Friday, April 15, 2011

Names...do they matter?

[slightly edited re-post from my former blog]

So you want to write a book or a short story and you sit down to think it all out before you start writing. What is one of the most important parts?

The characters. Who, of course, need names. Do you pick a random name? Make one up? Find the oddest name you can, or the most common?

Or…do you pick a name that actually means something?

I’ve done it all the aforementioned ways. I’ve made up names (people names, place names, and animal names), I’ve picked strange ones, I’ve picked plain ones.

But I think the last way is my favorite, one that I hadn’t done much until recently. For my current novel, Shadow of Glory, every character that has more than a paragraph or two of stage-time has gotten, or will get, a name with a very specific meaning. A meaning that either 1) describes something about the character, or 2) describes something about the role they play in the story. Sometimes it takes me days to find the right one. Or even weeks.

You might wonder why I go to the trouble.

Honestly, sometimes I wonder why I even bother. The reason I do it is, well, for me. Even if no one else ever realizes it, or makes the connections between the names and there meanings, it makes it different – it makes it better – for me.

Now, I’m not talking about always using names that have a blatant meaning, like “Hopeful” or “Giant Despair” (names of two of John Bunyan’s characters in Pilgrim’s Progress). When used a lot – and especially in modern books – it bugs me. It feels cheap.

I’ll give some examples from my own story…

1: Jerome Steele. The “main” Main Character (MC). Jerome means One Who Bears a Holy Name, which comes into play later in the book. And Steele, well, that one’s a bit self-explanitory. He’s hard-headed.

2: Vince Stanislav. One of the “baddies”, an agent that works for the main government mentioned. Vince means To Conquer, To Win, Winning, Conquering. And Stanislav means Government is Glory. When I found that name…I about flipped. It fits him to a ‘T’, and made the 9+ months he’d gone by the handle/nickname Suit worth it.

For years and years I’ve known that names have different meanings and origins. Recently, however, I’ve found it really fascinating. I love hearing a name and knowing “Oh, that name is Irish and means ‘X’…” or “That name sounds French, from maybe around the 1200′s.” Of course, I’ve barely scratched the surface of names. What with all the thousands upon thousands of names in the world today, I don’t think anyone could remember the facts about even 1/4 of them.

Whichever naming method you chose, you might be wondering: How do you find the “perfect” name?

You’ll know the perfect name when you find it. And I mean that. You might be arrested by it at first glance, or maybe you’ll realize it’s the right one after mulling it over. But it will click. And stick. And you’ll know that it’s “the one”.

As to finding them? For last names, I like using phonebooks.

For first names, I’ve found some helpful websites (disclaimer: the websites themselves have proven helpful, however some of them run adds in the side-bars, and while I don’t remember seeing any that weren’t G-rated, you never know, so please use discretion)

www.babynames.com – this one is nice when you just want the basic information. If you use their “Advanced Search” option you can chose from nationality, number of syllables, etc.

www.babynamespedia.com – this one is my personal favorite. You can search by origin, popularity, etc., and you can run “text searches” and enter a word like “Medieval” and up will pop all names with the word “Medieval” in the name’s history. Oh, yes, that reminds me: this site gives a lot more in-depth information, including origin, a brief synopsis of the name’s history, and other names that are similar.

http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/index.html - The Social Security website! This surprised me! But when I was searching for a list of top 100 names for a certain decade in U.S. history, Google directed me to this website and it is incredibly helpful. It works for any year after 1879.

And for all you historical writers, the book Names Through the Ages has proven absolutely invaluable. I got it for a Christmas present, and love it! It covers a nice swath, from England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the U.S., and a very broad time-frame from the early Dark Ages until post-WWII U.S. Divided into chapters, each chapter has a several-pages long synopsis and gives a brief summary of the rulers, daily life, religion, surnames, etc., from that time.

Happy naming!

Grace and peace,

~Hannah

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fainting/passing out/going unconscious: whatever way you want to term it

[slightly edited re-post from my former blog]

So, yes. The dreaded moment that occurs to many people…but seems to be more popular among the book-people sort.

Well. So many people – including myself – tend to write that “everything went black”, or something along those cliched lines as we describe the last few lucid moments before our beloved character slips into the abyss of unconsciousness (wow, I honestly have NO IDEA why I’m being so wordy right now. I just feel like it. Sorry!). Which is perfectly fine, because cliches like that are cliche because they are quite true.

However, I have recently had some slight personal experience. Nothing too dramatic, thankfully! When I was about ten years old, I was knocked unconscious for about three seconds, and things did go black.

About three weeks ago, though, I was having a normal afternoon at the clinic. I had a headache, which isn’t too unusual, but was okay. I was asked to help hold a dog that was being cathed because he had bladder stones. No big deal, right? So I did, and was really surprised at how well the poor little dog was cooperating. The light over the table is one that puts off a lot of heat. We hadn’t been there long when I started to get very sweaty, but again, not really a big deal. Time passed. It was interesting; the Doc was kind enough to talk through a lot of what she was doing, so I could see exactly what was going on.

My headache grew worse, and I was literally coated with sweat. Then the oddest things began happening. I began to feel dizzy, my hearing started to get, well, muddy – like I was underwater. And my vision began to go white, like an over-exposed photograph. I knew I couldn’t stand much longer; I’d fall over and maybe pass out if I didn’t sit down. Thankfully, just as I was going to ask if they could call someone else in to help, they finished.

So that was my nearly passing-out experience. It doesn’t always go black. Sometimes it goes white, fuzzy, and…swimmy. Lame word, I know, but it really did feel that way! Next time I write about a character going unconscious, I think I’ll base part of it off of this and switch things up for a change. Just for fun ;)

Chazak,

~Hannah