared Wick’s story to “[…] a kind of Old Testament revenge story” adding that, “When someone takes the things he cherishes, violence erupts and John can’t temper it.” Though the character’s last name, Wick, is a name Kolstad (the movie’s writer) had used as a reference to his grandfather, the founder of Wick Building Systems, as a fellow writer just because something is simply cool isn’t reason enough to do it. So, I did a little digging. The word wick is Old English and related to both Dutch and German languages. The best definition of the word “wick” that I discovered is:

wick1

/wɪk/

noun

1.

a cord or band of loosely twisted or woven fibres, as in a candle,cigarette lighter, etc, that supplies fuel to a flame by capillary action

2.

(Britslangget on someone’s wick, to cause irritation to a person
john wick2

The second definition is symbolic in regard to how John Wick operates in the criminal underground of assassins. Without his wife’s love, he’s like a wick or woven fiber waiting for fire to light it. In other words, there are two parts to John: his need to settle down and find happiness and the wanton desire to kill and blow things up. And the second definition, which is slang for annoying a person is poetic justice. In the first movie, John just wanted to permanently silence whoever messed with him by stealing his car and killing his dog. Cautionary advice: give him what he wants and he’ll return to his quiet self. Word to the wise: don’t bother John Wick and he’s as sweet as a lamb. 🙂

One of My Own Character Creations

From my vampire series starring the titular main character, Gabriel Lennox, I wanted to make a name that possessed sex appeal, mystery, and a firmness to it. Gabriel_ok
The name Gabriel is Hebrew and means “God is my strength”. The last name Lennox originates from Gaelic and means “lives near the place abounding with elm trees”.  Gabriel Lennox is a strong, sophisticated name and it’s also the surname of one of my favorite singers, Annie Lennox.

Fellow writers, how do you choose character names? What techniques do you use?

Adoring readers, what character names do you love or hate . . . and why?

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir

 

 

 

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WRITING UPDATE: MOONDUST, BOOK TWO OF WAKING DREAM SERIES

A couple of days ago, I finished the entire novel outline of the second book, Moondust, in my first middle-grade novel series, Waking Dream.

I had ideas bumping around in my head for months, but I finally had the time (while the rest of the family slept – lol) to write it down. At this time, there are roughly about 25 chapters. And I have a feeling that that will change as a continuing getting to know the characters — especially three new ones — who are bullies. But I want to write these three young people as realistic and not cookie-cutter villains.

On another note, I’m a hybrid between a pantser and a plotter when it comes to preparing my story. If you’re not familiar with these terms, please refer to this article by Writing Abby that I had to reblog!

Now, I move onto the more difficult step: writing the first draft.

WISH ME LUCK and stay tuned! 🙂

 

 

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Crafting High Fantasy: Setting the Stage

That First Chapter

Writing the first chapter is something I struggle with because I want those first sentences, that first paragraph, that first page to be absolutely fabulous. So, sometimes I’m afraid to write anything at first. I don’t have a lot of time on my hands lately. My three sons, my husband, and my full-time job as a reading teacher keeps me extremely busy!

Since I want that first chapter to draw readers in and never let them go until they’ve completed reading the book, place it down, satisfied or at best, hungry for the next book, I’m overly cautious. And sometimes frozen with fear. Deer-in-headlights-frozen.

Now, I dare not say that I want the first chapter to be perfect because such a place doesn’t exist.perfection and writing

The first chapter is extremely important. Especially when it comes to high fantasy. High fantasy (or epic fantasy) is a subgenre of fantasy defined by its setting in a fictional universe or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, and plot. Whatever that means, right? Thanks Mr. Wikipedia.

Basically, high fantasy, is one of the hardest fiction subgenres to write. I mean, think about it! You’re creating your own world! The continents, the oceans, the seas, the cities, the roads, the people, their cultures, who they trade with, who they fight with, who they may or may not worship. Everything. Single. Blasted. Thing!

It’s overwhelmingly . . . FRACKING-FUNTASTIC!

And the first chapter has the potential to introduce so many things:

  • the mood
  • the tone
  • the main characters
  • the conflict
  • the antagonist(s)
  • what’s at stake
  • the setting

When I originally wrote Prelude to Morning, I didn’t know that it would be a trilogy. I had some ideas that it could possibly be a series. Well, that was only if it didn’t remain a stand-alone novel. After my oldest brother, Serge Desir, fellow author and video game bad-ass and author E. Rose Sabin gave me some brutal and honest feedback on the book’s weaknesses, I realized I had a lot of work to do to make the book as wonderful as it should be. And for a  time, an agent was interested. Until, the world-building fell apart. 🙁

So, I searched for help and re-rendered the map (thanks E. Paige Burks) :

Before:

Reath Before Map

This one I doodled over two days in a composition notebooks years ago. In 2013.

