Friday, June 29, 2012

End of Logline Book Giveaway

Thanks to everyone who participated in the giveaway of Jordan Smith's book Finding the Core of Your Story: The Quick and Easy Guide to Writing a Logline.

In my post, I asked you all to guess the length of my story's logline. Well, here it is:
"In the wake of Japan's 2011 tsunami, a teen girl from a broken family must survive and forgive."

That's a total of 18 words. Here's the three closest guessers:

GodsPianist at 20 words

Rosie at 15 words

Mark Coddington at 21 words

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to everyone who entered! If you won, I'll be contacting you by email with the special code to redeem your book. For everyone else, go read it anyway!

How to Name your Characters

This baby is adorable!
“Mary—watch out! There’s a candy-spitting dragon coming in at twelve o’clock!”

“Aw, John, another dragon? Weren’t the fire-breathing-unicorns bad enough?”

That little snippet of dialogue could probably be turned into an interesting story—except for one major problem: the characters’ names. I mean, really, a fantasy story featuring dragon with main characters called Mary and John? That’s almost as bad as calling them Jane and Tarzan!

No doubt, as you’ve already learned from our little mini-series on names (see here and here), the names we bear and the names we give characters have extraordinary power. So as authors it’s important to focus on giving our characters the best names we can.

To do that, here’s a few tips.

1. Keep a name collection. 

  • List all your old favorites, your fabulous invented names, those book characters that you can’t get out of your head—last names, first names, place names. List normal names like Jason but don’t be afraid to go wild with names like Leopold Vincent Williams III. Whatever you do, keep it so that you can have a handy reference for later use whenever you’re stuck and need a name in a hurry.

2. Think about the time and place of your story.

  • If you’re writing historical fiction (or any story set in the past), be sure to research popular names at the time. Not taking the time to research a name can be disastrous: think, for example, of the Disney flop movie The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where medieval characters had names like Veronica and Belthazar. No wonder no one liked the movie!

  • If you’re writing fantasy, try to come up with different “sound systems” for each of your people groups. A sound system is basically a set of sounds used by that language, some similar to English, others different. Then select particular sounds out of the whole system to use for names. For example, maybe female names start with the sounds “Uu” or “Lo” whereas male names start with “Ma” or “Ki.” If you have multiple languages/people groups, make sure the names of each people group sound different enough to tell them apart.

  • If you’re writing science fiction, the same tips apply as for fantasy, above. However, you may also want to consider names with symbols or numbers. Plus, if you’ve got aliens with different vocal organs from humans, you could try to come up with a way to represent those languages on paper. It’d be a challenge, certainly, but it could take your writing from forgettable to memorable.

  • If you’re writing contemporary (on-earth-now) fiction, make sure the names are believable. If you still chose to use an outlandish name like “Dremnei,” have an explanation ready or else your readers won’t believe it. Also, be sure to consider the character’s ethnicity: you wouldn’t have a Japanese character named “Jane,” or an Indian character named “Will.” A great place to look for contemporary (modern) names is in movie credits, especially for the non-famous people like the crew members.

3. For unique names:

  • Scramble the letters in a normal name to get a new name. For example, Ethan could become Tehan or Nateh or Ehnat or any number of other possibilities.
  • Combine two common names into one. For example, Sarah and Janelle could combine to make a name like Saranelle or Janarah.
  • Type a sentence, phrase, the lyrics of a song, or even a random string of words together without spaces. Look for possible combinations of letters to use as names. For example: asyoulikeit (as you like it) could be a name like Asy, Olik, or Keit.
  • Use a common word and make it a name. Fiddle around with various spellings if you want to be a bit more subtle. For example, you could use the names Lavendyr, Thyme, Rust, or Rain for potentially strong, meaning-packed names.

4. Warnings

  • Make the name pronounceable. When we read, we hear the words in our head, and every time we read a word we can’t pronounce, our mind slows down until it comes up with a pronunciation for the word. The harder a name is to pronounce, the more your reader has to slow down and the more distracted they can get from the story.
  • Be aware of the associations with the names you chose. This is especially true if you use a famous name like Elvis. No matter how good your writing may be, it’ll be pretty hard to convince a reader to take a coldblooded assassin seriously if his name is Elvis. If you do use a famous name—the benefits being it could add great backstory to your characters—try to make it subtle. For example, instead of naming a character Audrey Hepburn, name her Audrey H. Lake.
  • Be sure to consider what nickname(s) the name would give your character. People tend to use nicknames with people they know well, so using a nickname is a great writing strategy to add realism to your story. However, if your character’s name is “Imortelle,” she might be stuck with a nickname like “Tell” or even “Telly.”
  • Think about the meaning of whatever name you choose. Sure, maybe the meaning won’t come up in the story, but it can add depth to a character nonetheless. Plus, you never know—the character’s name meaning might end up being an important factor in the story.
  • Consider the sounds of the name: soft, gentle sounds like “f,” “b,” “sh,” or “l” might give a character a different feel than a name with hard, clipped sounds like “k,” “t,” “v,” or “r.”
  • Don’t give multiple characters in your story similar-sounding names. For example, Billy and Bonnie will just confuse your readers. So will Jack and George and Jake and Jason. Make them distinct and memorable.

