Naming characters is one of those little details that can add a lot of color to a story. Without going into all the nuances of leaving them unnamed or giving them monikers based on license plates, here are some thoughts about what characters get called.
I once read a book where everybody had names like John, Martha, Bill and Mary. Now the author may have done this on purpose to underscore that they were common people (caught in an uncommon situation, of course). Personally I would have liked a couple of the names to be more distinctive, especially if they were tied to characters that needed to stand out.
In this age of multiculturalism, nomenclatures can also serve as gentle reminders of someone’s identity. When you read about Hakeem, you don’t confuse him with Seamus, much less with Kameko.
Focusing on a culture in history or aliens in the future might present names so uncommon that a cast of them can become difficult to sort out. Using names that are either descriptive or opposite can help designate which character is involved. Readers can remember that Victor is on a winning streak or Shorty is the tallest person in the room.
Keeping a name pronounceable can also be helpful. J. K. Rowling came up with seven creative ways to illustrate how Hermione is supposed to be said, but Syvwlch (unless you’re Welsh) could cause brain-lock for folks. Seamus might have to become Shamus, but that could only be if he leaves Scotland.
In the genre of romance you expect Prentice and Selena to fall in love, not Ralph and Betty. Nor would you believe an alien who told you his name is Skippy. Rusty sounds good on a cowboy (would he squeak when he walks instead of jingle?) but seems odd on a manicured businessman.
There are plenty of other factors that come into play, but I won’t be exhaustive here (it wears me out). Going beyond what’s in a What to Name the Baby book, however, can make calling your characters names more fun.
Just remember it’s considered bullying if you do that with real people….
Words are funny creatures. If you want to know the definition of one, you look it up in the dictionary. But sometimes the idea they convey can go farther than Mr. Webster or someone else of his ilk had in mind.
You’re probably already familiar with the denotative and connotative meanings of words. Denotative relates to serving “as a linguistic expression of the notion.” Connotative relates to a cultural or emotional association.
In other words, denotative is, and connotative is how it can be taken.
When someone says “Oh, great!” do they mean something is wonderful … or are they implying things aren’t so cheery?
When a woman mentions a “hot babe,” you figure she’s concerned about a sweaty infant. If a guy mentions “hot babe,” however, he’s probably referring to the woman who’s trying to cool that infant.
When Caesar said “Lend me your ears,” he wanted his audience to listen with rapt attention, NOT do a Van Gogh on their lobes and loan them out.
(Although I am put in mind of a Star Trek episode where Kirk and Spock travel back in time and Kirk tries to explain Spock’s ears by claiming he fell into a mechanical rice picker…. Don’t ever think there was never any comedy on that show!)
Connotations are blood to a writer’s words, giving them life when, if we had to stick to the literal meaning, a passage would otherwise be rendered dry as dust. Without connotation, the preceding sentence would have turned out more like this: Connotation uses concrete concepts to adapt an abstract idea to a written passage, making it more creative for the reader.
Huh? * Snort!* Cough! Where was I? Oh yeah, so after they pulled Spock out of the mechanical rice picker, they took him to a missionary who…. You mean that wasn’t where I left off? And I already did the whole blood and dust bit? Oh, great…!
If confession is good for the soul, brace yourself … my last couple of weeks are sort of lost, and it dawned on me it was time to post a blog. With so many other things vying for my attention lately, I don’t have a clue what I’m going to write about.
Lucky you, I’m about to go on a brainstorm.
In writing jargon, that means put the words to screen (or paper) as they come to you. Don’t stop and edit (do not be afraid … I will edit this before posting.). Pump out the words whether they’re gold or trash because your goal is to make your brain vomit verbiage.
Ew, that was gross alliteration….
How many people envisioned writing as sitting next to a sunny window and sipping a cup of tea (or something harder) while merrily tapping away on a keyboard? And how many of them discovered it can often be more like staring at a blank chalkboard (okay, if you’re under thirty, you might have to look that up) while raking their fingernails across it?
Umm … all of them?
I’ve already pondered what motivates writers, but this situation does remind me of a joke (of course): A writer died and was told he could choose between going to heaven or to hell. He wanted to make an informed choice, so the angel took him to hell first. Writers were chained to their desks and furiously banged away on their keyboards while they were lashed with fiery whips.
“Ew, let me see heaven,” he said. So the angel took him there and he saw writers chained to their desks and furiously banging away on their keyboards while they were lashed with fiery whips. “Wait a minute,” the writer said, “this is just like the other place.”
“Oh no, there’s a difference,” the angel replied. “Here you get published.”
I’ll leave you to ponder that one for a while. It’s time to grab a cup of tea (or something harder) and chain myself to the desk and get to work. Hey, where did that whip come from…?
“Open this blasted gate right now!” The woman’s shout to the guard startled IMP17 more than it should have. “Zeke!”
