The Importance of Names

Names are important. Whether you're naming a place, an artifact, or a person.

In books, in particularly fantasy books, they are even more important to get right.

Because just like your setting and tone sets a story's theme, so do names. If you have an epic fantasy novel, with a world named Illinova, a protagonist named Rebecca simply wouldn't work. Nor would Paul. Or Hector.

To some, choosing a name for a character is much like naming a child - the name is one you like for whatever reason.

But your character isn't your child. He/She isn't living in Los Angeles or NYC. They're living in a fantasy realm full of evil villains with magical powers.

It's obvious, you might say. You don't need to tell us, Captain.

But I do.

I just recently read a fantasy novel from a big-six publisher. The world had a name I couldn't pronounce. But the characters? They had simple modern names - Rachel and Jared and such. You might be able to guess which book I'm referring to - I know I'm not the only one who found it wrong.

And it irked me. Throughout the whole book, I simply could not fully enjoy it because of those names. It made me think the author was lazy. Or simply not creative enough.

Writing a scifi? A fantasy? A contemporary? Choose names that fit your setting. Don't let Martinez into a Tudor castle. Don't place Ophelia in a Shu Han palace.

If you're having trouble finding a name, Thor beautifully details the Art of a Name for us 'mere' mortals.

Writing is an art. Strive for a masterpiece. Don't stop at a sketch.

-Captain America

The Enigma of Character Massacres

Killing seems to have become a major fascination in this day an age as a writer. All the time you see writers jumping up and down exlaiming about how fun it was to kill off this or that character. There are countless stories of friends and family members, who personalized in the story, will be killed off quite dramatically. It's not uncommon to see writerly threats along the lines of "If you don't behave I'll kill you off in my next book" or something like that.

It's all too easy to get caught up in the "I'm an Evil Author, oh this is so fun MUAHAHA! Here a bomb, there a duel, everywhere an execution!" mantra. But if you stop and look at our reasons for this craze, does it even amount to anything?

Why yes it does. And I, Hawkeye am going to attempt to explain it.

Beyond the delight of making our readers feel things -terribly painful things- I believe that it's all about making our characters feel things. Hard things. Making them hurt is fun to us. As a reader? It sucks, but as a writer, you live for these moments. Why?

Because flawed characters are the best characters. As readers we hate perfect characters that do everything just right, and have everything turn out just right. It annoys us, because we aren't perfect. We want realistic portrayals. And sometimes the way we can realistic, is by putting them through the wringer. The emotional wringer.

I wrote a novel. Obviously. And in this novel, my protaganist I knew, have quite a bit of struggling to do. There were things she needed to develop, but in order for her to reach her full potential, she had to have them taken away from her. I will admit with great pleasure, how fun it was to rip away all her loved ones andthe things that were important from her. It was sad when I killed one of my favorite side characters. I hadn't expected to do that, but I knew that it was right for my character, and that she would come out better because of it.

Sometimes, you have to make the touch decisions to find the toughness in your characters.

Besides it is fun to think up ignominious deaths right? What author doesn't live for those moments?

I guess where I'm going with this, is that while we have fun making characters suffer, we need to understand the reason behind it. And the importance of making our characters grow in an emotional level, not just a kick-butt-heroine-who-can-shoot-down-all-the-Nazis kinda way. True character development is not measured in shots, but in weaknesses and the overcoming of them.

One of my recent favorite books, that demonstrates this, is Deception by C. J. Redwine. [Please note that this book is a sequel.] Following the events of the first book, Defiance, we see our narrators (Logan and Rachel) dealing with quite the emotional aftermath. Traumatic heartbreak, stress and tension combined to make my heart practically hurt just watching my favorite people hurt. What's more is, they're still completely kick-butt, despite their issues. But it was the reality of the emotional drama that made them so much more endearing to me as a reader.

So with that said, go kill some characters, break some hearts and write an emotionally compelling novel. I can't wait to die of feels as a reader. Actually, that will hurt, the result will be astounding. I have faith in you.


Also, if you're looking for more fantastic character creation tips, Loki and Black Widow have both touched on it. So check those out!

How To: Avoid a Mary Sue

So. Your main character is special, no? Of course ze is. Ze's the protagonist of hir own novel, after all!


You've given hir power. You've given hir ability. But where do you stop? Where's the line between “special” and “Sue?”


Since we all know that the only thing Bruce and I do is make lists, here we go.




