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Career changing Inspiration Writing

Getting Inspiration from Visual Artists

Getting Inspiration from Visual Artists

Visual artists and the visual arts can be a source of intense inspiration. Because their struggles can be a lot like a writer’s.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Visual Artists
Do you ever get your inspiration from visual artists and their works?

Consider how a piece of art makes any of us feel. Does it inspire? Or are you puzzled? Can it move you emotionally? And what’s happening around the fringes? Because sometimes the details and the background are of more interest than the main subject. You know, just like in books sometimes.

Hence let’s take a look at some inspiring pieces.

Visual ArtistsOf course Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the world.

Furthermore, the mystery of the piece continues to this day, as it has for a few hundred years. So, what, exactly, does her smile mean? After all, it’s a small smile. And so the model intrigues us, even now.

 

 

 

Here’s another one.Visual Artists Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory is another very well-known piece although you might not have known its name.

Because the painting is so strange, it can offer any number of interpretations. How important is time? Is the setting a desert? And what about the odd white lump in the center? Could that maybe be a creature wearing a clock as a saddle? Maybe it means we are all driven by time and memory. Hence we are all under its yoke.

So think about the paintings (and sculptures, too!) which you know. And consider what you see in them, for they may help, particularly with writer’s block.

A Practical Idea

So did you know that Pinterest has secret pin boards? It’s true. And what that means is, you can always create a secret board for only you to see. Or you can share it with a select audience, such as beta readers or even fans, if you like.

And all you need to do is, go to your profile and scroll all the way down. You’ll find it on the left (“Create Secret Board“). And that’s all you need to. So fill it with art which has meaning for you.

Visual Artists: Some Takeaways

Visual artists and art can inspire. And the internet means you don’t even have to visit a museum, although you might want to, anyway.

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Career changing Inspiration Writing

Getting Inspiration From Names

Getting Inspiration From Names

Names

While names have meanings, you can even get inspiration simply from how they sound. What’s Gertrude like? How about Lakeisha? Or maybe Stefan or Juan?

Popularity

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Getting inspiration from names
Can you get inspiration from names?

The popularity of what people call their children changes over time. This can depend upon movie stars, politicians, or even religious figures. When I was born in 1962, my first name, Janet, was already past its peak. However, it was popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Why?

Because in 1937, Janet Gaynor starred in A Star is Born. However, Janet Leigh did not star in Psycho until 1960. And Janet Jackson doesn’t seem to be having too much of an effect on baby naming. For a lot of little girls who would have have the name Janet in the past, now often have the name Jennifer or Jessica.

Ethnicity

Another factor? Ethnicity. Maria has probably made the crossover to non-Spanish and non-Italian families, but not Juan and Vito. How many non-Russians have the name Boris (the British politician Boris Johnson notwithstanding)? And do you know any non-Irish women named Siobhan? So when you create your characters, see if you can match ethnicity. Of course there are Jewish kids named Sean and British people named Dominic. So this isn’t a hard and fast rule or anything.

For my own work, Ceilidh O’Malley in The Real Hub of the Universe has the most ethnic name of all of my main characters. But Noah Braverman and Mei-Lin Quan from Mettle are up there, too, as is Mercedes Pérez in Time Addicts.

Tradition

For westerners, traditional names generally come from both the Old and New Testament, or from the saints. Hence you see Margaret and Mary, but also James and David. Other related names can be similar or with alternate spellings or derivatives. Marynel and Maryellen of course derive from Mary, and Stefan is just the German version of Stephen (or Steven).

In my own work, the most traditional names mainly come from The Real Hub of the Universe. This is because that trilogy takes place in the 1870s and 1880s.

Inventions

People also, sometimes, invent new names. Actress Alyssa Milano’s daughter is named Elizabella. So of course the name comes from clipping the Beth part off Elizabeth and instead inserting the similar name, Bella. While it might or might not catch on more widely, it’s a fairly harmless alteration. Plus it allows for a number of shortenings.

Because all of the characters in Untrustworthy are aliens, I had to come up with names. Hence I came up with Tathrelle, Ixalla, Adger, and Velexio.

