Naming Names

A banner saying, Your Name Here."
© Can Stock Photo / MSPhotographics

Creating appropriate names for your characters is essential when writing fiction. However, it isn’t always easy. I put a lot of thought into each character’s name. Their age, background, occupation, and their roll in the story all play a part in determining the character’s name.

Choosing with the right surname

I don’t use the surnames Smith, Jones or Johnson for any of my lead characters. Those names are so common they’re almost a cliche. I prefer using other surnames, such as Palmer, Campbell, Bennett, and Walsh. All are common names, but not overly common. 

Sometimes I get stuck, so I keep an old white pages phone book by my desk. When all else fails, I’ll open it to a random page and skim through the listings until something pops out at me. Other times I’ll think back to kids I went to school with, or I’ll hear an interesting sounding name on the news. That’s another way to come up with a surname. We live in a diverse society, so some of my characters will have ethnic names. If it’s a common surname, such as Sanchez, I’ll use it. If I’m not sure, I’ll do an online search. The possibilities are endless.

Finding the right first name

First names are a lot of fun. I think we all have favorite first names. I personally like the names Cynthia, Victoria, Christopher and Jeremy. My first Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel, The Reunion, included two supporting characters named Cynthia and Jeremy. However, I’m still waiting for the right story ideas for Victoria and Christopher. My contemporary romance novels are much like the soap operas I watched years ago, so I sometimes give my characters the same first name as a favorite soap opera character.

I also invested in a baby name book. It contains hundreds, if not thousands of names, including many different ethnic names. It’s a handy tool which I often use.

Naming fictional businesses and places

Naming a fictitious business or location is just as important as naming your characters. Again, you want reasonably common names. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so I’ll often create mom and pop businesses in my stories. Oftentimes I’ll include a common surname, such as O’Malley’s Grill, only this time I’ll also do an online search to make sure there is no business with the same name in the city or town where my story is set. If there is, I’ll have to come up with a different name. The same rule applies for naming fictitious businesses such as newspapers or ad agencies.

And finally, a disclaimer

With over three hundred million people living in the United States, and billions more on the planet, it really doesn’t matter how you create your character’s names. There will be real people out there with the same names. This is why you need to include a disclaimer in the front matter of your book. Make sure you clearly state that your story is a work of fiction, and that any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Gayle Martin

How to Skillfully Use Flashbacks in Your Novels

A section of a clock placed in front of a starry sky.
© Can Stock Photo / Nikki24

Readers give us great feedback. Nearly all of the reader reviews for my debut Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel, The Reunion, commented on how well the flashback scenes were done.

If used properly, flashbacks can greatly enhance the story. They’re a terrific tool for telling the backstory. Poorly done, however, and they can become a distraction or even a hindrance. They block your story flow and annoy the reader.

How and when to use flashbacks 

Use flashbacks sparinglyThe Reunion has fifty chapters, but only four include flashbacks. The story is set in the present time. Therefore, I didn’t want to spend too much time with the flashbacks.

  • Your flashbacks should be relevant. The Reunion is about two lovers having a second chance many years later. The flashbacks were a tool to allow the reader to see the characters meet for the first time and get a general feel for their earlier relationship. However, I didn’t include their original break up as a flashback. It’s told in the dialogue. Dialogue, by the way, is another great tool for telling the backstory.
  • Watch where you place a flashback. Never drop a flashback in the middle of a scene, especially if it’s cliffhanger. This will greatly upset your reader. I lead up to the flashback at the ending of a present day chapter. This prepares the reader for the flashback in the next chapter.
How to place a flashback

This flashback from The Reunion includes the ending paragraphs from Chapter One, with the last paragraph setting up the scene. The flashback begins with Chapter Two.

* * *

Gillian looked a good ten years younger than her actual age. Despite all the time that had passed, she still looked much the same. About the only noticeable difference between then and now was that her long blonde hair was now a shoulder-length pageboy. As she reminisced about the past her mind suddenly filled with a whirlwind of images of all they had shared, the good times as well as the bad. It was like watching a movie, but the scenes were spliced together out of sequence.

“Calm down, Gillian,” she told her reflection. “You’ve got to pull yourself together.” As she took a few more deep breaths the events of one particular day began playing back in her mind with crystal clarity. It was the day she first laid eyes on Ian Palmer.

TWO

Gillian jammed her paintbrush into her palette and glanced at the clock. It was almost four twenty-five. Class would be over at four-thirty.

