Saturday, April 24, 2010

Naming Fictional Characters. Here Are A Few Tips!

Names are important. Naming our fictional characters can be as difficult as naming our children. Maybe harder, because we often need more than one name! The name has to fit the character's age, gender, background, and ethnicity. Best of all, when we've found a really great name, it reflects and color our character's personality.

A character's name is a huge deal! Memorable names touch us deep inside and stay with us a long time after we've finished reading. Some of our favorite fictional characters stays with us forever.
  • Frodo Baggins from The Lord of The Rings,
  • Wilber from Charlotte's Web
  • Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the wind,
  • George Milton and Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men,
  • Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird,
  • Larietta "Carrie" N. White from Carrie,
  • Betty Rizzo and Danny Zuko from Grease,
  • Darth Vader from Starwars,
  • Edward Cullen from Twilight.

Okay, so maybe you don't share my picks above, but you can surely come up with your own list.

So where do we find names? Besides the phone book, friends and relatives, the Internet is the most obvious modern resource. Having the Internet at our fingertips, it's hard to imagine how authors like Steinbeck found so many suitable names for his characters.

Here are a few helpful sites:

1. Popular baby names.
The Social Security Administration's homepage is a great resource. There you can search most popular names for a particular year, or decade. It's very user friendly. Just type the year you want into a little search window. But I can save you time by telling you that Michael was the most popular boy's name between the decades 1960-1990. Guess a popular girl's name!

2. Babynames.com
This website has all kinds of good stuff. Boy names, girl names, meaning of names, celebrity names, a cool name list, soap opera names, names from fashion, dog names, cat names, and more!

3. TheNameSite.com
Maybe you're looking for something more flavorful. This site has names with information about their pronunciation, meaning, origin country, region, and gender. How about the name Abdalla. Guess if it's a boy or a girl? It means servant of God.

4. The Internet Surname Database.
Here is every American surname is alphabetical order. Just click on the letter you want and get information about its origin, history and variation in spelling.

5. Exotic Pet Names
This is from About.com. It has names for exotic pets, alphabetical list of pet names, and names for pairs of pets. How about a name like Magnum PIg for your potbellied friend?

So how about it, which are your favorite fictional character names?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Death. Is It Funny Or Sad?

Is it appropriate to write a blog post about death? I hope so. So far, I've been spared from painful losses, so my personal experience on this topic is limited. I can't decide if this is an advantage or a disadvantage, as far as writing is concerned. Since I am inexperienced, I allow myself to joke about death. Though, it is very likely I'm an insensitive idiot.

The first time I was confronted with death was when my grandpa died. I was eight at the time. His passing didn't affect me that much since we weren't really close, but it was hard to see my mom grieving. I went to his funeral even though my mom had given me the option to stay at home. I was curious, and I wanted to impress her. She was moved by my participation, and mistakenly thought I was a sensitive and mature child.

I remember sitting there during the funeral observing my mom's and relatives' sad faces and wondering if grandpa could see us from heaven, and if he could see that I wasn't crying. The casket was shiny and big, and very quiet. I remember wanting to ask my mom if she was sure grandpa was really inside it, and if she was really sure that he was dead. What if he was actually sleeping?! When they lowered the casket down in the ground, I remember feeling conflicted with thoughts of my grandpa waking up from his sleep and calling for help. Nobody would hear him from down there!

My second memorable experience with death came eleven years later. It happened during my CNA training. We went on a field trip to a funeral home. "You're lucky," the funeral director told us and winked. "We have an open casket funeral this afternoon." Upon this statement, he lead us to a dimly lit room with chandeliers glittering in the ceiling and rows of chairs facing the same direction. In front of the chairs, surrounded by flower arrangements, was a casket with an elderly woman. Her face was made up with pink cheeks and red lips. And she was wearing eyeglasses. My common sense told me she was dead, but in a different place, I would have believed she was napping.

After this viewing, the funeral director showed us the embalming room. He proceeded to tell us about one time when he was so busy that he had nine "stiffs" at the same time. They had to be stored on top of cabinets until their funeral dates. Since he didn't have time to go home and eat that night, his wife had brought him a pic-nick dinner. The faces on the others in my group were serious, probably in shock, but I was panicking, trying not to burst in to laughter. It didn't help matters much that the funeral director had a left eye that was stuck looking sideways.

