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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nice to meet you, Maura

How I love it when a new character steps out of my foggy plot and waves a hand, saying, "Here I am. Not only can I be the bearer of tidings, but I am a damn interesting person myself, and perhaps could serve a purpose you hadn't even thought of before." This is the creative in creative writing, I think. Today I needed someone to make a job offer to Portier. He is languishing in prison - already, you say? Well he got himself in a bit of hot water...


No, I'm not going to tell you what he did.

So anyway, I need someone to visit him in his cell and make him an offer. I decided this person needed to be a functionary in the queen's household. And I started looking for his name. I need a name to give me a starting place for description and personality. [Does the seed of an idea in my head germinate first, so that I'm looking for the right name to bring it to life, or is it spotting a name that evokes a certain personality? I can't tell you. Probably some of one, some of the other.]

But as I browsed male names, I thought, "Why does this have to be a man? A woman bold enough to visit a stranger in his prison cell to offer him a job could be an interesting woman. I ran across the name Maura, which sounded just right. And she stood straight up, assertive and confident, though I have a feeling there is something lurking underneath all that confidence. I'll bet I can find something to shake it, if I need to. She can't abide lies. I'm not sure why, as yet, but honesty is really important to her. Which, of course, sets up tension in any scene with my three conspirators...uh, excuse me, Portier prefers agentes confide. Yep, I definitely have plans for Maura.

9 comments:

Lady Kailen said...

Which comes first: the chicken or the egg?

I was quite surprised to find out that mostly you see a name first and then the personality of your new character springs from that. I would've thought it was the other way round: you need a character to do X in situation Y, flesh him out and then hunt around for a likely-sounding name for him. (Expert advice from someone who can't even keep a diary!)

Mostly you say your characters come from their names. So what would happen if "Gertrude" sets off a light bulb in your head but she's not needed in the scene you're trying to write at that moment? Would you put her on the backburner and see if she had a job to do later in the book? Or would you modify the scene a little in order to work her in, and thereby end up exploring new angles in the story? How concrete is your storyline at this point?

Also, where do you get inspiration for the names? From general baby name books, or do you try to concentrate on the region your story is partly based on (e.g. a mythical France as opposed to a mythical Japan for instance?)

OK, I think I've interrogated you enough for one night!

carolwriter said...

OK, it's not actually that the character springs from the name. What I meant was that I cannot proceed with writing about a character until I have a name to give him or her. But most of my character development is done as I write, not before. For primary characters such as Valen or Portier or Dante or Aleksander, I know a little more to begin with, but I can't proceed until I find a name. It is in the consideration of the name--its sound and feel-- that I begin asking myself some important questions.

In this particular case, I literally decided, as I was hunting the name, that this person who comes to visit Portier in his cell COULD be a woman. What would that woman be like? Ah, hah, something is germinating...it is in asking the questions that the creation starts happening. I find the name Maura and begin writing the scene, and then she begins to take shape...

Lady Kailen said...

Yeah, I understand the whole process a lot better now, thanks for clearing that up for me! Something you didn't mention, though, was how flexible your plot is for any new interesting characters who might pop their heads up and ask to be noticed (I ask this with reference to Paulo, who you said originally had a very small part, but then went on to shape a lot of the major events in the D'Arnath books).

NATHANIEL R said...

Carol

sorry to post this so randomly but I just finished reading your book "Transformation" and I really loved it. I hadn't heard of the series before and i will definitely pick up the other books.

even while doing something totally unrelated my mind kept stubbornly drifting back to Seyonne and Aleksander --so i just went with it ;)

anyway just wanted to say "thank you for writing it!"

carolwriter said...

Nathaniel,

I never take offense at random posts that say nice things about my books! Many thanks.

carolwriter said...

Back to naming...

My plots are infinitely flexible. I love it when new characters step forward. It usually happens in response to a plot need - like Maura did. The idea I've had wrt her will or won't unwind. But I don't know that I've had ideas for any characters who haven't grown into a role. My storyline is not at all concrete until it is written and shipped.

As for where I find names. Some just come to me. Some, I have to work at. I have a very good book that lists names by ethnicity, and I use it a lot.

Tami said...

In the theme of random posts that compliment books, I have greatly enjoyed the ones I have read (all four Avonar, Tranformation and Revelation). I love the fact that each book contains a complete story, even when it is part of a trilogy. At the end of each book, I have felt a sense of completion. I want to know more about the characters and see what else they are up to, but I don't feel like I am leaving them hanging from a cliff. For series, it seems like that is rare and wonderful thing and I appreciate it immensely.

carolwriter said...

Tami, I always want to end a book with a satisfying conclusion - I'm glad you've found that so far. The one where I deviate a bit from this is the Lighthouse Duet. It is truly one larger story, divided due to my pokiness at writing it, and my surprise to discover that it was a much more complicated story than I first believed. A victim of process. That being said, I did complete two major story arcs within the bounds of Flesh and Spirit, so there is some completion. But there you are. If we all did the same thing every time, life would be totally boring. (And both books are out now, so people can't yell at me too terribly!)

Tami said...

I can handle two books (esp with both out.) I just can't take 5 or 6 or 12 (each at over 500 pages), which seems to be common in fantasy series. I get very into books and I need a chance to catch my breath.