Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Good Read and a Namely writing tip

An escaped convict finds refuge as a hired hand on a small farm. But the farm belongs to a deputy sheriff.

In this dark tale everybody has an agenda, the fugitive, the sheriff, the sheriff’s wife and everybody else in the small town of Ashley.

Things in Ashley have to come to a head...and they do. In a terrible way!

Question from the e-mail: When I wrote my book, I used the names of real people I knew, just for fun. Everyone who has read it laughed a lot, but a couple complained that they might not find it funny after all, and someone else said, "Seriously, you can't name your hero after Chauncey! It's a twit name. Now I know him and I like him, but it's still a twit name." I'm pretty sure you'll tell me to change the names, but why does he think so poorly of Chauncey?

Answer: Naming characters can be tricky.  And, like your friend, I believe readers feel this subconsciously, as well. There have been a great many twits named Chauncey in other books, and when they come across it, readers have come to expect an element of twittiness.

Tom Sawyer's repulsive, tattletaling, younger brother was named Sidney. I named my younger son that, as Sidney is an old Chase family name. By third grade he was called Squid by everyone, inclujding teachers, who wanted his attention. It's changed by now, but if you want him to look around don't add the NEY to Sid.

Let's make up a character. Call her Christina. An old-fashioned name, or an ethnic name. If she's Christina Lawrence, her folks are old-fashioned (unless this is a period piece). If she's Christina DiNapoli, she's a far different person from Christina Lawrence. Okay, so far? So what do we do with Christina, whatever her last name is? Let's make her a high school student in New Jersey. Do her friends call her Chris? If so, she's probably something of a tomboy, may be interested in athletics or even cars. Whatever she does, she'll be competent and efficient. Chrissy, however is only interested in clothes and boys, though she's pretty niave about both. Christy may write poetry, or perhaps work on the school newspaper. Tina, well Tina likes to have a good time.

It's true. We tend to adapt names to the people we know and the names and nicknames we all choose can tell us a lot about people and characters. In our society today we do this all the time. I shuddered when an old highschool friend, Marge Percy, named her firstborn son "Percy." Now this being that bastion of Elizabethan English tradition called the Delmarva Peninsula, women often give their oldest sons their maiden names as first names. I went to school with both  James Goldsborough and Goldsborough James.

Marge's family had both old blood and old money, so it was expected of her. Nevertheless, despite the efforts of Sir Percy Blakeney (or perhaps because of him) "Percy" signifies "wimp" to many people today. But when he was learning to talk the kid couldn't say Percy. He said, "Berky" and that got construed to Bucky and later Buck. Buck graduated at the top of his class, went to the Naval Academy and flies jets for a living. I wonder what Percy would have done.

Never use the real names of people, even if they say you can. That can be touchy. Very touchy, if family members will be reading your stories. I've heard people say, "If my family doesn't like what I write about them, let them write their own stories." I've heard others -- John Irving among them -- deny their fiction has any basis in reality at all. After Irving wrote The World According to Garp, an interviewer pointed out to him that Garp's mother, like his own, was a nurse in a private school, a single parent, a women's rights advocate who was extremely politically active. He then asked if Garp's mother was based on Irving's own well-known, parent.

"Obviously not," Irving replied. "Garp's mother is dead. Mine's alive."

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