07 October 2013

On naming characters

from Yahoo! Answers

Any suggestions on female character name for my novel?



Romance/Sci Fi Novel
What are some suggestions for a nice female name in a romance novel? I do not want to be too generic, and I would like something that an audience will find pleasant.
 
Character Description: 19, independent, shy, naturally attractive, goal-oriented


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Best Answer - Chosen by Asker



Try baby-name guides, many of which are on the Web. Given a few names' meanings you can decide how you want her to be called.

A problem of this kind is like a band searching for a name for their act. To my mind, the name of the band always comes first, like a kind of thematic idea; it suggests the style of music, the style of performance, the number of instruments and even the personalities of the players. Without a name, a band has no clue.

I think a character is much the same way. When you think of a character, you think of his name first; then you come to 'know' the person almost as though he were a *real* person you have met and are getting to know. I tend to make use of astrological signs, ethnic background, placement in family (1st child, youngest child etc.), lefthandedness/righthandedness, age, day of the week when born ('Monday's child is fair of face', etc.), religion and other factors to define a character. Knowing the meaning of the character's name is just one more part of that.

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01 October 2013

On writing cross-gender narrative

from Yahoo! Answers Canada:

Open Question

 

Help with a short story question..?


I read 'The Groom Service' by Michael Dorris but there is one question that I'm stumped on.  It asks: 

'What impact does a male author have on the content of the story?'

The short story is basically about a Native boy in a society where woman rule and ultimately in order to marry his prospective wife he needs to do things like hunt in order to see that he is worthy.

The author of this short story is male but I'm not sure how he would have any impact on this woman-dominated society. Any ideas?


First answer (still-open question)



I think it is vital for any author to develop a sense of himself, or herself, OUTSIDE that of the characters he or she writes. In other words, the author must not automatically identify himself or herself with characters, even the principal ones-- and especially when it comes to gender.
 
I have always written fiction, since I was 15. This is a very long time now. For the first 20 years I tended to write in the first person, when telling a story with a male protagonist, and in the third-person omniscient when it came to stories about other principal characters. The male narrators were easy-- they were like myself. I now view this as essentially immature for a writer; but in those days I was immature as a writer and it was all I knew. In writing with female main characters, I was essentially an outsider, an observer of female points of view but not an actor of them. (I mean, how could I have been otherwise? I am male-- always have been.) Even when I got married, my wife was still a separate person from me.
 
Then two things happened-- I got America OnLine in the 1990s, and I raised two daughters (no sons). I learned female points of view by observing them much more closely, and I developed a few online novels in which I posted the mentality of a female character and allowed readers to interact with it (in today's terms we would call this a 'blog'). I learned how other men, other than myself, treat women, almost as though I were in the place of the women, and was able to incorporate that into my work. The prime result was my epistolary (first-person, in journals or letters) novel Pamela; or Virtue Reclaimed
 
Virtue Reclaimed was modelled on the 1741 epistolary novel Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded, an epistolary novel by then-53-year-old Samuel Richardson who drew on his experience as a teen reading novels to girls in sewing circles (and hearing all their chatter and gossip) and his later experience in writing etiquette guides. From reading his Virtue Rewarded I learned not only that a male writer can depict a female POV credibly (the book was a best-seller in the 1740s and the first novel printed in America) but that it just may appeal to female writers all the more. Everyone who read bits of my Virtue Reclaimed has adored it-- their most common question being, 'However did you get that young girl's POV so perfectly?' 
 
Currently I am promoting Deirdre, the Wanderer, a series about a teenaged runaway who hitchhikes the world on a shoestring. All the reviews have praised the accuracy of details and the believability of the character herself. Deirdre is as real an ordinary teenaged girl as ever there was in literature-- 'modest, lovably imperfect Deirdre, who may well be one of modern literature's most engaging protagonists' (from the publisher's press release for the second instalment of the series).
 
It all comes down to the writer's skill, not only with words and writing but in his or her empathy for the human condition. For example, in my series, Deirdre isn't described in terms of her hair colour, height, lips texture or bra size, like many physically-minded men might have done. In fact that stuff is never even mentioned at all. That's too subjective and irrelevant anywhere. If I called her blonde and shapely, slender brunettes might not want to relate. The more important point is that Deirdre is any girl, anywhere, suffering the same stuff as any girl would in the same situations-- and you fill in the details about what she looks like with your own impressions.
 
If I have to say so myself (which I don't), I am apparently pretty good at this. I lay it down to my inherent and intuitive respect for all girls and women everywhere. And I believe it's this kind of consideration that can make any writer ascend to some higher level in being an observer of human interaction-- as Jane Austen always claimed one must be.
 