Takeaways For Names

Name your characters whatever you wish, but do keep them consistent within your universe. And while there’s technically nothing wrong with having two similarly-named characters, if they spend too much time together and are otherwise too similar, that can lead to some . Hence you might occasionally want to change Tim and Tom to Tim and Dan.

And keep in mind, names can come into and go out of fashion. These days, very old-fashioned names are often popular again. Hence, your futuristic science fiction novel might have people named Hiram, Dorcas, or Ethel.

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Writing

NaNoWriMo Advice for All

NaNoWriMo Advice for All

NaNoWriMo advice? Yes; I’ve won it every year I’ve entered.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Quill | NaNoWriMo Advice

This is (for real!) how to do NaNoWriMo. Learn from my mistakes!

Preliminaries

1) Plan if you can and if that helps you. I would suggest even pantsers should at least do research in advance. No sense in looking up how to say “I love you” in Latvian during November if you can do it beforehand. And no, that’s not cheating.

Dailies

2) Write every single day. It should be at least 1667 words, but even 1 word beats the hell out of none. I have found this is some of the best NaNoWriMo advice I have ever gotten. Writing every day gets you into a habit.

Move Ahead if You’re Stuck

3) Can’t write chapter 4? Then skip it and write chapter 5. You’ll go back, or maybe chapter 4 will turn out to be superfluous. You’ll stitch it together later.

Don’t Edit!

4) Don’t edit! Do that in January or February (in December, either finish or just leave it). In November, it’ll eat up time when you should be writing.

Manage Family Expectations

5) Tell your family or whoever you live with that you’re doing it. Ask someone else to take the kids for an hour, or say you’ll make dinner all December if someone else does it in November, etc. Just, set expectations and get some help from others to get all the other little things done around your home. E. g. my husband isn’t a writer but he’ll put on his headphones at his desk while I’m writing so his computer sounds won’t bother me. Little things like that help.

Getting Ahead

6) If and when you can get ahead, do so. Can you write 1800 or 2000 words or more instead of 1667? Then go for it. No law says you have to stop at 1667 and call it a day. If you’re feeling it, have at it!

November 30th Isn’t Some Magic Day When Suddenly You Have to be Done With Your Story

7) The story does not have to be finished at 11:59 PM on November 30th. You just need 50,000 words. For the last two years in a row, I finished NaNoWriMo in the middle of November but didn’t finish the books (they were both over 100,000 words) until January. No, this is not cheating.

Nixing Writer’s Block

8) Got writer’s block? Then step away from the keyboard and exercise for 15 – 30 minutes. Pump iron, take a walk, play frisbee, beat the rugs, shovel snow. I don’t care. Just burn calories and then go back to it. Because it really does help.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

9) Don’t compare your accomplishments to others. Because there will always be someone who writes 100,000 words in one day or something like that. And there will always be people complaining that they’re behind. Also, there will always be people typing up until the very last second, and there will always be people wasting time online. Don’t worry about them.

Just take care of your own work and leave them to theirs. Their issues, quirks, and complaints are none of your concern.

Back Up Your Work!

10) Back up your work! I back up in three rather different places – my hard drive, a flash drive, and OneDrive, which is Microsoft’s cloud storage. So I highly recommend a similar setup for everyone. I had to replace a computer right before 2017 NaNo but I lost none of my prep work because it was on two places other than my old laptop’s hard drive.

There is always someone who loses their work during November. And I have seen it all, from soda on keyboards to toddlers stomping on flash drives and breaking them, to power outages. Don’t be that person.

Sabotage

Lots of people get this, and sometimes a friend or a loved one doesn’t even realize they are doing this. Remember what I said about managing family expectations? You may need to reiterate this. Or you may need to put it in writing so it’s not “forgotten”. Your solutions might be to get up early to write before others are up, or at lunch break, or during a commute, or late at night when everyone’s gone to bed.

Got headphones (or at least earbuds)? Then put those suckers on, even if you play no music at all. This is body language. You are busy and working; others will just have to wait. And tough on them.

