Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Having observed my lack of blogginess lately, I have decided to introduce a new feature called Tactical Tuesday! I got this term from one of the moms at our kids' school. There used to be an activity there called "Tactile Tuesdays," where the kids would play with gack, or use sand tables, or do something using their sense of touch. And this one mom would always call it "Tactical Tuesday."

Here in Martha-Land, Tactical Tuesday will be a once-weekly feature where I give you a writing tip, exercise, or in-the-trenches bit of advice on selling and marketing your work. I even found a little graphic for Tactical Tuesday (since I like rodents now and I like graphics because it makes me feel like it's all official and everything).

Doesn't he look totally jazzed on caffeine or speed or cocaine or something? I think he's only supposed to go on white web pages. Ah well. I like him this way. So when you see him scribbling away ~ you'll know it's time for TACTICAL TUESDAY.

Before I forget, here's a funny reference to The Bitch Posse I saw the other day at Blogg'd. Very sweet guy actually.

Oh, and Sunday night's Bay Area Word of Mouth gathering of women writers of the Bay Area was wonderful! The lovely Rosemary Graham opened up her home to us, and there was much lovely conversation. I got to talk to many of my FAVORITE local writers (favorite in oh so many ways)! Plussers, I got me a BOOK that I can't wait to sink my teeth into ~ Dream of the Blue Room by Michelle Richmond. She and I swapped!

Also, I got to meet the inimitable Ayelet Waldman in person! (I've only emailed with her before; she and her husband, Michael Chabon, were very supportive of the recent JDRF Auction I helped Brenda Novak solicit items for. &*%$ dangling preposition! And I call myself a writer. POUT.)

Best of all, I learned how to pronounce Ayelet's name! In my head I've been calling her AY-ull-et. Nope, wrongers! Actually it's very easy ~ just say "I YELL it." Just like that. Ayelet is hilarious. She had us in stitches the whole time!

All right, on to Tactical Tuesday (sheesh, I have trouble getting to a point. Just imagine what my first drafts look like!)~

Here's my topic today:
Selecting Character Names

Some of the most memorable characters in fiction have VERY memorable names. Think Scout Finch. Holden Caulfield. Phineas Fogg. Easy Rawlings. Jack Reacher. Colonel Aureliano Buendia. Cruella de Vil.

Character naming does, and should, take authors a good deal of time. Names are powerful; choose them carefully! A great first step is to buy yourself one of the many baby name books available today. In addition to giving you ideas about various unusual names, some of which you may have never heard before, you get MEANINGS for the names. So you can do some very subtle symbolism with your name choices and when you win the National Book Award... you can thank me.

Heres a baby name site I found, just browsing. (Although I notice they don't have "Ayelet" there!) You can look up either by NAME or by MEANING. Me, I'm trying to find a name for a character in my newest book. In the book, she has to be very strong. So I looked up "strong" and came up with dozens of names!

For last names? I often use the phone book. If the character is of a specific ethnic background ~ say, Italian ~ I will do a Google search for "Italian Surnames" and usually can find a HUGE array from which to choose.

Beware of OVERDOING it, though. Too many cutesey names and you're going to sound like a dork. So if you have a Bambi in your book don't also include a Tater, a Snap-Snap, a Bam-Bam and a Binx. (Unless they're all animals, or you're trying to make some kind of POINT with these names ~ as with all rules, they can be broken, but break them consciously, and with caution.)

And a word of warning, don't name two characters in your novel names that sound too similar. If you've got a woman named Brenda and a woman named Barbara, that will most likely be a problem for you (unless you're doing some funky thing with identical twins... even then I'd be cautious.) Even if you've got a guy named Scott and a guy named Steve, people are probably going to get just a TAD confused. And even a TAD is too much.

Hell, I even had someone complain that my three characters' names all ENDED in a "Y" sound (Amy, Rennie, and Cherry) and that THEY thought I was a dork. Now I don't happen to agree that that was a problem ~ I mean, I think a HUGE variety of women's names just HAPPEN TO END in a "Y" sound ~ but still... point remains, ya gotta be careful.

Some people advise against using names that end in "s." When you're using the possessive, it can get awkward. Of course, that would mean changing Tess of the d'Urbervilles' name to... "Betsy Smith"? Again, break rules wisely, and knowing what challenges you may face as the result of a name choice.

Names signify a historical period. You won't find many Stephanies back in the 1800s. Do your homework.

Another warning I've seen is not to choose a name whose pronunciation is unclear. (I guess that means I can't name my main character Ayelet... hee, hee) Your reader will be scratching his or her head every time the character's name appears!

Finally, go with your gut. Is your character just BEGGING to be named Snake-Eyes O'Sullivan? OK, name him Snake-Eyes O'Sullivan... but you probably DON'T want to make him a 19th century Italian priest. (If he is... THERE'S YOUR NOVEL, RIGHT THERE!)

And now your first assignment... how about a name for our revved-up mouse? Put your idea in the comments section and I'll choose my favorite!

Tactical Tuesday will return next week... now back to your regularly scheduled blogging!