'If you can do it, do it.' --from Love Me Do, by Jonnie Comet (that's me!).


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31 August 2013

If you were forced to spend 24 hours with a random stranger...

from Yahoo! Answers UK

Resolved Question

If were forced to spend 24 hours with a random stranger... how would the façade of each personality change?

How would start out probably? (personality façade)... and how would change during each 4 hours or more and why? how quickly first façade would go away and why or how depends

Best Answer - Chosen by Asker

I think that entirely depends on the people involved. Some people might not appear (to others' eyes) to have changed at all. But given such a situation, like if these people were alone together in a trapped train, or something, I think it's a given that they would both change profoundly after this.

An example is the Discovery Channel show Naked and Afraid in which a man and a woman who have never met are dropt off in an alien place, deprived of all their possessions and clothes (except for one item each) and given a challenge-- to go somewhere, to make something, etc. No matter how independent or bold they may be in the rest of their lives, the pairs invariably find that they are profoundly vulnerable to the world about them-- but NOT to each other. They MUST work as a team, or fail-- and failure can mean actually dying of exposure, animal attacks, bug bites, malnutrition, anything.

I think this is pretty analogous to your question. In short, the people would gradually become more trusting with each other, open, honest, even friendly.

Permit me another example. In my novel Deirdre, the Adventurer I include a scene in which teenaged runaway Deirdre must share an Indian railway compartment with two Indian uni students and a nun, none of whom she has ever known before. The first time she goes to the loo she takes all her luggage with her. Gradually, by degrees, she comes to trust these women enough to actually leave the train at the ten-minute stops, leaving all her worldly goods behind with them, to get fruit from the stands for them all, paying with her own money. She has learnt that a stranger is no different from herself-- to the strangers, she is the stranger, vice versa.

I think strangers thrown together is a marvellous vehicle for storytelling, in fiction or in nonfiction, because it permits the storyteller to teach a wonderful lesson about human nature.

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Asker's Rating:

5 out of 5

Asker's Comment:

thanks

10 August 2013

On having a personal library

from Yahoo! Answers

Open Question

I want to start a mini library- where do I start?


Something in between $150-200 is my price range for buying books.  What size of bookshelf do I need?  Is it easy to find bargain books?  Is it cheaper in Indigo/Chapters or online?


Jonnie Comet

I can't answer this question because I didn't 'plan' my 'library'.  I just acquired books I wanted to read and read them. Now I have probably a thousand books, mostly paperback versions of major literature (chiefly 18th-C novels of manners), young teens' lit (because I taught it), young and self-published authors' works (because I encourage them), and philosophy and history works (because it is tangential to my major). Shelves came because I needed them.  This collection, including several hundred antiques, is probably worth six or seven thousand US dollars.

That said, in the 18th C. it was common for people to 'plan' household libraries. In a great house, a gentleman with no particular desire for reading would come into a room called 'the library', and he would have to furnish it. People bought books by the running foot-- 'I need 147 running feet of books for these shelves' --and then hire a guy to go into the city and procure them. The gentleman didn't care what they were-- he would never read them. They were just wall dressing.

Flash forward to The Great Gatsby (1925) in which Owl Eyes is wandering about JG's great library and takes down a few volumes, observing that the pages have not been cut. Books were printed in multiples of 16 pages so that the paper of the pages could be folded first and bound into the book. Then someone would have to slice the folded ends that remained on the outside (which is why some 'old' books have rough-edged or ripped pages). Owl Eyes marvels at this. 'What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop too-- didn't cut the pages.'  He applauds Gatsby, who was trying to make a great impression with this library of books he would never read, for being honest enough to have not cut the pages to make it look like he HAD read them. It was phony and Gatsby let it look that way.

It sounds to me you want a Gatsby library. The best libraries are NOT impressive collections of the 'right' books. They are just collections of what we readers like to have about us, so we can savour seeing these books over and over, and savour reading them over and over. Get the books YOU like, ignore everyone else, and don't call it a 'library' at all. It's for only you.

(That reminds me-- as I am moving onto my boat I can no longer keep all my books. Anyone want to peruse MY library and take home a few? --wink)

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01 August 2013

What makes a good story ending?

from Yahoo! Answers--

What makes a good ending?


When watching some films or reading some books, I find that while the beginning and middle parts can be amazing, the ending can sometimes disappoint. Are there essential parts to every ending that make it a good one? If so, what would you say they are?




Best Answer - Chosen by Voters


The mode of ending you choose has mostly to do with the story you wrote. For a comedy, the ending must satisfy the readers' common sensibility (the word comedy being based not on humour but in the word common, such as in communion, community, etc.). Give the people what they expect-- the bad guys go to prison, the lovers get married.

