Naming Your Characters

I was reading book reviews today and found this comment.

TruthIt made me laugh like… super hard.

When teaching a lot of the time I have students who absolutely stress over their characters’ names. As in. They cannot possibly go forward in planning or actual writing because they can’t think of a name for their characters.

As a result of this I am pretty good at naming character related advice.


When trying to find a name generally you know what letter you’re looking for. That sounds weird I know but a name starting with ‘E’ (Earl, Eustace, Evan) will give a different vibe to a name starting with ‘J’ (James, Jake, Jesse) Figure out that ‘Letter Vibe,’ and go from there.

If the letter thing doesn’t work, try baby name websites. I use it has this super handy option which allows you to search a ‘meaning’ or even a ‘origin’ of a name. You need an Irish character who is strong? Liam. Bingo.

Ensure that you name characters according to the TYPE of fiction.


As mentioned above, don’t give your characters cringe worthy names such as ‘Angel.’ I am super sorry if 1) your name is Angel or 2) you know a person named Angel who is perfectly lovely but just don’t.

Your character needs a name which conveys the personality they have. Not a stripper name. Again sorry about the afore mentioned points 1 and 2.

Avoid using the same letter for every single one of your characters’ names. I have made this mistake before. It is confusing.

Avoid weird spelling of what would be simple names. Otherwise when you get published people will CONSTANTLY PRONOUNCE IT WRONG! Take this from experience. Write it how it is said.

Avoid long winded, weird fantastical names with ‘AE’ substituted for what would usually be like a ‘i’ ‘e’ or ‘a’. It’s weird and people will forget your character’s names. (See Super Official Graph Below)

And IF you have to give them weirdo names, make sure that your minor cast have more traditional names, (I am talking, non important characters here… not major ones) That way it makes it easier to see the wood from the trees.


Throw It In The Bin

Last week someone was talking to me about my ‘creative process.’

So in normal person talk I am pretty sure that’s the ‘How Do You Make Up The Stuff That You Make Up?’

They wanted to know how I:

- Got a concept

- Planned the concept

- Expanded it into actual material

- Edited the material

It was weird because I’d never quite thought that through before. Generally it’s something I just kind of do and as much as I totally keep a blog I don’t think too hard about stuff that I guess just happens out of natural intuition.

Anyway so I had to think about it because I had to give this person an answer.

What surprised me the most was my thoughts on editing, because I am pretty ruthless.

Once, I heard that the most inspiring thing that a writer can keep in mind is this:

Write better.

As a result, not only is it the two words written in the front of every single notebook I have it is also the initials that I pen when editing any work. W.B in the margins.

No jokes, if you look through some of my drafts, pages and pages and pages are crossed out in highlighter with those two letters hidden to one side.

I mean if it’s not good, then don’t keep it.

As a result, editing for me isn’t a gray area, it’s a yes or no. Is this working? Yes or no. If Yes, it stays, if No, do something else.

I am a huge fan of keeping stuff because you never know what you may go back to and recycle but then there are times where things just suck.

I wrote a song this week that sucked. Really sucked.

Played it to my boyfriend, and he told me it sucked. That’s how much it sucked.

Anyway. Top stop myself from doing this thing that is super dangerous, ‘settling’ I selected the file.

Then I deleted it.

Sometimes you have to throw it in the bin.

Doing Something Is Better Than Nothing

When I was younger I never understood that whole ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ thing.

I’m not sure if it was because I just didn’t think hard enough about it or I was stupid but for some reason I thought it was some Captain Planet Environmentalist saying.

Like, it’s better to release birds because there will be two of them in the bush (as a result of breeding, so like, the bird you had would find another bird and they’d have baby birds…?) so it’s better to just… free the birds rather than keep them all to yourself where they won’t make little birds in the wild.

I was colossally wrong about the meaning of this phrase.

There are a million reasons why you can’t do that thing you need to do. I’ve been thinking about it in relation to some of my students recently, but also to myself as I’ve been doing a bunch of songwriting.

The fact of the matter is this. It is better to just do something than do nothing.

‘I just don’t know where to start.’

‘But I don’t know what to do next.’

‘I don’t know what to name my characters.’

‘I have writer’s block.’

Insert another stupid excuse which really doesn’t matter.

Someone really smart once told me that it’s better to get something down than nothing. In other words, a bird in the hand (in the context of this analogy, a Falcon used for hunting) is way better than two that are free, out of your control in the bush.

Sometimes we allow things to immobilize us. But as creative, we are like sharks. If you’re not moving, you’re dead. You always have to be chipping away regardless of how difficult it is, how bad you think it is, whether or not you are happy with the character’s names.

The truth is that things can always be changed, but going back and revising something is better than having nothing at all.

I reminded myself of this last night when I sat down to work on a song I was writing for submission for church. (I try to write music for church, by the way.)

