Brooks Blog

4/15/17 The Problem with Character Names.  Do fantasy authors have a problem?  I’ve encountered readers who can’t deal with character names of any oddity.  My sister read Justi the Gifted, an epic fantasy novel, liked it, but complained about the character names.  She couldn’t pronounce them and couldn’t distinguish so many.  Another person who received the novel as a gift said he couldn’t handle all the strange names.  A third reader echoed this concern.  None of these readers had ever read a fantasy book, which may have contributed to the problem.  I now have a  pronouncing list of characters I give to buyers.  Even slipped them into the bookstore copies on consignment.  I wish I had included it in the book and will do so in the next book. 

To be fair I should mention that other readers, including my twelve-year-old granddaughter, did not mention names as a problem, but I wonder if the fantasy genre is prone to the character-name barrier.  This seems true when the setting is an imagined world.  Mark Lacy’s The Dreamtunnel Sequence uses names like Enkinor, Visylon, and Banshaer, which are tough (the author does have a glossary of names, but it is hidden in the back of the book).  Renee Scattergood’s Shadow Stalker has characters named Cathnor, Cali, Kado, and Auren, different but short.  Tolkien, the grand master of the epic fantasy tale, hits us with Frodo, Meriadoc, Gondalf, Legolas and dozens more in the Lord of the Rings.  And reader acceptance of Tolkien did not depend on having three movies with these characters.  Fantasy novels with imagined worlds entered from this world do get by with common names.  Phillip Pullman uses Lyra and Will in His Dark Materials..  J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy uses ordinary names, but Neverland is entered from this world.  Just close your eyes and fly.

Justi the Gifted is entirely a story about the Kingdom of the Zell, an imagined place where names are not the same as in this world.  Epic fantasy by definition involves different groups and different locales, which contribute to the number of strange names.  Name confusion is not confined to fantasy books, of course.  Harry Bingham’s Talking to the Dead, a delightful mystery, has two characters named Brydon and Bryony who I did not know were different persons of different genders until well into the book.

I continue to wonder if the veteran fantasy reader has trained him/herself to deal with strange names.  Regardless, part of the solution to removing this barrier is to choose different names, maybe shorter and quite distinct and starting with different letters and sounds.  The real solution is to so establish the character by description, action, dialog, and quirks that only a stone would fail to know who they are.  Scrooge and Marley have strange names, but who could confuse them?  What’s your thought?

2/23/17 Book Chat.  Thursday 10 to 11 a.m. at Highland Books in Brevard, NC.  R.R. Brooks leads a lively discussion of one of the most popular book (movie, TV, adult, YA, and children’s) genres: fantasy.  Ah, the lure of magic in a myriad of forms.

1/5/17.  Blog Announcement.  All day Thursday Jan 5, I am the featured guest on the site The Write Way Cafe (http://thewritewaycafe.blogspot.com/2017/01/the-romance-subplot-in-fantasy-by-rr.html  ).  My blog topic is the use of the romantic subplot in fantasy books.  Based on my vast experience with romance with many women in many lands, I am able to analyze the use of a love angle in fantasy literature.  Check it out, and if you have a good example that grabs your fancy, add it as a comment.  I will be checking in during the day to lend his wisdom.  The Write Way Café site archives it blogs and mine can be accessed after the feature date by clicking on the above link.

12/19/16.  The Squirrelly Hyphen.  In a well-edited book, I was struck by a cluster of misused or missing hyphens.  The hyphen, as I understand it, serves to avoid confusion.  Admittedly, editors can differ in its use, but some rules apply.
In my book I found “none-the-less,” which is, of course, the one word “nonetheless” requiring no hyphens.  But the same editor let go “smart ass women,” suggesting this was an intelligent female of notable posterior dimensions.  How about the one word “smartass?”
Hyphens with numbers can be a problem.  This editor let fly “he stood six feet tall and weighed two-hundred-and- sixty pounds.”  I like the “six feet tall” as is because the phrase is not an adjective but an object.  I don’t think we need the hyphen for the big number either (and no “and” before “sixty”).  Thus: “he stood six feet tall and weighed two hundred sixty pounds.”
I might argue for “my money-grubbing ex-sister-in-law,” but this editor let this go with no hyphens.  (The same editor allowed “capice” for the Italian American slang “capisce.”)
Back to numbers: “seventeen year old girl” has to be “seventeen-year-old” to serve as an adjective describing “girl.”
So I’m saying that the editor screwed up.  Know something about hyphens and check your author review copy with care to avoid confusion and embarrassment.  Hyphens may be debatable in some instances, but not in others.

12/2/16  In Australia.  Currently featured on Renee Scattergood’s beautiful blog page http://reneesauthorspotlight.blogspot.com.au/2016/11/justi-gifted-by-rr-brooks.html
Renee is an American lured to Down Under by marriage.  She is the author of the Shadow Stalker Series, short novellas (episodes) that tell the story of Auren, a young shadow stalker who is being hunted by the Galvadi Empire because of their belief that she will enslave the people of the Serpent Isles.Shadow Stalker Cover 3 JPG

11/20/16  My Character is Flat.  An author friend recently confessed that she found her lead character “flat” and solicited help to fix the problem.  I delved into my store of writing craft instructional stuff and come up with some helpful guides to creating strong, memorable, sympathetic characters.  One such guide was Stephanie Kay Bendel’s chapter “Creating Four-Dimensional Characters” in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing.

