Monday, May 1, 2023

Naming Characters and Not Naming Characters

I try not to inhale too deeply when I read the musty old phone book.  I try not to throw anything when I get through several classes before I realize the yearbook I’m skimming is another copy of the one I skimmed yesterday.  Mostly, I try to keep my sense of humor when naming characters is still the hardest part of every new project.  Has anyone noticed how that shows up in my books?  Every now and then I like to avoid giving some insignificant character a name.  Here are a few examples.

From Into the Fire

“Hey, man, hear you’re on your way out.”  The welcome voice of a coworker arriving on the scene.

“Yeah,” Joseph said.  “I’m about to grab my last schedule.”

“Hope Mr. D. is in,” the other guy said as he opened the door.

Joseph nodded.  He could still hope for that even if Joseph already knew it wasn’t true.  He sensed the other guy’s steps slow as his hopes were dashed.

“Hello, boys.”  Jillian stood from her desk and walked around to sit on the front of it.  “Here for your schedules?”

“Of course,” other guy said.

Joseph would be trying harder to remember his name if it wasn’t likely the last time he’d ever see him.

I might have tried harder to give that other guy a name if it wasn’t also the only time he shows up in the book.  Notice that the boss didn’t get a full last name either.

From Collecting Zebras

   Jon pulled out a pan and said, “Who told you my last name?”
    “Oh, I just met one of my neighbors. He said if I didn’t know someone’s last name I should guess Thorpe because there are a million of them in Hartford.”
    “A slight exaggeration, but there are a lot of us. My dad’s mom and dad had eleven kids and nine of them were boys so they kept the name and every one of them has at least two kids, a lot of whom also have kids.”
    “I know there’s a kindergarten teacher named Thorpe. Her first name is…”
    Jon nodded before I could remember it. “She’s my cousin,” he said.

He very conveniently cut her off before I had to give that character a name.  That’s the real reason Angel couldn’t remember it.

From The Art of Communication 

    Katie tried to figure out how to politely tell her sister she was making a big deal out of nothing. “Why are we even talking about Christmas ornaments in the summer? You know it’s barely July, right?”
    “Well, I…” She let out a short laugh, heading off her own tantrum before it started. She might have a quick temper, but she wasn’t completely unreasonable. “I saw an ad for some Christmas in July sale happening next week, and it got me thinking about how this will be my first Christmas as a mom and how the little one will be too little to remember it or even really do anything special and I thought about how we’d at least have a special ornament to… I thought if I worked on it now, I could present it to Mom as a way of announcing the name and everything.”
    “That would be nice,” Katie said.

What’s nice is that Katie’s sister is keeping her baby’s name a secret so I don’t have to think of one.  Later, it’s mentioned that the baby got their mom’s first name as a middle name.  The mom is never introduced.  I still didn’t actually give the baby a name.

From The Art of Introductions

“Have you had any luck with the online dating thing lately?” Ryan asked. He was looking at Cameron.

 Cameron kept his eyes on the cards he was dealing. “No comment.”

“Sounds like a no,” Logan said.

Trevor smiled. “No luck is better than bad luck.”

“For Cameron maybe,” Ryan said, “but I kind of enjoy hearing about the bad luck.”

“Me, too,” Logan said. “What was the name of the one who turned out to be nearly as old as your mom?”

“Still not commenting.” Cameron kept his eyes on the cards. His tone got a bit of an edge to it.

Cameron isn’t commenting on the name because I’m not.  I try to keep the edge out of my voice when talking about naming my characters by having a little fun where I can.  At least in my fantasy series, I am allowed to make up names.  And I can use that as an elegant segue into mentioning that the birthday of Birthdays in Wisherton will be May 27th.  I recommend my new book over any of the name lists I’ve been reading.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

It's Almost Easter!

I’m going off brand this month because I’m currently working on a different type of writing - clues for Easter egg hunts.  I love Easter egg hunts.  Now.  Some of the first hunts I hosted turned competitive and not entirely full of joy.  Over the last fifteen years or so I have put a lot of time and effort into making the hunts at my house something special.  This is not advice though.  It’s just a few things I’ve learned.  If anyone happens to benefit, yay!

1) Color-coded hunts work well for younger kids.  Each kid is looking for and only allowed to pick up a certain color of egg. 

2) Hunts can be divided with some kids looking inside and some searching outside.  (Or different rooms in the house if it’s rainy.)  This way you can use more difficult places for bigger kids without them also snatching up the easy ones before the little ones can get them.

3) If you hide eggs indoors, think carefully about where you hide them and what directions you give for finding them.  If people start dumping out drawers and emptying cabinets that are nowhere near the hiding places, someone might freak out.

4) You don’t actually have to put anything inside the eggs.  You can simply have the kids trade the eggs they found for a basket or bag of goodies.  Or have the last egg in a scavenger hunt be some sort of ticket for the treats.

5) Individual scavenger hunts are awesome for kids old enough to read.  It’s still best to keep these color-coded for two reasons.  One, kids won’t accidentally find someone else’s egg.  Two, you don’t have to think of as many hiding places.  There can be three eggs in the freezer if they are all different colors.

