What’s in a name? Cultural references and your hero/heroine

27 09 2013

Now we have a new Prince, is George destined to be the name of heroes and lovers rather than office workers and bores? George Clooney started the rot with his handsome ruggedness but now the name is securely that of a real man.

How do you choose your character names when all the good names are being associated with the great or good, famous or infamous? There are so many so-called celebrities flashing themselves brightly for their 15-minutes that it is difficult to find a name without a cultural reference – if not for you then for one of your editing circle.

Nicknames may be the way forward for some but you can’t use them for everyone in your book or you’ll lose the reader in a morass of confusion.

Changing names depending on the subjective voice in your book is another way to change a perception of a character. His mum says William, his friends call him Bill, his niece cutely speaks about Uncle Billykins and the police just say Mr Adams.

You could go for the commonplace – everyone knows a couple of Johns, Simons, Lisas, Sandras. No single character trait will therefore be endowed. You can give them their own life history, their own cultural references. Elton and Elvis are more difficult to assign to new characters though.

How about surnames? If nothing comes to mind, you can’t beat a good road atlas. Place names abound through literature without you even noticing!

Swearing your way through life – are there any shocks left?

24 09 2013

I used some swearwords in my last two posts. B**stards and B*ll*ocks to be exact. I used them deliberately, for effect, where the context supported their usage. I could have rephrased the blogs, restructured the context and made the points less impactful and the words would have become more gratuitous? In the second case though, I was already thinking about this next blog.

“B*ll*ocks!” you say. “You probably got some comments and wanted to respond.”

Swearing remains quite a sensitive subject. Even in this modern world when it seems every other phrase in modern TV post-watershed drama is F-that, C-this, sh*t, w*nt, b*gger the other. Half the music charts have words you wouldn’t want your pre-teen to hear – even if they are spoken in Korean!

Some web-filters will see through my use of aster*sks and hide this and preceding blogs but some will remain ‘innocent face’ and let readers fill in the blanks. For this reason alone I will continue to only use swearwords in context, not for impact.

But should I care? Should anyone care what language another writer uses? Does language use limit your readership? Do writers find themselves in a box if they use difficult, contentious, slang-ridden or just plain bad language?

Probably yes. Definitely – who knows? Questions lead to more questions. And any answer you get from one person will differ from the next.

This is one of the reasons I love writing. It is so subjective. One man’s meat …Back to the point though – in dialogue, when writing in anger, swearing is present. Ever-present. Sometimes writing for the baddies I even wish my keyboard came with a little shortcut – the F*** button. It would definitely speed things up!

Crossing the genre Rubicon

21 09 2013

I write chick-lit and am proud of it! But some people have issues with being typecast into a genre. He only writes westerns, she’s a feminist author, see when his next historic romance is out, M&B weepie etc etc.

Some people get so annoyed with being ‘trapped’ they seek to escape. There are a number of ways of doing this and we can see in the real world that it really works – if you have the skill and talent to get away with it.
• Iain Banks / Iain M Banks – fiction / science fiction
• JK Rowling / Robert Galbraith – fantasy / crime
• Stephen King / Richard Bachman – horror / oh, er, horror

How do they do it though? I am steeped in my genre. I love the ability to hide hard hitting reality under banal conversation and trap readers seeking a sex & shopping moment inside a complex detective story under a chick-lit cover. Chick-lit-dicks satisfy nearly all my needs as a writer because I work at it and make the genre my own.

Crossing into a fantasy world or horror would be a wide river indeed. I would spend my time fearing I was paddling in the Styx rather than the Rubicon. Would all my readers leave me to pay the lonely ferryman as critics pan the attempt to cash in with second-rate output? Or would it be safer to use the pseudonym until it was proved I knew what I was about and could float your boat (perhaps taking the analogy too far?)

Ask a secondary question. Do genres really exist with boundaries we dare not cross?
B*ll*cks to that! I’ll write what I want

Homophobe or Racist – which do you prefer?

18 09 2013

As a writer you have to live inside other people’s heads for much of your life. I’m a bloke, have been all my life, but I find myself inside the minds of my heroines. The creative mind sits inside someone I will never be – but women (obviously) face many of the same issues as men and I can empathise with many of the others!
In much the same way I sometimes find myself inside a bigot, a rapist, a killer – trying to understand them, trying to make their voices plausible, their actions consistent. And I don’t always know if I am doing it right!
If a bigot hates gays does it follow that he/she also has to have a problem with black people or Jews or the Welsh? If they don’t ‘have to’ be universally bigoted is there somewhere I can go to find out the correlation. Do 90% of KKK members regularly protest against vegans or is it only 5% or not correlated at all? Does the national census track this? Do Which? produce a report? Who knows these things?
I’m being deliberately flippant about this because it is all in my head. If I want to make my baddie even worse I will throw some casual racism into their dialogue because I see that as a bad thing in a person. But if I make them racist can they also be gay – do people with one unjustified subjectively dodgy bias automatically have to have more? Does a homosexual racist criminal have to hate straight people?
Sometimes I think it is better to steer away from such questions but sometimes a writer just can’t. Characters develop with a story and sometimes they aren’t consistent and sometimes, to be blunt, they turn out to be complete b**tards!

IT issues – doomsday or just a bit tedious?

16 09 2013

Too many commentators rant on about IT being either the bane of existence or the salvation, the rapture, the cure-all. I fall squarely in the middle. You, dear reader, may have noticed an absence of recent blogs. It is no fault of WordPress, no fault of my mobile or broadband provider or web hoster. I will put the blame on the water company and the regularly dug-up streets of my town.

 Yes, we all now know that Victorian sewers are a drag but please, please, please just dig THEM up and not the cables running near them!

 So – did the world end? Did the Millennium Bug come out of hiding and sink its fangs into my quivering heart? No. I just couldn’t email or use t’interweb. Freed up a heck of a lot of time for writing and thinking and even – shock-of-all-shocks – reading!

 I went to a library. Big, old, British. You know the one. Amazing how much stuff isn’t available on-line. Simply amazing! (sarcasm alert)

 Admittedly things slowed up a bit when I got the green router lights again. Lots of emails to read, reviews to peruse etc. But did I mind, did I moan? I did to the water people, obviously, but in my heart I quite liked the change!