‘But I suck at recording. And I can only record piano tracks at work and I’m not happy with the verses, and I suck at singing, so they won’t like it because they won’t see past how crappy my singing/playing is.’

Then I was like. Okay I can either wake up tomorrow and be exactly where I am now, or I can edge closer to the end game. So I picked up my tiny acoustic guitar with the broken neck that I actually can’t play very well because heck I play piano not guitar and sung my song. But today I am one step closer to the end game.

To be honest, I was sort of stoked with the results.


When Writing’s Not Hard Work

The are times that writing can feel like pulling teeth.

Hard, painful, a total struggle.

Then there are other times that it just happens.

I’m totally experiencing the latter right now.

The thing is that neither sign of brilliance.

Some of the best stuff I’ve written has been a battle to get down on paper. In saying this you often hear stories about how some author’s have characters who just wander into view perfectly formed and the plot just unfolds in literary perfection.

The thing is that whether you experience the ease of a story just exploding in your head or you have to wrestle it into submission to fully understand it, you have to remember that at the end of the day it will be worth while.

The other thing is you have to appreciate that often you will feel both of these extremes at some point during the same story.

When I first started the super hero book I am working on at the moment (Dare, which is super awesome by the way) it was a mission.

‘I don’t know the character well enough,’ I said, because I was used to knowing my cast so completely (in the other series I write) that I don’t even blink when the characters do or say something.

Now, about half way in, it is practically pouring from my fingertips.

Writing is a mix bag. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy and often there is no rational reason why.

Two things.

If you are finding it hard, don’t stop.

I say this to my students all the time. Often writers block is in your head. There have been times I have thought, ‘Holy Moly, this is the worst writing I’ve ever done.’ then I read back over it and it’s completely fine. If it’s hard, keep going, and work it out.

Most things can be made easier by perseverance, and sitting down, and thinking it through. You are the author after all, no matter what the challenge, you can write your way out of it.

If you are on a roll, don’t lose focus.

Sometimes I’ve written stuff and I’ve been convinced that it’s the most brilliant work to be put to paper and then I look back and it’s so bad I’m embarrassed. When you’re on a roll, it’s easy to get the wobbles.

The wobbles are those speedbumps that happen when you don’t have the chance to think things through because you’re so super enthusiastic.

Take your time, slow down, and think it all through do you don’t have to come back and do a major rewrite.

Writing involves a LOT of highs and lows. Sometimes you can find yourself up to your ears in a project that’s as hard as washing a cat.

Other times it’s like that scene in Jurassic Park where they dig up that perfect dinosaur skeleton.

I’m totally in Jurassic Park Zone but talk to me next week and I may be in a completely different place.JP

Character Development 101

It is a little known fact that unless your characters change in someway, no one will want to read your story.

So my brother has been growing a moustache. This isn’t for ‘Movember,’ it’s in preparation for ‘Movember,’ because he takes a million years to grow facial hair. Anyway the day to day change and growth of the said moustache became hugely entertaining, if you can believe that…

The other day he asked me, ‘Jess, why are you so interested in my facial hair?’ and I thought for a moment before replying, ‘Because it’s like watching X-Factor. I’m emotionally on board now, I want to see it succeed, but every day I’m worried it will get voted off.’

The same can be said for characters. Unless the change, or grow, or encounter some kind of transformation in the story, they are going to be pretty boring.

Plotting this character development, especially if the book is one in a series, is really important because it gives you a pretty good perspective at what you’re eventually aiming to achieve.

So this is what you do:

Firstly, you identify their purpose.
There can be several purposes, ie: get the girl, save the cat, beat the bad guy, but generally there will be one over arching purpose. Figure that out.

Secondly, you identify how this purpose will impact them.
When bad stuff happens, your character isn’t going to be impressed. What will happen because of how unimpressed they are? Will they become angry? Humble? Hurt? Emotionally guarded.

Thirdly, identify the path and ultimate end of this development’s resolution.
When you take your characters through hell, you must bring them back. Characters don’t need to become who they were at the start of the story at the end, but you need to figure out who they will be at the end of it. There will be road markers too, along the way, that pin point turning points, or small resolutions before the story ends and we as readers can step back and see your master piece.

All in all, I sort of find that Character development is a little like a game of pin ball. Your character pings from wall to wall until they get where they need to go.

I’ve been doing this character development for my super hero story ‘Dare’ recently and this is what it looks like, hopefully you’ll get what I mean:

character development

Any great character development tips totally comment below!

Over Writing

Holy Moly.

You know that feeling? That feeling you get when you’re reading something that just goes on and on and on and on for no reason and it’s just EXHAUSTING!?

It’s like, sure, yes, the writer has explained their concept but they don’t just stop there, they have to explain the concept of the concept?

For example: Sam wandered through the hard wood door that reminded him of the door that had stood at the entrance of his bedroom all those years ago now.

Over Writing. There are all kinds of types of over writing.

- Over descriptive writing, where you use gazillions of describing words.