6) Find someone to play-test your clues.  It’s hard to judge the difficulty of something when you already know the answer.  If a ten-year-old needs two adults to help him figure out one of your clues, he’ll be well within his rights to give you a hard time about it.

7) An alternative to having kids rummaging through your house is to have the eggs “hiding” in plain sight.  Assign each egg a number, and each clue will point to one of those numbers.  If there are a hundred eggs around the house, it will still take some hunting to find the right one.  (I write the number on a piece of masking tape with a bit of ribbon, then clip the egg to the ribbon so I can stick them all over the walls.  You can also write the numbers on the eggs and just scatter them.)

8) Write down the answers to all of your clues.  It is a hassle to re-solve each clue as you hide them to know which number or hiding place you need next.

9) Kids will enjoy the hunts more if you use a variety of clues.  Don’t make them all lame riddles.  Only use one lame riddle per child.

10) Inventing new types of clues is fun.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s switch to Roman numerals for a few examples.  (Roman numerals are fun, too.)  i. A maze with letters printed throughout.  Solving the maze will spell out a clue.  Scramble the letters for an extra challenge.  ii. Lame riddles.  iii. A mini crossword puzzle with answers like upstairs, bathroom, second and drawer.  iv. Codes.  You can print something simple with a cute Easter clipart to represent each letter of the alphabet.  For a super challenge, have a number represent each letter, only give the kid a few letters to get started and make him run all over the house to figure out which letters they are.  Ex. The letter A is represented by the last two digits on the serial number inside the microwave.  v. Write out the clue with a few extra letters repeated in the middle of the words and have the kid cross off those letters to read it.  vi.  If the kids are hunting numbers, just give a math problem.  It’s not homework if it’s part of something fun.  vii.  Write a ridiculously bad nonsense poem where the first letter of each line spells a clue if you read straight down.  viii.  Kids love silly active clues.  Write a list of instructions that involve hopping from one room to another, spinning around and making funny noises before ending at the hiding place.  The kids know the last step will lead them straight to the egg, but I have never seen a kid skip ahead.  I guess my writing is good even off brand.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Cover Story

I’m writing about dirt today.  This is going to be awesome.  The new Wisherton book doesn’t have a release date yet, but I’m guessing May or June.  That’s close enough that the book needs a cover.  Oh, joy of joys.

Please don’t mistake all this sarcasm for negativity.  Making a book cover is fun, and that’s not sarcasm.  I get to take a break from writing to stretch a different creative muscle.  My visual design muscle is a weakling though.  It lifts in ounces not pounds, and it gets strained easily.

On the way to creating each new cover, I typically ruin several with an ugly font or a weird effect or an accidental deletion or by merging layers I meant to blend.  I think every time I make a new cover, I also come up with a new way to ruin one.  That’s another way to say I come up with a new way to laugh at myself, and that’s why it’s fun.

Let’s talk about my new cover.  It’s still a work in progress.  Because this is a series, I need to keep it consistent with the previous books.  What is the theme of the Wisherton covers so far?  I gave you a hint in the first sentence.  The theme is dirt.  Look at the first four books on your bookshelf.  (Or you can peek at the bottom of the page.)  The theme is clearly dirt.  I’m laughing at myself already.

Now I feel compelled to explain how I arrived at this brilliant theme.  I don’t use stock photos because I want my covers to be original.  I don’t use original drawings because I can’t draw.  Seriously, even my stick figures are sad.  The Wisherton books are set in a fantasy world so I wanted to avoid a picture of anything that looked too much like the ordinary, everyday, non-fantasy world. Most of the events happen outdoors, which is where I went in search of a cover photo.

I went to my backyard and started with a maple tree.  Don’t ask me to be more specific than maple, my nature skills are as bad as my drawing skills.  But I knew it was a maple and that anyone else would recognize that much.  There were a few other nature things I considered.  They all seemed equally non-fantasy-ish.  Then it occurred to me that no matter what plants grew in this strange world, they’d probably still need dirt.  In trying to avoid anything overly ordinary, I ended up with a picture of the most ordinary thing of all.  And now you know what to think of my logic skills.

To be fair, dirt is only the background of each cover.  There is something more interesting in each one.  For this new cover, I thought I could use pretty flowers, modified in some way to appear more foreign.  Before I could do the hard part of changing the flowers, I needed to do the “easy” part of figuring out where in the picture they looked nicest.  But they didn’t look nice anywhere.  I didn’t like them draped down one side.  I didn’t like them on the other side.  I didn’t like them across the top.  I sort of liked them at a diagonal, except that my foot ruined the picture.  I’ve never accidentally gotten my own foot in a cover photo before so I guess that was the new way to ruin it.

And all that was before one of my early readers said the brief mention of flowers in the story isn’t enough to make it an appropriate cover image anyway.  The alternative suggestion is to show a paw of the imaginary baby animal from the story.  I don’t know if I need to change my flower idea.  I also don’t know if getting a picture of an animal that doesn’t exist would be any more difficult than getting those flowers to do something interesting.  I only know this work is going to be in progress for some time.  But I’m still laughing.