Planning, Research and Character Names

One of my lovely bleaders (blog+reader=useful term I did not invent), when I asked for post topics, replied with Suggestions for Post Topics. JillyB set out a series of insightful questions, the type that would be asked in a creative writing class but not easily answered. I shall attempt to honestly address these issues, but writing is such an individual experience I would love for other bleaders to join in with their responses.

Also, I’m not sure if she is asking me these questions personally, or using the managerial ‘you’. I will be answering personally, but — as noted — please speak-up if you have a different opinion.

Question Set #1:
Do you plan to write? (i.e. If you have limited time to write, how do you make that limited time productive?)

Answer Set #1:
I plan to write in the sense that I will say to myself, ‘It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon and I have no plans, I will go to the coffee shop and write.’ And, that works. But what works better is deadlines, then it’s like a job. Competition deadlines, publication deadlines, or even ‘I need to get it out of my head before I forget it’ deadlines. This makes writing happen. I will also add writing specific scenes, chapters or short stories to my everyday to do lists, and tackle it like I would washing the dishes. So, to answer the unasked question, I do not wait for inspiration to strike.

As for making my time productive, just get it done. Once my bum is in the office chair and my fingers are hitting the key pad (getting to this part is the hardest), I simply get it (whatever ‘it’ is: chapter, essay, scene, etc) done. Like work. Spending years working freelance, and an equal amount of time completing postgraduate dissertations, I have learned to work independently.  Treat your writing like a job (even if it’s only a 5 minute a day job), and you’ll be much more productive.

Question Set #2:
How much research should be done before and during writing? Can you do too much writing, so that it gets in the way of writing flow?

Answer Set #2:
This will depend on what you’re writing. Historic fiction and non-fiction will require a considerable amount of research, where some fictions may require none at all. However, even with historic fiction you can get some words on the page while you research, and outlines are always good in these circumstances.

Personally, I write it all down first (outline, notes, chapters, just writing), knowing that some bits may be inaccurate, then go back later and adjust. Then again, I don’t write in a genre where my plot could go squiffy if I haven’t concluded enough research; therefore any ‘looking up’ can wait. And, of course, when writing academic and journalistic papers, fully completed research and notes take priority.

What I have seen, however, is research being used as an excuse to write. ‘I can’t possibly start this chapter set in a vineyard until I’ve read everything I can on the Sonoma Valley.’ This is nothing short of procrastination, and an under estimation of how important and laborious editing will be. The little research details can be added and adjusted later in the editing process.

Question Set #3:
Tips on how to name/build characters.

Answer Set #3:
As for naming characters, I don’t find this terribly important. In fact, I don’t find people’s names in real life important. The fact that your name is Alison doesn’t mean anything other than you are from an English speaking country and are likely to be a woman. If your name is Allayessohnn, then all I know is that your parents were morons. None of this tells me anything about you as a person. If your name was Tree, and you were tall and had a big leafy head, then a name may be an indication of something. As it stands, names mean nothing to me, and this is possibly why I never can remember anyone’s name.

I take this same stance with character names. So, my suggestions are:

1) Try not to be clever (example, the street sweeper named Ali Way)

2) Don’t give characters similar names or the same name in one novel (just because Withering Heights did it, doesn’t mean you should)

3) Once you decide on a name stick with it (otherwise you’re continually finding the previous name crop up in your manuscript when editing and it’s confusing)

4) Allusions to literature are nice and make the reader feel clever if they pick up on the reference, but this isn’t necessary. Once again, don’t try to be too clever.

As for tips on how to build characters, that’s for a different post. Or several. So, I’ll come back to that later. Hope the above helped.

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4 Responses to Planning, Research and Character Names

  1. Diane says:

    Names and Titles are two things that trip me up I have to admit. I have read of people who just flip though the telephone directory but I do feel that my character has to have a name that fits with their life and circumstances, even though that isn;t alway the case in real life. Titles though, perhaps a blog on Titles would be really helpful. I just can’t do em!!


  2. jillyb2010 says:

    Thanks for the response Rachel, all useful, and i was asking on a personal basis, but also for others. I feel like Diane, that my characters need names that i think fit with the period of time i’m writing in and for their lives. For the most part i have stuck with the names of my main characters for the piece of work i’m currently working on (developed in the Blackness evening class) but i keep changing other characters names!


  3. Rachel says:

    Ah, you are that JillyB from the Blackness Road class. Why didn’t you say? If you really want the names to reflect a specific period of time, peruse books from that era. In fact, there my be a list online somewhere of popular names by year. However, still don’t get too bogged down in it, it’s the story that’s important. (Although a work of historic fiction set in ancient Egypt with a protagonist named Brad may not work, and neither would a Spanish bullfighter named Yolanda. But — as long as they are appropriate to the country and time period — names aren’t that important.) My main piece of advice is to not change names too much. The more you change, the less likely you will be comfortable with any of their names, and in the editing process it will get quite confusing. I hope this helps.


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