For a tragedy, the one we have come to like most must die or suffer, from some fault of his own but one which we would prefer to forgive. Jack Sparrow at the end of the 2nd 'Pirates' movie is sort of like this. Shakespeare's tragic heroes, such as Lear, are like this. After all his growth of character, Lear still dies. This makes us sad.

In gothics, the main message is amoral or naturalistic (naturalism being an offshoot of the gothic). Fate, chance, luck, or circumstances beyond control determine the outcome.  Lord Of The Flies is like this. See Nicholas Sparks' Message In A Bottle for a really egregious example of a pointless ending-- not anything that can be expected, only random. (Really any Nicholas Sparks ending is like this, very Hemingwayesque. --ick.) This tends to frustrate readers and audiences (like me) who want some sense of order or righteousness at the end.

Chief amongst the appeal of an ending should be some element of surprise. In a comedy, for which the ending is a foregone conclusion throughout the whole story, you can still provide something interesting, such as two secondary characters getting married as well (A Midsummer Night's Dream), or the couple coming into a fortune simply for being just such good people, when they would have been satisfied just to have each other (Our Mutual Friend). In a tragedy, you can provide some glimmer of hope in that the Horatio who will take over the kingdom gets a lovely bride or an added accolade into the bargain.

In a gothic, there isn't much hope for surprise-- the ending itself is a surprise, typically unfulfilling-- the hero doesn't win by his own devices but is saved by a random passing ship or because the rope holding the villain breaks or because an animal comes and eats his enemies. It means nothing-- there is no 'message'. These are the ones you probably hate the most.

I do not mention cliffhangers between instalments of a series because they're not really endings. There is a whole set of other rules for a good cliffhanger.

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28 July 2013

Regarding spelling - Learnt, Dreamt, Leapt, Burnt, Knelt, Slept, Spelt...etc

from Yahoo! Answers--  

Resolved Question

A question regarding spelling - Learnt, Dreamt, Leapt, Burnt, Knelt, Slept, Spelt...etc?


I have grown up using words like learnt or slept or spelt...etc all my life. I watch TV (I have the subtitles on due to sometime being unable to hear things properly), and even then they're said and spelt with the 't' on the end (instead of it being learned, it's learnt for example). 
 
I have always been taught that this is correct. 
 
Recently, however, I've had people come to me and basically pull me to pieces by saying that I don't know how to spell or write. They say that dreamt isn't even a word and that it's dreamed - the same for many, many other words. Basically, they're saying that all of this is incorrect, even though I hear it and even read it every day (I was watching BBCs Merlin yesterday and I swear Gaius saying 'learnt'). 
 
A few days ago I think someone pulled me up because I had used burnt, and then said that I was wrong and that burnt wasn't even a real word - that it was burned, even though burnt sounded completely right to me. 
 
I don't understand. Until now (even in school), I was never told that words like those were 'unacceptable', and yet now I find myself attacked by some people who say things like 'you can't even spell correctly' or 'those words don't even exist'. 
 
I'm really confused. 
 
Do they exist? Have I been spelling things wrong all these years? 



Best Answer - Chosen by Asker

 



The difference between '-t' and '-ed' has fallen largely into one of usage, not strict rules. As an author I found myself doing this too inconsistently and finished up making up my own 'rule' for it-- and then following it. I call it the Burnt Toast Rule

I use the '-t' ending for past participles and the '-ed' ending for simple past. This follows the use of when the verb form is being used as a participial, such as in 'burnt toast'. You would not say you ate 'burned toast' for breakfast; you would always say (or mean to say) 'burnt toast'. So for the past participle I follow the same rule-- 'I burned the toast' and 'I had burnt the toast.' Consistently used, this begins to make sense. 

The problem in US usage is that people (particularly young, less-well-read people) tend to *assume* the '-t' ending is either standard, regular usage (it's not, in the US) or else indicative of an elevated awareness of language (read that: pretentiousness). I had a journalism student, writing about the cheerleaders for the paper, write that they 'ampt up their routines'. This failed the spelling and editorial checks and I asked her about it. She said, 'Yeah, you know; like to amp it up.' 

This-- I discerned-- was (then, 2002) slang usage for 'amplified' (after which you wouldn't use up anyway). I said, 'Then spell it correctly.' --meaning 'amped'. 

She thought the '-t' ending made words look more intelligent (really?) and must have seen that the ampt really didn't look or work well at all, but stuck to her misconception. 

Unfortunately UK usage is falling under too much US influence and is becoming more of a mishmash than ever. For writers the best tactic is to gain a familiarity with the most formal and/or most educated British writers using standard written and edited English ('SWEE') and to learn from and perhaps emulate them.   I have the Prince of Wales' excellent 1984 architecture book A Vision Of Britain and determined that whatever usage the POW is using *must* be the *proper* form; so I tend to use that when it matters, such as in third-person/omniscient narration and in nonfiction.
   