Now on to a recent date. How did I think about writing a blog post and sharing my experiences with death? Last Friday, I had my first cadaver lab. It wasn't at all as weird and creepy as it might sound. As I am in college studying to become a physical therapist assistant, this was a extraordinary opportunity to learn about the human body. Not humorous really, okay maybe a little. It was hard to go home and make our usual Friday roast beef subs and not think about what our muscles look like after we die, but this is probably a normal reaction.

Obviously, the atmosphere and the interior of a cadaver lab is vastly different form that of a funeral home. It has high ceilings, white walls, concrete floors, and fully illuminated by industrial lights. In preparation for the smell, I had rubbed Vicks inside my nose which I quickly regretted when I felt it burn every time I took a breath. But the pain was forgotten once I entered the lab and I saw the metal tables with bodies. Two hours of studying the human body flew by. I left floating on clouds. It had been such a fascinating experience.

To tie up this rather incoherent blog post, I have one final reflection to share. One of the bodies in the cadaver lab was a woman that had died from leukemia. My teacher inquired if anyone knew a sigh of this disease. I was the only one who knew. A giant spleen! I know this because my mom has leukemia. Eventually, death will affect us all. Even me!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

April AW Blog Chain. Meet Rags!

I decided to take part in the April blog chain on Absolute Write, a writer's forum I visit often. The topic is fictional characters. And a question was posed: What would it be like to meet your novel characters?

Since I'm in the middle of the chain, a few writers have already written their posts. You can read about their characters here: Proach, RavenCorinnCarluck, AuburnAssassin, DavidZahir, xcomplex.

Now on to my own contribution. I'm a beginner novelist. My first finished novel, "Sam and Stella" , was created during last year's National Novel Writing Month . It was my second attempt at a longer fiction story. Before that, in August of last year, I started a story that I titled "Trucker", but it was never finished.

It is from "Trucker" that I like you to meet Rags. I don't know much about him yet. He dropped in on my lead character Jake who is in the hospital. Jake totaled his truck, and Rags is a fellow trucker who he has known for several years. Here is an excerpt from my first meeting with Rags during that hospital visit.

Jake heard a familiar shuffle coming from the hallway. His heart started beating faster in anticipation, hoping to confirm who he longed to see. Then there he was. Rags appeared in the door way, wearing his sideways grin. Only five-four, his cowboy boots helped elevating his confidence two more inches. On most days his wiry, steel colored hair resembled a dish brush. But not today. Today it was tied back in a ponytail, the braid in his beard was gone, and he was dressed in a charcoal suit. Jake barely recognized him. He didn't recall having ever seen him in anything other than tattered jeans and flannels.

"Who died or got hitched?" Jake teased.

Rags pulled his lips together and pushed his chin out.

"I see you got the flowers," he said and nodded towards the water pitcher with sunflowers on Jake's bedside table.

"Yeah man, tell the guys thanks! They brighten up this sterile hell hole."

Rags sat down.

Jake continued. "Rags, you don't know how freakin glad I am to see you. I miss work like crazy."

"So they think you'll be back to driving soon then?" Rags face perked up.

Jake wished he could he could say yes. The question was so hopeful and brutal at the same time. He wished he could get up, take his bag, and return to his life, the way it had been before the accident. His thoughts stirred up a surge of emotions and he fought to hold back a sob. The painful swelling grew in his throat and he bit down to hold it together. Embarrassed, he turned his head towards the wall.

A few quiet minutes went by. Then Rags broke the silence with a question.

"Did you ever meet my old man?"

Jake nodded and met Rags eyes.

Rags' dad, Oscar Junior, went by two names: O.J. by day and Wild by night. His fondness for Jack Daniels coupled with an explosive temper had earned him his nickname. O.J. had retired when Jake started trucking, but sometimes he showed up for a barbecue, or tagged along on one of Rags' trips.

"Yeah well, my mom died when she had me. And since my dad and grandpa drove trucks and were gone most of the time, I was raised by my uncle Frankie. He owned one of Minnesota's largest turkey farms. Guess what my dirty job was? Every day after school!" Rags chuckled.

Jake smiled. Rags was a storyteller.

"You guessed it." Rags continued. "Shoveling turkey shit! But I didn't complain. Frankie paid me to do it. He had some grand scheme that I was gonna save the money for college, get a suit degree, and help him with the farm. Can you see me with and briefcase?" he laughed and tugged on the braid that wasn't there. "Frankie and auntie Emma couldn't have kids, so they tried their darndest to turn me into a civilized citizen."