After:

Reath After Map

This one I began drawing on poster board. Still not done!

Next, I created a timeline, which I’ll share in a future post.

The timeline helped me to layout the history of the world of Reath (rhymes with death — an anagram for Earth). The timeline included:

  1. The prehistoric era
  2. Past wars
  3. Catastrophic events

All of these events shaped the world as it is now for the main characters.

So much depth. So much culture. So many languages. So many places. So overwhelming like our world, Earth. And how does one condense so much beauty into a single book.

Which put me at an impasse or is it a fork in the road?

One path would lead me to writing a book that would be heavy enough to murder someone with:BIG BOOK

And a third path appeared to me.  . . I’d have to break the story into more than one book.

And Then there were Three . . .

Bloodcraft Trilogy — (why the term bloodcraft ?–which I’m proud of coining — more on that in a future post).

However, I loved the idea of music being interwoven into this world and used different types of movement names in each of the three books that echoed and underscored the story’s themes.

*Book 1: Rhapsody of the Gods

A rhapsody in music is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations.

Book 2: Prelude to Morning

Preludes are characterized by being short and sweet (relatively), with a melodic and/or rhythmic motif that is featured throughout the piece.   This motif will recur throughout the piece, sometimes differing slightly as the music progresses.  A prelude may be played on its own, or as a preface to another piece, usually more complex.

Book 3: Nocturne of Twilight

Nocturnes are generally lyrical and tranquil pieces. The nocturne is known for being expressive above all else. It follows no specific form, but evolves as the music progresses.

To Prologue or Not To Prologue

In the first several drafts of Prelude to Morning, I originally included a prologue in the beginning. After researching prologues and learning that they’re only necessary if the opening is out of time sequence with the remainder of the story. So, I decided to rename the prologue as chapter one.

However, in my paranormal urban fantasy, Forbidden, Book One of Gabriel Lennox Series, a prologue was necessary because it fit that description and helped to create a creepy ending, which I wrote as a near mirror image epilogue. Thus, coming full circle. New Approved Cover 2015_Forbidden

How do you go about setting the stage for your high fantasy novel?

*Cited source

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Getting to Know You

On my desk, I added a “thank you” note, which reads: “Thank you for taking the time to sit down and spend time with us. Signed, Your Characters.”

The act may seem silly, but the note actually motivated me to place my butt in the chair and write. Even when I was tired, pregnant, and just wanted to curl on the couch and rest.

In order to create believable characters, we need to know them inside and out: the good, the bad, the ugly, the unspeakable, the terrifying, their most embarrassing moments, and their triumphant pastimes. We need to get to know all the things about them.

“So, tell me about yourself? Do you dabble in painting? Do you enjoy coloring outside of the lines?”

And though not everything we know about our characters will appear in the story, these pieces that make up a character’s backstory are important. Because honestly, if our imaginary friends (and enemies) aren’t real to us, they most likely won’t be real to readers either.

I’ve used a lot of questionnaires in the past. At this time I’m using Marcel Proust’s character questionnaire in order to learn more about the two main characters, Alexander Brennan and Tierryn Black, of the second book in the Waking Dream series, “Moondust”. They’re both middle school students. I may teach middle school students, but I’m not completely attuned with their adolescent hopes, fears, dreams, desires, goals, secrets. So, even when I will myself to remember what it was like to be a preteen or a young teenager, those moments seem so foreign to me. Both Alexander and Tierryn are both lucid dreamers. I’ve experienced lucid dreaming on many occasions so if write what you know is true, then I’m doing something right when it comes to that piece of the drafting puzzle. And finally, both characters experienced a lot of growth in the first book titled, “Moonstruck”. I want to make sure that that growth is clear in the second book. Also, for new readers who may not start with book one, I want to include significant events smoothly and in a natural and organic way within the sequel’s plot.

There’s a new antagonist to the series, Mary Katherine (Merricat) Komatsuzaki, (a half Black and half Japanese girl). Since she plays such an important role in this second book, I’ll need to learn more about her too. And of all the questionnaires I’ve seen, the Marcel Proust one seems to suit my needs. 

Besides being a priceless tool for fleshing out characters, completing the questionnaire for each character is a great writing exercise that I think will brainstorm scenes, advances in the plot, enticing twists and turns, which should all lead to the story’s climax and resolution.

Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire

This questionnaire was invented by the noted French author Marcel Proust. These questions are frequently used in interviews so you may want to pretend you’re interviewing your characters.

  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  • What is your current state of mind?
  • What is your favorite occupation?
  • What is your most treasured possession?
  • What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  • What is your favorite journey?
  • What is your most marked characteristic?
  • When and where were you the happiest?
  • What is it that you most dislike?
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What is your greatest extravagance?
  • Which living person do you most despise?
  • What is your greatest regret?
  • Which talent would you most like to have?
  • Where would you like to live?
  • What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  • What is the quality you most like in a man?
  • What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  • What do you most value in your friends?
  • Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
  • Whose are your heroes in real life?
  • Which living person do you most admire?
  • What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  • On what occasions do you lie?
  • Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • What are your favorite names?
  • How would you like to die?
  • If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
  • What is your motto?

That’s the goal! That’s the feeling I want readers to express about my books!

I found this questionnaire at writingclasses.com and a Word.doc format can be found here.

What do you think? Is there anything missing from this list that should be included? What other questionnaires do you find useful?

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Are You a Multitasker?

I’m definitely a multitasker.

I have no problem reading more than one book at a time and keeping track of the characters and plots in each book. It’s entertaining to compare and contrast how the two different books by two different authors. It’s especially fun when both books are from the same genre.

Being a mom to three sons and a wife most likely has a lot to do with me having to accomplish multiple activities at once. My oldest son is an honor’s student and participates in track, volleyball, violin lessons. My toddlers are busy with weekend sports, building Mega Block Worlds with mommy and getting into all kinds of adorable adventures as I wear them out during the day. 🙂 Because when they’re sleeping, I’ve got lots more to do!

Even as a sixth grade reading teacher, I often use the phrase, “Let’s kill two birds with one stone” when teaching my students how to prepare their essays, even before they have finished reading the anchor text. Basically, the process goes like this. During the initial read, students use special text marking (such as check marking, underlining, and writing comments in the margins) to keep track of important ideas and facts. They’ve done this several times throughout the year and then they realized that a lot of the sentences, paragraphs, or sections they’ve underlined, starred, wrote comments about can be used towards the evidence that will appear in their essay or paragraph. Students who don’t mark the text, during the initial reading, are left at a disadvantage because they didn’t use their time wisely. So, yes killing two birds with one stone works! Why?

Because it’s working smarter — not harder!

Lately, I’ve adopted the same practice with my writing.

I know what some of you may be thinking.

Skeptical Reader: “Is she crazy? Multitasking doesn’t work when it comes to writing! Heck, she shouldn’t even be doing that when she’s reading. It’s a possible way to get the characters and the plot mixed up! Poor, deluded soul.”

Moi: Crazy? Uh, maybe. But at least I’m not straitjacket insane. 🙂

Skeptical Reader: “She’s doing it all wrong! She should focus on one story at a time. Polish it until it figuratively blinds the readers with its brilliance! Not literally, because that would definitely suck lemons! And then, only then should she move onto another story.”

Moi: Perhaps. But that hasn’t worked for me. I need to break free, breathe fresh air, cook dinner, fold laundry, do some Zumba before getting back into the literary groove.

So, here are 3 easy ways that you too can multitask as a writer and get more words on the page!

  1. Edit and Revise – If you struggle with what to write next, reread what you’ve already written. Look for weak words, potential plot problems, and inconsistencies with your characters in order to make that story shine like the fabulous diamond it is! If the words are flowing like there’s no tomorrow, keep at it!
  2. Start a New Story – Say you’ve finished a draft of a novel or short story. It’s good practice to let it sit for a few days before delving into it again. Separating from the text for a period of time, gives your mind time to prepare for the arduous task of self-editing. And while you step away from the story for a week or so (in order to return with fresh eyes to it for the editing process) you can begin another story. Perhaps, even a shorter one in order to keep your writer’s eye and mind sharp. After all, the creating process is always more fun. The possibilities seem endless and the characters are like precious, new friends you simply have to know everything about!
  3. Write a blog post or create a YouTube post – In between editing and revising a completed work, you can take the time to step outside of your characters’ minds and just be you. Sharing advice or sharing something new that you tried is a fabulous way to keep the creative juices flowing. Even though I don’t consider myself a poet (often, they’re such a noble breed) I occasionally write a poem or two. It’s a different kind of writing and helps me to get out of a writing jam. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that there’s a fourth step:
  4. REPEAT the process!

Are you also a multitasker and if so, what works for you? If not, how do you fit it all in? Please share! I love learning new things.

 

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