You Take Care of You – And Guard Your Writing Time Jealously

Here is also where expectation management comes in handy. If your family was already told you would not be cooking in November, then they can’t say on the fourth that you didn’t warn them. You can also stave off some of this with family preparations before the first rolls around. Got a slow cooker? Then make a bunch of meals and freeze them for during the month. Get the kids’ haircuts and dentist appointments out of the way in October. You get the idea.

If it’s someone or something that really can’t wait (your toddler is screaming, your mother is in the emergency room, or your spouse is seriously threatening divorce), then by all means stop what you’re doing in order to deal with that.

And if you don’t make it to 50,000 words, it’s okay. Really, it is. NaNoWriMo exists so that writing, which is an often solitary endeavor, gets a social component. But that’s it. If you write in December or October, or you write less than 50,000 words, or you never validate, it’s equally okay.

Some Final Words of NaNoWriMo Advice

The best NaNoWriMo advice I can give anyone is to have fun with it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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Career changing Inspiration Writing

Writing Children and About Children

Children

Children characters can present their own set of challenges. And keep in mind, I wrote a bit about kids in the Aging post. However, now it’s time for a deeper dive into what it means to write about children.

Don’t gloss over childhood. It’s not all sunshine and roses. Some kids have truly horrible lives – bullying, abuse, poverty, and trafficking are all still with us. And don’t forget, even infants can get cancer. But right now, let’s concentrate on some issues that are a lot easier to take.

Infants and Toddlers

The very young can change in rather rapid and surprising ways. Fortunately, several developmental charts exist. And they can give you an idea of what a baby or child can do at a certain stage. Hence, for example, a newborn should not be out of diapers unless they have help or you are writing some sort of fantasy. Furthermore, while these charts give an idea of what to expect, they’re not laws.

Kids develop at their own paces. So recognize that while your newborn character going diaper-less is probably not going to be believable, you can still write a range for these milestones. Furthermore, you can also use standard milestones as a way to signal problems with a baby, such as by showing the reader a child who should be crawling as barely holding his head up.

Preschoolers and Elementary School Children

The start of school is a major event in a young child’s life. And so are other firsts, such as learning to read and beginning to really socialize. And their vocabularies are growing as their worlds continue to expand. By this time, they probably have a good idea of their sexuality even if girls are icky and boys are gross.

For the most part, a child does not naturally lisp! Adding lisping and other affectations will just irritate most readers. However, you can indicate immaturity with simpler sentence structures and vocabulary. A young child has not read Kierkegaard. And they probably don’t know what plenipotentiary means, either. Unless, of course, they’re a genius.

But use genius characters sparingly. Most people just plain aren’t Einstein or Hawking, etc. Too many geniuses, unless you make them some sort of a special program, are just going to be annoying to readers.

Tweens and Teens

As with younger children, these older kids have their own developmental milestones. Puberty in girls comes with not only the development of secondary sex characteristics, but also menarche. Adolescence in boys can arrive later than in girls.

Writing a historical novel? Then know that menarche (a girl’s first menstrual period) occurs about three years earlier now than it did a century ago. This is due to, among other things, better nutrition.

Kids in these age groups tend to start to get interested in relationships (although asexual folks beg to differ). Plus, everything can be ultra-dramatic. Some may be losing their virginity or facing pregnancy issues. And others might be late bloomers, wondering why things are happening to everyone but them. Our present-day culture attaches a number of privileges to this time, including becoming old enough to drive, work, drink, marry, go to war, and even vote.

Takeaways

Kids are more than their developmental stages. However, it still pays to know these and follow them, even if you want your characters to subvert them. And as with all characters, do your best to avoid clichés.

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Career changing Inspiration Writing

Getting Story Ideas

Getting Story Ideas

Getting story ideas can sometimes be difficult.

Where do your story ideas come from? Harlan Ellison has been known to quip, “Schenectady.”

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Getting story ideas
Where are you getting story ideas?

I wanted to use this image for a blog post about getting story ideas because it is perhaps the oddest thing. Because I really did see this dirty plate in the sink a few years ago. And I thought: there’s a story there.

Inspiration Comes in Many Forms

So for every dirty plate, there are a thousand other possible sources of inspiration. And I’ve been posting a lot of these sources. These are means of how I inspire myself but they are far from being all-inclusive. And you don’t have to find any of them inspiring if you don’t want to. Also, your methodology will, undoubtedly, differ from my own.