“Damn it,” she said under her breath as she tried to work more white paint into the canvas. This particular painting simply wasn’t coming together, and the more she worked with it the worse it became. It happened to every artist from time to time, but it was never good when it happened in a university art class the day before the project was due, and the painting in question would count toward the final grade.

In conclusion

As you can see, I’ve set the reader up for the flashback by referencing about how the events of one particular day played back in the character’s mind. The reader is well prepared, and expects, the next chapter to be a flashback.

And finally, I only used flashbacks in The Reunion. I’ve not included them in any of my later Matina Martindale contemporary romances. They were only used in The Reunion because of the long interval of time between two characters’ interactions.

Use flashbacks sparingly, and then only use them when they are absolutely necessary to enhance the plotline.

Gayle Martin, aka Marina Martindale

Hey Google! I Can Think for Myself

 
© Can Stock Photo/ Curioso_Travel_Photo

I created this blog on Blogger and later migrated it to WordPress. Part of me hated doing this. I loved Blogger. It was so easy to use. However, there was a problem. Google owns Blogger, and, like Facebook, Google is getting much too creepy.

As I discussed in my previous post, The Best Search Engines for Novel Writers, no writer should ever use Google for their searches. Nor would I limit this suggestion to just writers. In my humble opinion, no one should be using Google. No one. Google has become too powerful. So much so that it’s now trying to tell us what to think.

How Google is trying to manipulate us

One night, as I was listening to Coast to Coast AM, the host announced the her guest was an expert on alternative medicine. She began her introduction by stating that Google has eliminated ALL alternative medicine websites from its search engine. All of them. It has replaced them with ANTI-alternative medicine websites. This means if you’re looking for alternative treatments for your allergies, because all conventional treatments have failed you, you won’t find any information on Google. Why? Because Google thinks you’re too stupid to decide which treatment would be best for you. They will decide the treatment you need, not you. Nevermind the fact that we all have the right to live our lives as we see it. Unfortunately, this is but one example of how Google is trying to manipulate you and tell you how to think.

Needless to say, this can be especially problematic for authors. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you’ll need to do some research as you write. So what happens if you’re writing a novel about a character with cancer who seeks out other treatments? You certainly won’t find the information you need from Google.

Fortunately for us, there are other search engines that DON’T think they’re God. They will give you the information you are searching for, and they will allow you to think for yourself. These search engines include Bing, DogPile and DuckDuckGo, one of the search engines I discussed in my previous post.

Hey Google! We can think for ourselves, thank you very much, and there are much better search engines out there.

Gayle Martin

The Best Search Engines for Novel Writers

Writing fiction isn’t about making things up as we go along. Good fiction writers know their craft. They can easily spend as much time researching their subject matter as they do writing about it. And that can be problematic.

Novel writers may have to research the strangest things. For example, some of my Marina Martindale novels revolve around crime. When it comes to creating a good conflict, few subjects work better. Crime plotlines aren’t limited to mysteries. They work well in other genres too. I write contemporary romance, so having a character become a crime victim, or be accused of a crime he or she didn’t commit, works well for me.

Let’s use my contemporary romance novel, The Deception, as an example. I wanted my story to be believable. This is where research comes in. However, doing a Google search on how many years my antagonist could get for attempted capital murder could potentially raise some red flags. Google records your IP address and your searches. Google also tracks you around the web. And while police officers would probably enjoy a good read as much as anyone else, we don’t anyone getting the wrong idea. After all, that unexpected knock at the door could really ruin your day. This is why we need to do our searches anonymously.

StartPage and DuckDuckGo

There are two search engines which you can use for anonymous web searches. Startpage, and DuckDuckGo. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Startpage works with Google, but doesn’t record your IP address. You also have the option of visiting websites anonymously. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t as not all websites allow anonymous viewing. Nonetheless, it’s a nice option to have. 

Unfortunately, Startpage also has a distinct disadvantage. It only works with Google, and Google has become way too creepy. They’ve been very outspoken in their commitment to weed out websites with points of view they disagree with, which troubles me in many ways. However, I’m going to limit my comments and simply state that as writers, we can, and should, be able to see ALL points of view on a given subject. We’re writers. We can think for ourselves.

Thankfully, there is another anonymous search engine out there. DuckDuckGo. Unlike Startpage, it’s not married to Google. However, it too has also a disadvantage. It doesn’t allow you the option of visiting a website anonymously.

So there you have it. Neither search engine stores your information, nor do they track you. If you’re a writer, I highly recommend using either, or both. 

Gayle Martin