THE SEVEN WAYS TO AVOID A MARY SUE


  1. Don't make anything about hir perfect.
    Seriously. Some people may tell you to just make sure your MC's perfect traits are in balance with flaws, but making her flawless at anything smacks of self-insertion. No one is perfect at anything all the time. You can make hir incredibly talented, one who rarely makes mistakes, anything – as long as there's room for flaws even in hir best area.
    Side note: look out for her appearance. This is the first thing that can get too perfect and tick readers off. But beware: the more a hero/ine hates the way they look (for no good reason/without a plot purpose), the more annoying they get. Do you hate everything about yourself? If the answer is yes, seek counseling; if no, then think about what the ratio is and apply it to your MC. I know I have a great figure, for instance, but my arms could really use some work.
  2. Make sure ze's learning.
    In my opinion, the most frustrating thing about a too-perfect character is their inexplicable ability to gain new skills through sheer willpower – no training necessary. Look, my protagonist is skilled. She can do backflips, dance ballet, shoot a handgun – and she went through eighteen years of rigorous physical, mental, and combat training. When she's tossed into a position requiring skills she hasn't accessed in nearly ten years, she balks. Messes up. Gets people killed, and is not excused for her actions. Sure, your protagonist can be a quick learner, but make sure ze actually has to learn these things.
  3. Love at first sight? I don't think so.
    Almost nobody falls in love with another person just from looking at them. Lust, sure – physical attractiveness contributes to sexual attractiveness. But it feels forced and unrealistic if the love interest really falls for your character after a few meaningful glances and a short conversation. Give them a relationship. Something that moves past physical attraction and into a real interaction with all its flaws.
  4. Nobody's completely selfless...
    … so your progtagonist shouldn't be either. Even if ze is super heroic and loves to act in others' best interests, hir inner monologue is going to show at least some selfish motivation. I'm selfish. You're selfish. Everyone's selfish. End of story.
  5. Nobody gets along with everyone.
    If the only people who dislike your MC are the Draco Malfoys of the story, you've got a problem. Everyone's flawed, and everyone has some parts of their personality that give other people valid reasons to dislike them. Put a side character in – a good side character, mind you, one who has a lot of great qualities – who doesn't really take to your MC very well. Make hir really have to work for that person's approval. Make that supporting character point out some really valid flaws in your MC and most importantly, make other people take them seriously.
  6. Don't make hir complain to everyone.
    You know what? Maybe your protagonist's backstory sucks, big time. Maybe ze was poor, raised in a barn by hens, both parents having died in a tragic fire. But nobody wears that information on their chest just waiting to spill it out to the nearest listening ear. Some people are angsty all the time, yes, but no one likes those people. It's hard to root for someone who is constantly complaining, especially if their problems seem seriously plot-contrived.


And last, but certainly not least:
  1. Prophecies? Been there, done that, got the wand, the CHB t-shirt, the sapphire-hued dragon...


    Prophecies are last year's dystopians, and here's a hint: people are just about as sick of both. It's been done. It smacks of rewritten fan fiction. Move on, do something far more original. Make your character special by their own merits, not fate. It feels more real that way.
    Disclaimer: prophecies can be done well, but it's hard. It's easy to slip into an old pattern, and that's a one-way ticket to Sue-dom. 






Well, that's about it. Leave any other strategies you have in the comments!





– Natasha


5 Ways You Should NOT Start Your Book

So we're all just going to go ahead and accept that all I do is write lists. But, hey! Lists are fun.

I'll put a little disclaimer up here first: this list is my opinion. It isn't "the only way".

Here's me looking super attractive, as always.



1. Don't start with dialogue. 

Big no-no, guys. Why? You throw the reader into a story they know nothing about. Literally, nothing. They don't know who's speaking, why they're speaking, how they're speaking, or what provoked them to make that statement. It's like walking in on a stranger having a conversation with someone else. Good first impression? I think not. Also, it's confusing.


2. Don't start with the past.

Like Captain America's said, no prologues. You don't need them! Be in the here-and-now. Why? It's confusing when you start a book about a 15-year-old, but after a few hundred words you realize the book is going to be about an 18-year-old. If there's one thing you must avoid, it's confusion to the reader. Readers are so fussy. They'll chuck a book if they don't click with it.

