Monday, October 15, 2012

What's in a name - part II - odd writer's block.

I've written about the importance of names on this blog before (-> here <-), but in working on my current WIP - New Bohemia - I noticed something else about names.

 Now, a bit about how I write to put this in context. I don't outline. My attempts to do so have failed. When I start a story, I usually know my main characters, their history, and their major story arc, and the ending. While I don't outline, I do a lot of pre-writing (a David Farland term, or at least one I learned from him). I spend a lot of time imagining a scene before it ever hits a page.  When I don't have a character's name or a detail I need to research I use "XY" as a placeholder. During the first round of edits, I search the document for "XY" and fill in the missing information. Using XY instead of a character name has never been a problem. Until now.

But in working on New Bohemia, I had to write a scene where a character (May) gets a phone call that changes the direction of the story, and places another obstacle between her and happily ever after. Now, I knew who was making the call, what her history was, how she was going to impact the rest of the story, the reconciliation needed between the two women, and what she had to say during this particular call. What I didn't have was her name.

The story languished for two weeks without more than a few words being written each time I sat down to work. I couldn't figure out why. It wasn't really writer's block. I knew what I needed to write, and most of the dialog. So why was this so tough?

Turns  out, I couldn't write because the character, who is a fairly major one, didn' t have a name. But I didn't realize that yet.

First, I chalked up the inability to progress on exhaustion. The day job was frantic and the kids were back in school adding another dimension of crazy to my life. Sleep had climbed up higher on the need list after all. Still, catching up on sleep and wrestling control of my docket didn't get me writing again.

Figuring I was missing knowledge I needed for the following scenes, I paused and researched avalanche rescues, and whether an entire town has ever been lost to an avalanche. Turns out there was a large avalanche, triggered by an earthquake, that flowed into a town. Thirty-four people died. It was a horrible, and unexpected disaster. Now, I had a real world basis for my catastrophe. Content, I sat back down at my keyboard.

And. . . still nothing.

Fine. Maybe, I'll flip through Sherrilyn Kenyon's Character Naming Sourcebook and  see if I could fill in some of those XYs while I pondered the full stop in my forward momentum. I knew my character was from Wales but had grown up in the household of Indian natives living in England. So, I flipped to page 381 of the book where Welsh names start. About twenty minutes later, Tegan Brice was born, or at least named.

Guess what? I finished that scene, the first one she appeared in, half an hour later. Having a name let me fill in other details that I hadn't considered yet.

So, what's in a name? Sometimes everything.

1 comment:

Heather H. said...

This sounds so much like me. It's impossible for me to work on a project until a character finally has a name--heck, until the project has a name. Helps make the story feel more concrete in my head, I guess!