And that’s it—your simple guide for choosing the perfect name for your characters. Speaking of which, I think the names “Liddy” and “Dar” would be great for the fire-breathing-unicorn story.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Interview with J. Grace Pennington

Welcome, everyone, to the first interview on my blog. Today I’ll be interviewing J. Grace Pennington, a science fiction author who recently self-published her first book Firmament: Radialloy.

While our stories, styles of writing, and lives may be different, there’s always something to learn from others’ experiences. That’s why I asked Grace here today to answer a few questions from her perspective as a self-published author.

Grace, can you give us a thumbnail sketch of your story?
The year is 2320. Andi Lloyd is content with her life as the assistant to her adoptive father, a starship doctor, but her secure world turns upside down when she begins uncovering secrets from her past. When her father mysteriously starts losing his mind, she finds that she can no longer count on him to guide or help her. With mutiny breaking out on the ship, and two factions desperate for a valuable secret she holds, she must race to save her father and herself before time runs out.
Fascinating! I look forward to reading it.

What are some tips you have for writers?
Probably the biggest tips I have involve perseverance and hard work.  Somebody smart who invented the light bulb once said that "genius is about one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration", and that goes for writing, too.  Write when you're not inspired, write when you don't know what should go next, write when it's the last thing you want to be doing.  Writer's block actually doesn't exist.  When you feel "writer's block" strike, assess it.  Is it due to laziness, or a true lack of things to write?  If it's the former, press on bravely.  If the latter, work hard on planning what needs to be written.  But don't let yourself be conquered by a foe that doesn't exist!  Persevere.
Thanks for that encouragement, Grace.

What resources have been most helpful to you in your writing journey?
One of the most helpful things was the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum, which I went through with my sisters.  It taught me so much about story and how to make a story really work.  During high school I also did an online writing program called Write at Home for a few semesters, which was helpful in general writing skills.  But honestly, most of my help came from just reading, reading, reading, anything I could.  I noticed what was good and what was bad, and made mental notes with everything I read, to help me learn to tell good stories.
Sounds like good advice.

What made you want to self-publish? Do you have any advice for those trying to self-publish?
I've planned on self-publishing since I was about ten or eleven.  What always appealed to me most was the control that self-publishing allows.  The author gets to control the cover, the release date, how the book is marketed, everything.  The only downsides are that the author has to do all the work themselves, and that some people can be reluctant to buy a self-published book.  But in my opinion, the control is worth it.

I self-published through Amazon's CreateSpace, which is a very cost-effective way to do it.  They are a print-on-demand company, so you don't have to pay anything up front, and they automatically list your product on Amazon, so you don't have to worry about shipping or any of that.  Their books are good quality, too.  I'm planning on using them again in the future.

Thank you for having me on your blog, Sienna!
You’re welcome, and thanks for sharing, Grace! It was my pleasure.

You can purchase Firmament: Radialloy on Amazon, or order a signed copy from her website.

J. Grace Pennington is a homeschool graduate and a prolific writer, authoring novels, articles, film and book reviews, and screenplays. When she’s not writing you can usually find her working and playing with her family of eleven. Her greatest desire is to give glory to God with her writing.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Finding the Core of Your Story

Have you ever had anyone ask you, “I hear you’re a writer. What’s your story about?” Usually, when this happens, I curl up in a ball of embarrassed fright and confusion, trying to figure out how to condense two hundred pages of manuscript into a manageable soundbite. Recently, however, I benefited from the advice of Jordan Smith, a filmmaker and friend from Holy Worlds Christian writing forums. With his help, I’ve been able to write a (decent) 1-sentence hook for my story—in short, a logline.

How is this supposed to help you? Can you get logline advice from Jordan, too? Well, you’re in luck: Jordan just published a book titled Finding the Core of Your Story: The Quick and Easy Guide to Writing a Logline. Here’s the description from the product page on Smashwords:
What's a logline? It's a very short description of the core of your story. It gets to the heart of what your story actually is and conveys that information in as little space as possible. Ultimately, it’s a tool you use to get busy people interested in your story.

Not only that, it’s a handy tool for keeping your story on track. If you don’t know what your story is about in a single sentence, you run the risk of meandering your story into places where it doesn’t belong.

Filmmaker Jordan Smith has earned a reputation as a logline guru. Now he’s written this fast-and-easy book to share his logline know-how with you. Inside, you’ll find:

- The Quick-Start Logline Chapter to get you going right away
- The four fundamental logline rules
- Useful chapters on nitty-gritty logline details
- More examples than you can shake a stick at
- And more!

You don’t have to be a filmmaker to use a logline. You just need a story that you want to tell. Whether you write novels, movies, or even operas, this book is for you. Every storyteller should be able to say in one sentence what his story is about. This book will help you learn to do just that.
I read this book—finished it in one sitting—and I definitely agree with the description above: Jordan’s humor and easygoing voice, along with the short and to-the-point chapters and practice exercises in each chapter, makes this book a valuable tool for any writer or screenwriter. Also, as a novelist, I appreciate the insight into writing from the screenwriting angle—Jordan presented his material in ways I wouldn’t ordinarily think of. Plus, it's affordable even for impoverished writers like me.