One reason she’d caught him off guard was because his conversation with the bearded man visiting this makeshift cell was essentially intense. Earlier today he’d interrogated IMP17 and then had him thrown into this refuse pit. The garbage was recent and shoved back into one corner, leaving enough room for IMP17 to remain kneeling, arms bound and ankles shackled, on the rough rock floor.
The man whom he’d just learned was Zeke stood against the wall near the gate while aiming a blaster at IMP17’s face. At least Zeke had done him the favor of removing the canvas bag that had been slapped over his head when the soldiers hauled him to this prison.
The guard who’d been standing at the gate and aiming a blaster at IMP17 lowered his weapon to allow the woman in. That was another reason he’d been caught by surprise. The Rabble were notorious for keeping their females away from the fighting front, and only a kilometer away a battle raged … the second engagement that day.
Zeke’s demeanor grew edgier. “You shouldn’t be here!”
“Quint sent me!” She hesitated just inside the gate and glanced back and forth between the two of them with a fiery gaze. Her clothes were bloodstained.
Imp17 was distracted for a few seconds. Throughout his life he saw conspicuous women only occasionally. The Elite, who altered themselves to the image and function they desired, tended to go for an androgynous look. It underscored their equality with each other and the inferiority of the unimproved Rabble.
He noted the streaks of gray in her upswept, brown hair. So that explained it. She was beyond child-bearing age, which probably made her more expendable than the wenches who could still gestate.
Despite her years she was strong in form and features, and IMP17 could have felt a primordial shift about her if he wasn’t discussing more pressing matters. He redirected his attention to Zeke, noticing the gray in his beard seemed to match that in the woman’s hair.
“Quint?” Zeke’s frown deepened.
“It’s a bucket of mayhem out there.” Her fists clenched. “The wounded and the dead are rolling in faster than we can treat them. Quint’s decided it’s either death by cyborg…” Her gaze locked on IMP17. “…or take a chance on the IMP.”
“It’s like I said.” IMP17 continued to speak calmly even though his heart started pounding. “You have to kill them twice.”
Her eyes flashed. “What?”
“He was explaining that when you came here.”
IMP17 nodded. “Part of their biotechnology includes a Central Control Module, which is an AI application located in one of five areas. If on a twenty-percent chance you neutralize the CCM, the biological unit remains functional. If you kill the organism, the CCM takes over and the soldier will continue fighting.”
“Abomination!” she rumbled.
Zeke sounded more astonished. “You mean the zombie apocalypse is for real?”
“It virtually doubles the troops, so it’s efficient.” His breath quickened. The event that could seal his fate with these people was about to descend.
If the cyborgs defeated the Rabble, they would either kill IMP17 immediately or capture him to bring in for execution. Earlier today he became a traitor to the Elite by striking against the cyborg troops under his command. He was the reason this second wave of attack was necessary.
The Rabble mistrusted him … and for good reason. But allowing him to fight on their behalf would get him a step closer to gaining their confidence. There was still no guarantee he would live, but this was the only option that gave him that chance.
Zeke stared at him. “You can kill these cyborgs like you did the others?”
“Each has a tell the technicians use to identify upon sight the location of the CCM. I recognize them.” He returned the man’s gaze. “If you release me, I can dispatch them more quickly than any of your people.”
“Quint said to turn him loose.” The woman shook her head. “Even though it’s a risk, the IMP is our only chance.”
And the Rabble were his only chance. Even before today, if the Elite had discovered he’d come to conclusions that contradicted their ideology, they would execute him.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day,” Zeke muttered as he strode the short distance to IMP17 and began unshackling him. “I just hope this deuce doesn’t make me die the same day.”
“Yeah.” The woman’s glare hinted how she didn’t like the information she brought any more than Zeke did. “Even if he wins, we’ve still got a super soldier on our hands.”
He kept his gaze steady with hers as Zeke loosened the bonds around his arms. “Determining CCM location and being genetically enhanced only gives me the prospect of defeating these cyborgs. I’ve lost the element of surprise. These troops are prepared to exterminate me, and my welfare is as much in your hands as yours is in mine.”
Her attention shifted to Zeke. “Is it always this mouthy?”
Upon those words he was freed, and IMP17 sprang to his feet as he swung his hand, palm up, to Zeke.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Zeke muttered as he placed the weapon into IMP17’s hand, and then shouted to the guard, “Open the gate!”
The woman’s hand moved to her hip, probably to draw some small pistol if IMP17 acted in any unsuitable manner. He strode out the gate, past the guard that gaped at him, and toward the clamor of battle. Zeke and the woman followed.
At least if he died here, it would be in combat, and that was preferable to being executed and cremated simultaneously by the Elite. It was the most efficient way to dispose of anomalous people, but on the battlefield he had more chance for survival.
So here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the word this round was Bucket. Be sure to check out the other participating stories and see how creative others could get with a word that appears so mundane at first glance….
This is part Four of my ongoing serialization. If you want to catch up, you can find parts One, Two and Three at these links. Hope you’re having a bright beginning to the year!