Naming Names

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

Just received my weekly newsletter from a fellow writer. In this issue, he discussed his technique for naming his characters.

Naming your characters is something all fiction writers must do, but coming up with the best names isn’t as easy as some may think. In fact, it can be downright challenging. I think we all have different ways of doing this. In reading my friend’s article, I noticed his way of coming up with character names is very different than mine.

My approach for naming my characters is simple and straightforward. I create names that are reasonably common and that most readers can relate to.

Choosing with the right surname

I don’t use Smith, Jones or Johnson as they’re so common they’re almost a cliche. I prefer using familiar surnames, such as Palmer, Campbell, Bennett, and Walsh. One of my friends once mentioned that her maiden name is Bennett. I really liked the name, so I asked her if she would mind my using it for one of my lead characters. She was certainly flattered, but I highly recommend asking before using a friend’s surname, even if theirs is a common one. You don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.

There have also been plenty of times when I’ve gotten stuck trying to figure out the right surname. This is why I keep an old white pages phone book. I’ve been known to open it to a random page and skim through the listings until something pops out at me.

Finding the right first name

For me, this is where it becomes a lot more fun. I write contemporary romance, and my novels are much like the soap operas I watched years ago. Therefore, I’ll sometimes give my characters the same first name as a favorite soap opera character.

For example, two of the characters in my Marina Martindale novel, The Stalker, are named Rachel and Alice. I grew up watching the now defunct soap opera, Another World. It was famous for its ongoing feud between two characters named Rachel and Alice. Their feud began while I was in grade school, and it lasted all the way through college. So, to pay homage, I named my leading lady Rachel, which is also a popular Millennial generation name. I then named her sister Alice. But unlike their Another World namesakes, the two characters have a close relationship. And, because the name Alice is less common today, I also named their grandmother Alice, as many families name children after their grandparents or great-grandparents.

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 that I often use.

Naming fictional businesses and places

Naming a fictional place is just as important as naming your characters. Again, you want names that are reasonably common that readers can relate to. Another Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion, is set in Denver. Jeremy, a supporting character, works as a bartender at a sports bar called O’Malley’s Grill. When I was a kid, we had next door neighbors named O’Malley, and I always thought it was a cool name. However, before using it, I did an online search to make sure there were no bars or restaurants in Denver with that same name. Whenever naming any fictional business always make sure there is no business with that name in the location your using.

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 frontmatter 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.

GM

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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 reviewers for my debut Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion, commented on how well the flashback scenes were done.

If used properly, flashback scenes can greatly enhance the story. They can be 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 to use flashbacks in your novel

  • 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 to the present time. 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. I decided not to show their original break up as a flashback. That backstory is instead told in dialogue. Dialogue, by the way, is another great tool for telling the backstory.
  • Watch where you insert a flashback. Never drop a flashback in the middle of a scene, especially if it’s cliffhanger. This will greatly upset and annoy your reader. I lead up to the flashback at the ending of a present day chapter. This prepares the reader for the flashback.

how to place a flashback

This flashback from The Reunion includes the ending paragraphs from Chapter One, with the last paragraph setting up the flashback 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. She started to reminisce about the past and 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.”

 She took a few more deep breaths, and as she did 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.

Chapter Two

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

“Damn it,” she muttered to herself as she tried to work more white paint into the canvas.

This particular painting was one of those projects that simply wasn’t coming together, and the more she worked with it the worse it got. 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 then well prepared, and even expects, the next chapter to be a flashback.

And finally, I only used flashbacks in The Reunion. I only did so because of the long interval of time between two characters interactions. None of my other novels include flashbacks.

GM

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Hey Google! I Can Think for Myself

A block of letters that read "Search Rank."
© Can Stock Photo / Curioso_Travel_Photo

As some of you may have noticed, I recently migrated this blog from Blogger to WordPress. Part of me hated doing this. I loved Blogger because it was so easy to use. Unfortunately, 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. And not 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

Last night, as I was listening to Coast to Coast AM, the host announced her guest, 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 that if you’re looking for alternative treatments for your allergies, because all the 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.

When my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the doctors told him there was nothing more that they could do, he took matters into his own hands. This happened in the late 1990s. The Internet was still in its infancy. There was no Google. So my father drove to the nearest health food store and purchased every book he could find on alternative treatments. He then followed up and sought those treatments. And guess what? His cancer went into remission. Alternative medicine gave him an extra year with a good quality of life, without any side effects. It was an extra year he would not have otherwise had. He and I both believed that had he used alternative medicine much sooner, he probably would have beat the cancer. Assuming he would have even developed it in the first place.

Alternative medicine can work. Unfortunately, this is but one example of how Google is trying to manipulate you and tell you how to think.

We have the right to live our lives as we see fit. And, lucky 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 and DogPile, as well as GoDuckGo, one of the search engines I discussed in my last post.

Hey Google! We can think for ourselves. Stop using Google. Find a better search engine.

GM

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The Best Search Engines for Novel Writers

Contrary to popular belief, 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 sometimes have to research the strangest things. My plotlines, for example, often revolve around crime. That’s because when it comes to creating a good conflict, few subjects work better. And crime isn’t limited to mystery stories. It works well in other genres too. I write contemporary romance, so having a character accused of a crime he or she didn’t commit works well for me.

Now let’s say I’m using that idea for my story. I want it to be believable, so this is where research comes in. However, a Google search on, for example, how many years would you get for armed robbery, could possibly 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, 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 GoDuckGo

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

I’ve been using Startpage for years. Startpage works with Google. It doesn’t record your IP address. It also gives you the option of visiting a website anonymously. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t as some websites do not allow anonymous viewing. However, it’s a nice option to have. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t like being tracked after I visit a website.

As much as I like Startpage, it’s far from perfect. As said, Startpage only works with Google, and lately Google has become creepy. They’ve been very outspoken in their commitment to weed out websites whose points of view they happen to disagree with. And that troubles me in many ways. However, I’m going to limit my comments to this. As writers, we can, and should, be able to see ALL points of view on a given subject; not those with whom Google happens to agree with. We’re writers. We can think for ourselves.

Thankfully, there is another anonymous search engine out there. GoDuckGo. I’ve not used it as much as Startpage. However it has one advantage over Startpage. It’s not married to Google. But there is also a disadvantage. GoDuckGo doesn’t allow you the option of visiting a website anonymously.

And there you have it. Neither search engine stores your information, nor do the track you. Both have similar looking homepages. I would recommend using either, or both. Which one you choose, however, is entirely up to you, as there is no wrong answer.

GM

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