Authors: Scott Nicholson
Tags: #Authors, #book promotion, #books, #ebook business, #ebooks, #editing, #fantasy writing, #free download, #free ebook, #free writing guide, #freelance writing, #getting an agent, #heather graham, #horror writing, #ja konrath, #jonathan maberry, #kevin j anderson, #mj rose, #mystery writing, #novel writing, #publishing, #publishing industry, #romance writing, #science fiction writing, #scott nicholson, #selfpublishing, #thriller writing, #Writing, #writing advice, #writing career, #writing manual
Today, it is old-fashioned and seldom used
except in parody.
The "you" tense. (e.g., "You walk down the
street, not knowing what you're going to find around the
Largely experimental and only used for a very
specific kind of story.
Used by McInerney in
Bright Lights, Big City
show the character's drug-addled state.
Third Person Limited
Told through one character's viewpoint,
seeing just what that character sees and thinking just what s/he
Can switch POV away from that character, but
the story should only be told through one character's viewpoint at
The POV usually breaks between chapters, but
can be done within chapters. However, the writer should give the
reader a visual indication that POV is being changed—just skip down
a few lines or give some other form of break.
Third person limited is the most-often-used
POV and the one that, by default, is the best choice for most
[I'm sure David had more to say on this
topic, but he ran out of time.]
Bottom line: In Morrell's judgment, most
first-person novels could be improved by a shift to the third
person. First person is very hard to do—harder than third person
limited—and should only be done with great care by the writer, and
only when the story demands it. Otherwise, especially for new
writers, they're probably better off going with third person.
18. What’s In A Name?
By Scott Nicholson
Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name? That
which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose. “ John Davidson
said, “O which is the last rose? A blossom of no name.” An
adolescent Scott Nicholson once wrote a snarky line in a wretched
poem that went “A rose is a rose is a risen.”
So we could assume we could
name every character “Rose” and it would make no difference. Tokyo
Rose would be the same as Emily Rose, and
could be interchangeable
titles in works by Stephen King. The character of “Rose” in the
world’s most popular movie, “Titanic,” could have been “Sue,” and
Johnny Cash’s song “A Boy Named Sue” could have been called “A Boy
Named Rose” and theoretically the universe would have continued
But naming a character “Rose” doesn’t connote
blandness or homogeneity. The word comes loaded with a number of
associations: a flower notoriously challenging for the home
gardener; a pinkish-red color in the box of Crayolas; a food source
rich in Vitamin C; Shakespeare’s quote; an oft-used symbol for the
fleeting and ephemeral nature of love; and all the
Roses you have personally known, as well as
all the fictional Roses we encounter, whether the name is first or
Names do matter, and one of the quickest ways
that fiction spoils itself is by having an unbelievable character.
You don’t want the name to throw up a speed bump for the reader.
The name should fit, go unnoticed and therefore easily accepted, or
else be an intentional ploy to draw attention. These last can be
tiresome: the big biker named “Tiny,” the pathetic loser called
“Romeo,” etc. The name doesn’t have to do all of the work of
character building, but it’s an important part of the package
Uncommon names are fairly common, as
evidenced by a quick thumbing through your local phone book. A
thirty-second scan of mine reveals Rollin Weary, Edward Wax, Oletta
Waycaster, Webb Weatherman, and Forest Weaver. These real names
would probably cause your reader to pause upon initial encounter.
This isn’t necessarily bad, but even real names can be loaded. If
your fictional Edward Wax is a candle maker or your Webb Weatherman
is a meteorologist, you’d better be writing comedy or satire.
One of the most common mistakes is making
your character name sound too “namey.” In other words, the name
sounds like that of a fictional character instead of a real person.
For all my admiration of Dean Koontz, his character names sometimes
sound artificial, as if churned out by some “random character
generator” (Jimmy Tock, Junior Cain, Aelfric Manheim, Martin
Stillwater, Harry Lyon, Joanna Rand). However, he is the only
writer skilled enough to name a serious character “Odd Thomas” and
get away with it.
A fanciful name, even if memorable, can turn
your readers away. My first encounter with Kurt Vonnegut was
through his short story “Harrison Bergeron,” in which the “bad guy”
is a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. I was a little too young to
grasp the subtleties of Vonnegut’s satire, and the name annoyed me
so much that I put off reading his work again for years. Now I
understand what he was doing, and I still remember that name though
I haven’t read the story since.
The sound of the name adds
tone to the character. While a stone-faced character might well be
called Stony, he’s probably more interesting if he’s a Chuck or
Dirk, which are both punchy, “hard” names (
Mystery Science Theater
remember “Biff McLargehuge”). A Richard is different from a Dick is
different from a Richie is different from a Ricardo. Sue is not
Suzannah, Suzie, or Susan. We expect an appliance repairman to be
named Danny, not Danforth, or Fred instead of Frederick. An
attorney or stockbroker will more likely be Charles than Charlie,
or Lawrence instead of Larry. We’d probably be more comforted to
have a doctor named Eleanor instead of Muffy, or an airline pilot
named Virginia rather than Brittany.
A character’s name is often the first and
most vital clue to a character’s ethnicity, which may or may not be
important to the story. Vinnie, Su, Ian, Darshan, Mohammed, Yoruba,
Yasmine, and Felicia are probably going to create reader
expectations. Names also carry generational weight: we envision
Blanche and Vivian as older, more serious people than we do Dakota,
Madison, or Mackenzie.
