Monday Sparks — Writing Tip

christmasw-235357_1280What do evergreen trees think of being cut down and turned into Christmas trees? Is it the hope of all trees on the Christmas tree farm to be selected? Or do they look on the holiday season the same way turkeys do Thanksgiving?

Create a dialogue between several trees at a Christmas tree farm.

Share if inspired!

Writing Tip

hello-1502386_1280Still Naming Names

When developing names for characters, here are some general rules to keep in mind.

1. Names must be easy to read.

2. Names should be appropriate for the genre or historical period.

3. Names can not be ones that are overwhelmingly identified with one person or character.

my-name-is-1185862_12801. Names must be east to read.  This is true for every kind of writing, including science fiction and fantasy. If readers stumble over a name, they will not sit there and puzzle it out. They with either substitute something close to it or just “bleep” over it, which is what I tend to do.

In the middle-grade series Guardians of Ga’Hoole, the author had to create names for talking animals, mostly owls. The names needed to sound unusual, but easily understandable for kids. “Lyze” is an imaginative creation. It looks suitably foreign with the “y” and “z”, but it follows the well-known pattern of silent “e” making the vowel long. Other names used are “Thora”, “Gilda”, and “Felix”, human names but ones that aren’t used much any more.

2. Names should be appropriate for the genre or historical period. The best way to learn this is to read books in your genre and study how other authors have created names. For crafting historically accurate names, research into the appropriate time period is necessary.

The Social Security website has great pages for researching the most popular names from 1879 to the present.

If you can visit the location of your historical story, walk through local cemeteries.  Reading names on the markers will give you examples of the first and last names of different time periods.

3. Names can not be ones that are overwhelmingly identified with one person or character.

In my novel The Truth and Other Strangers, I had two sisters named “Joli”, short of “Jolene”, and “Angel”.  An agent told me I couldn’t use those names together.  They sounded too much like Angelina Jolie.  That really annoyed me.  Here I had thought up two great names, just to have some stranger steal them.  But when I thought it over, I realized that “Joli” wasn’t appropriate for the one character.  She is a hot-tempered redhead, and “Joli” sounds like to should be applied to a jolly, bubbly person.

In the Beyond series of baby names books, authors Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela Redmond Satran provide lists of names that are already taken by famous real and non-real people.  Like, “Sherlock”, “Ebenezer”, “Oprah”, and “Madonna”.  You just can’t work against a name that is so closely identified with one individual.

That series has been the most helpful name books I have found.  With informative essays on style, class, and naming trends, as well as all kind of lists like “Western Cowboys”, “New England Names”, and “Royal Names”, you are overwhelmed with inspiration for character names. Beyond Ava and Aiden is one of their books that I have found helpful.

Writing Tip

nypl-digitalcollections-510d47e3-5cd8-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99-001-wDisaster Don’t Have to be Disasterous

Some of the most interesting holiday events are the unplanned, unforeseeable holiday disasters.  As long as they aren’t tragic, these disasters can provide inspiration for your writing.  Sharing disaster stories is one of my families favorite pastimes when we get together.  Everyone who was involved pitches in during the retelling.  A camaraderie develops between the people who weathered the disaster.  That bond alone is enough reason to write down family disaster stories,  polish them, and if you think it would make a nice gift, give the finished product to those who lived the story.

When I was in high school, my parents had both been sick in December, so holiday activities were postponed or cancelled.  It was just a few days before Christmas, and we still didn’t have a tree.  I drove my junior high-aged sister and my elementary school-aged sister to the local church where we always bought our cut tree.

But when we pulled into the parking lot, no trees were on display, no person taking money from customers.  The only sign that the Christmas tree farmer had used the lot were four or five Christmas trees thrown down beside the lot.  I didn’t know what to do.

Junior high sis took charge.  Yelling at the top of her lungs, she asked, “Does anybody want any money for this tree?”

Nobody answered.

The trees were ours.  We loaded one into the station wagon, placed a sister in the back because there was no room in the front seat,  and headed home with our hot, I mean free, tree.  It’s one of my favorite Christmas memories.

The Christmas I was nineteen is know in my family as the Year of the Plague.  On Christmas Eve, starting with me, a stomach virus felled each member of my family until by Christmas morning, only my dad was left standing.  Collapsed around the house, the rest of us lay wondering if death really was such a bad option.

My oldest sister, coming in that morning from out of town, stayed at my grandparents.  She really enjoyed the extra time with them.  I believe the Year of the Plague is one of her favorite Christmas memories.


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