3. Don't start with an action scene. 

Phew, action scenes are hot and tens and fast at the best of times. Take our Avengers movie, for instance. If we'd started by blowing aliens up left, right, and centre, you wouldn't have known who was fighting. You wouldn't appreciate Black Widow and Hawkeye's little thing happening. You'd have no idea Ironman and Captain America disliked each other (yeah, I'm toning it down for a G-rated audience). You needed to meet us before you appreciated our fight.

Action scenes in the first 500 words tend to be very confusing. Don't start there.


4. Don't start with a passive sentence. 

I know, I know, most famous books do. It can be okay. But if you can avoid it, go for something with less passive verbs like "was" and "is".


5. Don't start with the meaning of life.

The meaning of life is awesome and all that. But to be frank? In the first 500-words of reading a book, I don't care about the character's philosophies. I want to know about the world, the people, the plot.

Flowery dialogue confuses me. Sure it can be written in good voice and be interesting and all that, but I honestly don't believe it belongs in the first chapter.



And, before I go back into hiding, I'll leave you with some fantastic first-sentences. (Most of them don't go with the "no passive", but hey. You don't always smash win.)

One minute the teacher was talking about the Cival War. And the next minute he was gone."
Gone by Michael Grant
Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she'd been told that she would kill her true love."
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Mother thinks I'm dead.
Legend by Marie Lu

Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Thor's Thoughts: Writing Excuses

Greetings my friends. It is a pleasure to join you this fine Monday morning. Today, my message will be short, but rest assured, the lack of length does not imply irrelevance. Rather, I hope that what I share with you today will grant you great wisdom in the time to come.

I have been told repeatedly that to change something about myself, I must surround myself with the type of people like whom I wish to become. A tool of great importance in this endeavor has come to my attention, and I wish to share it with you.

If you visit a place in the on-line called WRITING EXCUSES, you will find there nearly six years worth of weekly podcasts. These podcasts are given by four experienced writers in various genres, all of whom have won awards and are well-respected in their respective areas of expertise. These incredibly talented authors are able to connect with many and accomplish some very important things:

1. They share their thoughts and experiences on writing, publishing, and related topics.

2. They share books they've read that they respect, that have helped them learn.

3. They always leave with a challenge for aspiring writers to attempt.

4. They have fun, showing us that they are real people, and not just headshots.

I have listened to all of Season Eight, and parts of Season Seven, so far. I intend now to start back in Season One and listen to the archives. Please note, do not do this when you should be writing. Listen when traveling, working, chores, or any of those human things you do. Not while writing.

I hope you are able to learn as much from these masters as I have, and more. I wish you luck in your work, and challenge you to reach your goals.

Farewell,

THOR

How do you know when your writing isn't the problem?

Writing is about decisions. About whether this character needs to be a girl or if your villain should be named Sam or Pam.

Some decisions are harder than others. Like if you should write this scene here or if you should leave a deeper meaning to a character's arc.

And others are even harder.

Like deciding if you should stop writing or self-publish because there's no other way for that story you absolutely love with all your heart to get out there.

That was the decision I was faced with, and a decision I soon realized so many authors were faced with.

Because even if you've written THE book, there's a chance you'll never get an agent for it. Does this mean you're a horrible writer? That your story is just not there yet?

Sometimes, yes.
Other times, no.

There are numerous factors involved in an agent's decision to pass on your work.

-Personal taste. I myself never read contemporary. As a super-hero, I tend to read about other characters like me, in science fiction and fantasy.

-No Market. Sometimes, like in the case of my book, the market is now. And signing with an agent means by the time you get a book deal, assuming that you get a book deal that is, it could take one and a half to two years for your release. By then, the market is long gone. Like Bucky. Or my date with Peggy.

(Hold on, there's-there's something in my eye.)

-Your writing. If your book falls under this category, you probably have a book that isn't quite ready to be seen by the world. Edit, rewrite, set it aside and come back to it. It will be ready.

So when your book is rejected for reasons other than your book not being ready, maybe self-publishing is for you.

I certainly believed it wasn't for me.

I didn't like the idea of publishing my book myself, because it looked like I was taking that route because I couldn't get an agent. Because I was hopefully.

But I'm not.

And neither are you. And it isn't wrong to self-publish. In recent years, publishing a book yourself has earned more respect than it once had, though it still is frowned upon or not taken seriously.

But if there's one thing I learned from my decision, it's that self-publishing isn't the end. You can still sign with an agent and get published the traditional route.

Whatever it is, don't give up. Hold your head up high. And keep writing.