On the other hand, just as stereotypes are
often full of holes in real life, you can use expectations in a
delightful turn of the tables. Instead of a truck driver named Mac,
he can be Milton, a sociologist who enjoys traveling. Your New York
cabbie doesn’t have to be Armaan, who may or may not be a
terrorist; he can be Orlando, studying acting in night school. Just
make sure the people, and the motivations that propel them through
the plot, are valid.
Villains are in their own special nominal
class. Dracula is probably the perfect example. It’s practically
impossible to pronounce without sinister implications. Freddie
Krueger, Darth Vader, and Gollum are fraught with darkness. Stephen
King shines at this: Leland Gaunt, Randall Flagg, George Stark
(actually a pseudonym for writer Donald Westlake), Percy Wetmore,
and probably the best one of all, “It.”
Of course, King also gets
away with a character having the ubiquitous moniker “John Smith,”
but even this name choice serves a purpose, because King’s
The Dead Zone
is an everyman Christ figure. You probably don’t
want to call your soul-stealing, heart-munching bad guy “Bradley
Flowers,” though you might sneak that in as a mild-mannered, Walter
Mitty-type serial killer. Real-life killers like Charles
Starkweather and Richard Speck sound ominous, while other killers
like Albert Fish and Ted Bundy sound like somebody’s kindly uncle,
so your character names, like all other elements of your fiction,
have to be more real than reality.
Female names offer their own opportunities
for striking gold or striking out. “Thelma and Louise” are two
names that, to me, conjure up images of rough, trailer-trash women
(I have an aunt named Louise, so that obviously colors my
association). In the movie, they become self-reliant while
simultaneously depending on each other. Though they are doomed,
they are also strong survivors. I don’t think it would have worked
if the characters were “Cissie and Amber.” Save that for the
Cameron Diaz and Reese Witherspoon road movie.
In the 1950’s James Bond world, you could get
away with naming a character “Pussy Galore,” a lesbian who can be
“cured” into heterosexuality by the right hired gun. That won’t
work today, not even in genre fiction. Aside from the fact that the
great majority of book purchasers are female, you don’t want to
look stupid. Janet Evanovich’s cute, perky, yet often hapless
bounty hunter is named Stephanie Plum, while Kathy Reich’s tougher
and darker-edged forensic anthropologist is called Temperance
(Tempe) Brennan. You can tell just by the protagonists’ names that
the two series will have different tones.
A recent trend in genre novels is the
name-dropping of other writers. This immediately pulls me out of
the story, reminds me I am staring at the fabricated sentences of
an actual human being, and I have to fight past the “Nudge, nudge,
wink, wink” if I bother continuing at all. A manuscript I recently
read had a pair of juvenile delinquents named “Anthony Bates” and
“Norman Perkins.” As if this wasn’t painfully obvious enough, after
the introduction the characters repeatedly refer to one another as
Norm and Tony. I don’t think the association is worth the cost. If
it’s plainly an homage or tribute, then it’s fine, but it’s already
hard enough to keep the reader in a state of suspended disbelief.
Save that kind of thing for the acknowledgements.
So where do you get names? You can turn to
the phone book, but you’ll want to mix and match first and last
names so you don’t inadvertently create a character that’s too
close to home for some real person you’ve never met and who might
be litigious. I once encountered a real person who had the same two
names as one of my fictional characters, and it gave me pause.
Using local surnames can add authenticity if your fiction is set in
the area where you live. I often scour the obituaries because I use
a lot of rural characters with long local lineages. “Baby name”
books are great resources, especially if you have multicultural
characters, though you won’t always find help with surnames. The
Internet is an obvious and easy tool, and don’t forget your own
Once you decide on a name, you can always
change it later, though having the name will help you start
building the character in your mind. Whichever name you choose,
sound it out, and make sure you want it in your story. See if it
matches the character and his or her personality and, more
importantly, actions. Especially if it’s the protagonist, choose a
name that can hold up for an entire story, book, or even a
While the name you bestow on your character
may not be as important as the name you give your child, in some
ways your fiction is just as much an offspring of your life as is
your genetic contribution. Take it seriously, and make it
19. The Three-Act Structure in
By Jonathan Maberry
All stories are told in three acts, whether it’s a
joke, a campfire tale, a novel, or Shakespeare. The ancient Greeks
figured that out while they were laying the foundations of all
storytelling, on or off the stage.
Sure, there may be many act breaks written into a
script, or none at all mentioned in a novel, but the three acts are
there. They have to be. It’s fundamental to storytelling.
Here is the “just the facts” version of this.
The first act introduces the protagonist, some of
the major themes of the story, some of the principle characters,
possibly the antagonist, and some idea of the crisis around which
the story pivots. The first act ends at a turning point moment
where the protagonist has to face the decision to go deeper into
the story or turn around and return to zero. Often this choice is
beyond the protagonist’s control.
In the second act the main plot is developed through
action, and subplots are presented in order to provide insight into
the meaning of the story, the nature of the characters, and the
nature of the crisis. Also, supporting characters are introduced,
and we learn about the protagonist and antagonist through their
interaction with these characters. The second act ends when the
protagonist recognizes the path that will take him from an ongoing
crisis to (what he believes is) a resolution.
In the third act, the protagonist races toward a
conclusion that will end or otherwise resolve the current crisis
and provide a degree of closure. Most or all of the plotlines are
resolved, and the protagonist has undergone a process of change as
a result of his experiences.