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Asker's Rating:

5 out of 5

Asker's Comment:

All the answers were really useful and pointed out the difference between British and American English (didn't realise there were that many differences). Thanks Jonnie for the 'burnt toast rule' - it actually made things a lot clearer :) Thanks

This question about "How long does it tak… " was originally asked on Yahoo! Answers United Kingdom

27 April 2013

How long does it take to become a good writer?

from Yahoo! Answers--

How long does it take to become a good writer?



My writing skills suck, and that's putting it nicely. I was wondering how long it takes to become a good writer and how to become a really good writer?




Best Answer - Chosen by Asker


It takes decades.

Start by reading.  Read all the literature you can.  Enjoy and understand the stories; but pay attention to the authors' craft-- how they use the language, how they describe things, how they set up the plot and provide suspense, and so on.  There is nothing wrong with sort of copying another author's style, at least when you are getting started.  Many people have begun this way.  I wrote Love Me Do as a modern (1970s) take on The Great Gatsby.  My style is/was very different from Fitzgerald's; but even when I teach Gatsby in the classroom today I am sort of amazed at myself for having understood (and sort of copied) his book so well... when I was 17.  And Love Me Do is not at all a bad book.


The second thing, as you begin to read a lot, is to try to discern good writing from bad.  Avoid Nicholas Sparks and Stephanie Meyer.  They tell great stories but their craft is not worth emulating.  They write after their audience-- 8th-year girls.  Move on from that. Read Vonnegut, Rand, Delterfield, Trollope. Explore stuff you never thought you would like. Again, study craft. 


Sting, the bass player for The Police, once said, 'Whenever I run out of song ideas I go back to my craft.'  He sits and plays the bass for hours on end, for days on end. And we thought this guy was good; and still he practises.  Why? --because there is truth in the adage that one learns well by doing.   So, do.  Write everything and anything that comes into your mind.   Read, think of something, write that down.  Critique films, TV, the books you read-- decide what is bad and good about each.  Criticise your own writing from days/months/years ago.   Improve it.  This is not playing for an audience; it is practice.  But it's the only way you can grow.  To avoid attempts, even when they (will) end in failure, is to choose to not improve.  You can't pitch a ball till you try to do it.   So, try.  Fail.  Learn.  Try again.  Fail again.   Learn more.  And repeat. 


As you write, go back to the books you liked, read alternate passages, and compare them.  Is your grammar/mechanics/spelling/usage equivalent to that guy's?  If not, why not?   Evaluate and improve.  This is called editing.   It's been said that there are no great writers; there are only diligent editors.  All writers are editors before they are 'famous published authors'. Get out of your head the idea that the first endeavour is the purest, the sweetest, the most valuable because it's so pure and sweet and original.  That's Romantic; and whatever they write, no good writers are purely Romantic.   They believe in hard work-- and that lies in editing, revising, critiquing, really looking judiciously at what they have written. There is nothing accidental or innocent or 'pure' about it.  All art, including literature, must be deliberate.  It's what makes it 'art' (artifice: that which Man creates).


During the editing process, I take my work in a 3-ring binder to the beach.  (It's where I live.)   I sit there reading like it's someone else's work, like it's from a student or someone, with a blue pen in hand, and truly beat up the whole text.  'Stop repeating,' I write.   'Delete this,' I write.  'What idiot wrote this?' I write.  I put myself into the mindset of the reader.  Then I fix it so 'he' will like it (even when it's just me). It's all about the reader.   If you don't serve the reader, why are you writing?  You write to be read-- that is the definition of an author.  So think of how it reads when you read it.  If it rots, fix it.   That's your job.


I'm sorry for preaching at you but there is really no easy way to do this without just doing it.  There is no app for your iPhone that you can buy and install and *become* a good writer.  You have to just start doing it, like riding a skateboard.   And you will fall on your bottom and become injured-- in this case, in your ego-- and you deserve to get slapped about a bit by it and then you will learn.  And you will go at it again, and again.  And then you will have succeeded, because you will have succeeded.  And no-one can ever take that from you.


There are plenty of easier things to do.  You could sell flowers in a shop.  You could flip burgers at McDonald's.  You could deliver newspapers (does anyone still do that?).  But you want to write.  So what are you reading this drivel for?  Start writing. 



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Asker's Rating:

5 out of 5

Asker's Comment:

I thank you for giving your time to help me and help me realize that it's not going to be an easy process, more like a difficult one. This was a good answer, thank you.


This question about "How long does it tak… " was originally asked on Yahoo! Answers United Kingdom