----

This is probably a good place to stop. I need to work on Rags voice. It's a little stiff. Also, my husband thinks that Jake behaves and thinks like a girl. We'll see how it goes. It's a learning process. My plan is to post more excerpts from "Trucker" in the future. The story Rags has started is a sad one, and I'd like him to finish it. So it's to be continued! If you like, you can also read an earlier post about my novel "Trucker" . It has the synopsis.

Next on the Absolute Writer's April blog chain are: FreshHell, leahzero, Aimeelaine, Anarchicq, Breddings, *RomanceWriter* , ForbiddenSnowfake, razibahmed, CScottMorris, Aheila, LadyMage.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Time Management. How Is It Done?

I just read four blogs with posts on the topic time management. Well actually, I read three posts about time management, and one about simplifying our lives, but same difference, right?! If we have too much going on, something got to go, or we have to learn to be ultra-efficient. Like modern wash detergents, a little wash a lot. That's my method, by the way, I steal a small portion of my "prime time" (usually morning hours) to get as much done as possible.

What has to get done during my prime time is writing and studying. In other words, my brain has to be completely awake and rested. Being a part-time cleaning lady by night, a full-time college student by day, and a mother, I have to be wise and structured to stay on top of my commitments.

What has helped me are a few things.

Not having cable TV is a major help. My husband and I gave up on it three years ago to save money. At first I thought I would miss all my favorite shows, and I felt guilty that my daughter couldn't see her shows. But with having Internet and Netflix, it turned out we don't need it. During weeknights, everyone reads books in bed, and on the weekends we watch movies, without commercials!

Sharing chores and responsibilities might sound like something obvious, but as a college-mom, I hear too often how women try to handle all the parenting and house chores themselves. All I can say here is: DELEGATE! And stop cleaning. You're home doesn't have to be spotless. Spending time with your kids, and I mean some kind of interactive activity (playing), has to be number one on your priority list, but taking them to the dentist can be a shared responsibility!

Finally, I am going to reference The Positivity Blog: "Focus on what is important for you. Let go of the rest." Meaning. Let go of stress. Don't worry about all those things you're not doing. Don't feel guilty for what you are doing. And live in the moment. (I know. It's hard. But it's good to be reminded!)

Good luck.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ice Skating In Florida, A Cold And Dangerous Adventure.

It's a Saturday afternoon. The sun is shining and I have the windows rolled down in my car. I'm guessing that it's close to 75 degrees outside. Where am I going? To a birthday party at the Arctic Zone with my ten year-old daughter. It's sort of ironic, since I thought I had left the cold and ice behind when I moved to Florida.

I grew up in Sweden, so you think I would know how to dress for going ice skating, but both of us are wearing t-shirts, jeans and flip-flops. After having lived in this summer paradise for nearly three years, it's hard to think: socks, gloves, hats and jackets. Instead, I'm thinking: How cold can it be?

How cold? My memory returns as we enter the ice-skating rink. It can't be more than 45 degrees inside. Of course, the Hockey Town Pro Shop makes most of it's profit on people like myself and sells knitted gloves for three dollars a pair.

There are fourteen guests at the birthday party, and except for a couple, none of them have ever put on a pair of ice-skates. Their fingers are fumbling with the long strings. And I can't hold back a smile as I enjoy watching their confused faces. They are concentrating so hard and wondering what the deal is with the paired row of metal hooks. My mind takes me back thirty years to a winter white landscape, layers of clothes, and my mom helping me tie my skates. They had to have a snug fit to keep my ankles from buckling. If I had blood circulating to my toes, they were too loose!

After lacing 28 ice skates, it's off to the ice. The party guests discover that it's a cold, slippery and painful adventure! Being a dry and safety-cautious Swede, I wonder why the Arctic Zone isn't insisting on having their patrons wear a helmet. I think: What if one of them falls and splits their head open on the ice? I find myself having a moment of an internal conflict. Sometimes it's hard as a parent to know if one should do the right thing, or let it go and hope for the best. This time, I just let it go.

I guess I can't be overly critical. The Arctic zone has thought of something. Instead of helmets, lets give the kids something to hold on to. And lets give the parents some entertainment!



Previous posts:
Shopping For An Alarm Clock, A Not So Obvious Milestone.
Do You Have A Tweenie At Home?