 

3/31/16.   Incentive for Next Book.  My 11 1/2-year-old granddaughter gave me both a boost and a kick the other day. She read Justi the Gifted and said I write well. Even wanted to know what color uniforms the Tantrocans and Zellish wore so she could draw something for a school project. I told her leather the color of cows and farmer clothes. Then she asked if I were “making” another book. That’s the kick I needed to check the outline of the second book and stop procrastinating.

3/4/16  Book Buzz.  Justi the Gifted was featured on the Book Buzz section of N.C. Writers.org and continues to be available on the site:  .  The brief description of the fantasy may lure a new reader or two who loves the imagined worlds where customs are different but people are the same.

2/8/16.  First Book Group.  I had the pleasure of attending a book group that had chosen to read Justi the Gifted.  The session at Pappadeaux’s Restaurant in Cincinnati, OH featured a great meal and great questions, such as what character did you like best, what are the themes in the book, and how did you like the ending.  I much liked hearing the readers’ answers.  One participant asked about the transition from science to fiction writing.  A great evening.

1/4/16.  Inspiration.  Writing teacher Dinty W. Moore (Ohio University in Athens, OH) says, “I don’t believe in inspiration.  I believe that you sit at your desk, and you push your pencil around, and you feel lousy about yourself for a while, and eventually, you just start writing.”  I have the fell lousy part down.

12/24/15.  Add a Dog.  Anica Mrose Rissi, author of Anna Banana and the Friendship Split writes in a recent issue of The Writer that the “one true rule” of fiction writing  is “When in doubt, add a dog.” The dog can be a guide character for the writer, stretching and yawning to signal a dragging part, causing trouble when a spark is needed. And, of course, dogs provide warmth. They speak to the heart. Thus they help with the real “rule”: find the thing that makes the story matter to you and let it guide you.

12/1/15.  Write What You Know. To Start.  Charles Salzberg, author of Swann’s Last Song, talks about the validity of “write what you know.” In The Writer of November 2015, he suggests that writing about what you don’t know is the key to originality and sparkle. We are blessed with the means to research places, people, and things that are not familiar to us. Use them.

Citing his success with putting his character in odd LA neighborhoods, Berlin, and even a Mexican jungle, all locations based on research and not visitation, Salzberg claims the key to writing fiction is making stuff up. As the late John Barden put it, “…sit at the typewriter and lie like crazy.”

But you have to start somewhere. With a firm footing in place, even if it is another writer’s influence, you are free to expand and fly. Just make it believable.

 2/23/15.  Sex in a YA novel Sexuality is of keen interest to the young characters of a Young Adult novel, including of the fantasy genre.  It is also a part of any “coming-of-age story.  So how such things are handled?  In many ways that constitute a ladder with the rung at the bottom being longing (“I want sex”), followed by noticing (“He/she might be a possible partner”), then imagining (“What would it be like?”), then closeness (“This is a thrill”), then reciprocation (“He/she felt something”), then contact (“So that’s how a kiss feels”).  There might even be consummation and consequence.  In a YA novel, the penultimate “c” has to be implied.

11/23/14.  How is Justi a Young Adult Novel?  I confess that I wrote Justi without any notion that it was a Young Adult novel.  That only became clear when my publisher put it in that category, and in retrospect, I see the features that would so classify it. The protagonists Justi and Mercerio are teenagers, and they are potentially in love.  The stage is set from the start at Justi’s arrival when we hear from Mercerio’s POV how she reacts:    

10/30/14.  Inspiration for Justi the Gifted.  As a young adult I read David Edding’s fantasy novel The Belgariad.  It entertained, fascinated, and inspired me.  So much so that I wanted more of this type of tale and decided I could create such.  The result after many years was my epic fantasy, Justi the Gifted.  The acknowledgements paragraph in my book credits Eddings’ wonderful story as my inspiration. A key part of Eddings’ work is the character of Garion, a young lad destined to do great things with great power. Obviously, Justi is a mimic of Garion.

10 thoughts on “Brooks Blog

  1. I couldn’t figure out how to comment on individual blogs, but maybe there isn’t a way to do that. So, I’m commenting on the Problem with Character Names blog.

    I love the idea of including a pronunciation guide. I’ve often wished I had one for fantasy books I’ve read in the past. I dig the made-up names–it just wouldn’t be the same if elves and dragons were named Eric and Sara–but I’m not such a super nerd that I know how all of those exoctic spellings are to be said. When I read, I don’t just skim. I read aloud in my head, if that makes sense. I sound out words I don’t know or haven’t encountered before in print, testing them to see if it’s one I’ve heard out loud before. That’s not so easy to do with names.

    I’m even going through this with a series I’m currently reading. In the Miss Peregrine books, the time-stopping bird-women are called “ymbrynes” and I have no idea how to pronounce it. I stumble mentally each time I encounter it. Names that I cannot pronounce have the same effect on me. It throws me when I encounter them. Your pronunciation guide sounds like a perfect solution! I hope it’s something everyone starts doing!

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