If any of this has piqued your interest, I encourage you to head over to Smashwords and buy Jordan’s book, Finding the Core of Your Story, here.

But wait. Remember the title of this post? I said there would be a review…and a giveaway. That’s right, three of you will be getting a copy of Jordan’s book, for free! So what do you have to do to get it?

Simple: comment below with a guess at how long my story’s logline is (a logline is one sentence, remember). The three people to get closest to the answer get a free copy of Jordan’s book. Be sure to leave your email address in the comment, so I can contact you with the code for your prize!

Enjoy guessing, and everyone, be sure to read Finding the Core of Your Story here.

Update: The giveaway is now closed. Thanks for participating!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Names in the Bible

Last week we discussed the power of names in a human sense: a rose by any other name might not smell as sweet. The names we bear are packed with emotion and meaning.

However, one aspect of names we didn’t cover is perhaps the most important one: the role of names in the Bible.

The first instance of proper names in the Bible is Adam’s name, meaning “man” or “mankind”—fair enough, since he was the first man and the representative of humanity. Next, Adam named Eve, for she was “the mother of all mankind.” Also, Adam’s primary work in the Garden of Eden was to name the animals that God brought before him. So we see that even in the beginning, names were part of a being’s identity and defined who he or she was.

Later on in the Bible, names are again used for important moments in Biblical history. Abram becomes Abraham, the father of many nations; Sarai becomes Sarah, princess. Jacob becomes Israel, who “wrestles with God.” Naomi changes her name from pleasant to bitter (Mara), after suffering widowhood and the death of her sons. Biblical names, then, can change to reflect changes in the person’s role, circumstances, or purpose in life.

God can also use names to speak to His people. God told Hosea what to name his children (Lo-ruhamah, for example, means “not pitied”). These names serve as walking prophesies and messages to Israel.

The name of our Savior, too, abounds with meaning. The angel Gabriel told Mary to name her son Jesus, a transliteration of “Yeshua,” meaning God saves or God delivers. Christ is also called Immanuel, God with us. What greater, clearer message of salvation can there be?

Finally, God revealed to us His own Name. In Exodus 3:14, God declares His Name to Moses: “I am who I am.” God also says to Moses in verse 15, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” God’s Name is the most powerful name of them all.

So what about in your own stories—do your characters’ names have a meaning or significance in defining their identity? Do they perhaps incorporate a Biblical element or meaning? If they don’t have a special meaning (or if your character doesn’t have any name at all), is there a purpose in that decision, too?

Friday, June 1, 2012

What's in a Name?

"That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Sorry, Shakespeare, but in reality, names do matter. A name is not just a jumble of meaningless letters. Names are important.

Why? Names have power: they identify us, not just on the outside, but in our whole being. Names are linked with whatever attributes others call us: "Jane, you're beautiful!" "Kirk, you're smart." "Lily, stop being so stupid." All these attributes link our name to a mass of emotions, both positive and negative.

Think about it: you've done something wrong, how does your mother call you? That's right. By your full name. Try saying your name out loud--your full name. Even just saying it should give you a sense of some of the emotions and connections you have with your name.

In legends old and new, knowing a person's true name gave you power over that person (you can see this idea in Christopher Paolini's Eragon, the Earthsea Cycle of Ursula K. Le Guin, and others). Even way back in the Odyssey, Odysseus hid his true name from the Cyclops and called himself "Nobody." Clearly, almost everyone recognizes the power that a name can hold.

I've been pondering the idea of a name for a while now. First, it was the question of my own name: to use a pen name or not to. Here are the reasons I had for choosing to use my pen name, "Sienna North."

1. My real last name is a negative term, something that I don't want associated with my writing. The name "North" is fairly neutral in association. Plus, I've always thought the north was my favorite direction geographically (it's a romantic notion, I know).

2. My real first name is difficult to pronounce or spell (it's unique, though, which is always special). I needed something that people could recognize, pronounce, and spell at first glance -- and there, as we know, "Sienna" does the job perfectly. What's more, it's a bit unusual, and I love the sound and shape of the name.

3. Finally, I used a pen name for privacy. It's not that I'm antisocial and want to live the life of a hermit writer, but, like many workers, I want to preserve the distinction between my private and public/work "appearance."

Next, with the change in focus of the blog, I've been thinking a lot about what to do for a blog name. When I polled you, here's what you said:
  • 14 said keep it "Of Faerie & Faith"
  • 7 said change it to "Of Fiction & Faith"
  • 3 said change it to "Sienna North ---"
  • 3 said change it to something else
  • 1 said change it to "Whispers of a Dreamer"/some related name
So, it looks like the general consensus is to keep the name as it is. Thus, for the time being at least, my blog will remain the dear old name "Of Faerie & Faith."

And that brings us to the end of this somewhat disjointed post on names. Now for you: what's the story behind your name or blog name? Any tips on choosing (or not using) pen names that you want to share?