- Over emotional writing, where you use all kinds of words to capture the character’s emotional state without allowing them to express it

- Over detail writing, where you feel like you need to justify and back up every single thing that characters say, do or feel.

No jokes. READING Over Writing is exhausting. As a matter of fact, I was editing some this morning.

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. The art of saying as little as possible, with as much effect as possible. It’s a challenge, because as mentioned in an earlier post sometimes people take MORE words as a sign of BETTER writing. This is not the case. Writing less, and figuring out the very best word choice and metaphors and similes and whatevers shows far more control over language.

There are a couple of tips to keep in mind when avoiding Over Writing:

- Asking yourself, ‘have I said this before?’ if you have, then please don’t say it again.

- Over emphasizing the characters’ emotions with words rather than allowing the character to show or tell how they are felling on their own. I once heard it said that a good writer lets the characters SHOW the reader things rather than narrating it through script.

- When you do the above, but you have the character have twenty conversations with how sad they feel about their dog eating their homework or whatever… one or two, possibly three good outworked examples of their situation should do the trick. No more than that.

- Limit your adjective and adverb usage. No more than two.

- Look for better words, rather than using lots of words. Explore new descriptions, it’s exciting but also adds a dimension to your writing and a personal style.

- Write to a storyline. A lot of the time writers can feel tempted to use Over Writing when they have NO idea what they’re doing. To avoid this, write to a story line

- Make every moment count. Have you ever looked at a storyline and thought, ‘geeze, that part’s going to be annoying?’ I have. Then I stopped and thought, okay if I am resenting writing this part, then a reader won’t want to read it so how about I challenge myself to make it more interesting? Challenge yourself to make every part of the story jump off the page.

- Less is more. A fast paced story is always better than a slow, boring one. I watched Sharknado on Friday and it was awesome. Not because the plot was amazing or the dialogue was just incredible – because neither were true – but because it moved at a good pace and you knew that every four minutes or so someone was going to get ‘Sharked’ in a new and interesting way. Shorter and more intense is better than long and hugely boring. Trust me.

When it all comes down to it, Over Writing is like Hilary Duff’s style – the Lizzie Years. There’s a LOT going on, in the way of hair, make up, lip gloss, colours, etc… and everything’s so shiny that you look at it and think: ‘UH. Over Kill!’


The Danger of Being A Writer With Potential

I see it all the time.

No jokes.

In my classes I’ll have three kinds of students.

1) Those who are there because they enjoy writing.

2) those who are there because their friends are there/they think it will be easy and fun and

3) super gifted young people with ridiculous amounts of potential.

Now I have been collating all the various odds and ends of my students’ writing today and I’ve realized something rather important. There is a supersonic danger that lies to trap young gifted writers.

Generally the first and second kid of students (mentioned above) will do something rather useful: Just write what comes to their heads. This is actually hugely helpful because it avoids the one massive stumbling block I frequently see afflicting my gifted writers.

This stumbling block, this affliction? It’s called ‘Over Kill.’

Where the first and second kind of writer will just put thoughts to page, the gifted students will mull for hours and hours and use as many big words and describing words, and the like as they possibly can and convert it into a biiiiiiiiiiiig mush of really, really boring writing.

Okay. I sound harsh. Sorry.

It’s not that these students aren’t amazing, because they are. They have brilliant command over their words – in parts – and they absolutely mesmerize you with these fantastic settings and characters and plot twists and it’s awesome.

But reading it can often be super hard because they are trying to impress you with their super intense vocab and descriptions.

If you are a teacher or a writer, please, please, please take heed of what I am about to say.

Using heaps of words and taking a million years to get to the point is not skilled writing.

Learning how to control your style, learning how to select words, and metaphors and pace your story is the true mark of talent.

Life Lesson: How to Succeed In Life

I had this day – recently – where I was like, constantly let down by people.

You know the deal. Basically they tell you they’re going to do something and they don’t. That happened. But it happened like… seven times… by seven different people.

It got me thinking about what really determines success in life, and I realized that in today’s age of transient culture, of doing what you want when you want, of impulsion driving decision rather than responsibility the answer is simply this:

Do what you say you’re going to do.

A while back now, when I first started Gideon I had one central challenge to myself. I didn’t want to be someone who was all talk, no game.

As a matter of fact, I wanted to be all game, no talk. How much better is it that others see your fruit rather than you talking about what fruit you will have?

I sort of have turned this into a mandate now for my life as a whole. I want to be someone who is all game, very little talk.

The thing is that more and more today people are being ruled by desire rather than duty.

This is very much the case with writing. No one is going to finish your story for you, no one is going to do your planning while you go to the mall or watch TV.

The buck starts and ends with you.

No one else.

So that’s it. If you really want to succeed in life do this, and only this: do what you say you’re going to do. Be all game, little talk. The fruit at the end of the day is a better testimony than a zillion ideas.