However, here are some things which have worked well for me.

Personal Methodology

  • Look at multiples. That is, if you see one thing that is of interest, pair it with something unexpected. Or maybe add another thing to it. As a result of doing this, I came up with the phrase, “Smart kangaroos“. And this phrase helped me to write a ton of fan fiction.
  • Flip the script. So what I mean is, consider the opposite of something you like. Or even consider something you dislike, and what it would take to make you like it.
  • Filter your outside stimuli. That is, look at the outside world like a character or a reader would. What do you notice? What do you ignore?
  • Let ideas settle and percolate.
  • Use brainstorming as a tactic. This means not filtering your ideas. The concept behind brainstorming is to throw a ton of jello against a wall and hope some of it sticks (or something like that; I’m probably mixing metaphors here). The short answer is: don’t self-censor.
  • Write down your dreams.
  • Write down your ideas, no matter what they are. They might be a turn of phrase, a scene, a name, a face, anything.

Getting Story Ideas: Takeaways

If all else fails, you can look at writing prompts and those are perfectly fine. But to make your own kinds of prompts, consider what you would be doing if you had to be the one coming up with the prompts.

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Writing

Writing Progress Report – Third Quarter 2020

Progress Report –Third Quarter 2020

How great was third quarter 2020? So I spent third quarter 2020 mostly working. The pandemic continued, as did the American conversation about race. Which is not a bad thing.

Third Quarter 2020 Posted Works

Third Quarter 2020
First of all, I worked on a number of new short stories. A lot of these had been drafted on paper and so I spent some time fixing and polishing them.

Then on Wattpad I posted on the WattNaNo profile and nowhere else.

Milestones

Also, I have written over two and a half million words (fan fiction and wholly original fiction combined). So right now my stats on Wattpad for wholly original works are as follows:

  • Dinosaurs – 29+ reads, 9+ comments
  • How to NaNoWriMo – 18,579+ reads, 231+ comments
  • My Favorite Things (like kibble) – 972 reads, 133 comments
  • Revved Up – 59,292+ reads, 530+ comments
  • Side By Side – 9+ reads, 0+ comments
  • Social Media Guide for Wattpad – 13, 479+ reads, 590+ comments
  • The Canadian Caper – 473 reads, 37 comments
  • The Dish – 250 reads, 24 comments
  • There is a Road – 188 reads, 28 comments
  • WattNaNo’s Top Picks 2018 – 1,814+ reads, 45+ comments
  • WattNaNo’s Top Picks 2019 – 1,124+ reads, 7+ comments
  • What Now? – 1,949+ reads, 48+ comments

More Published Works

Also, I am amassing quite the collection of published works!

Untrustworthy, which is my first published novel. So yay!

Almost Shipwrecked, a story in the January 2019 edition of Empyreome.

Canaries, a short story in the March 29, 2019, edition of Theme of Absence.

Complications, a story in the Queer Sci Fi Discovery anthology. So this is an anthology where the proceeds went to supporting the QSF website.

Cynthia and Wilder Bloom, stories in the Longest Night Watch II anthology.

Killing Us Softly, so this is a short story published in Corner Bar Magazine.

Props, a story in the Longest Night Watch I anthology. So this is an anthology where the proceeds go to Alzheimer’s research.

Surprises, a story in Book One of the 42 and Beyond Anthology set.

The Boy in the Band, a story in the Pride Park anthology. So this is an anthology where the proceeds go to the Trevor Project.

The Interview, the featured story in the December 14, 2018 edition of Theme of Absence. So they even interviewed me!

The Last Patient, a story in the Stardust, Always anthology. This was an anthology where the proceeds go to cancer research.

The Resurrection of Ditte, a story in the Unrealpolitik anthology.

This is My Child, a short story published in the April 8, 2019 edition of Asymmetry Fiction.

Three Minutes Back in Time, a short story published in Mythic Magazine.

Darkness into Light, so this is a short story to be published in Corner Bar Magazine.

WIP Corner

So my current WIPs are as follows:

The Obolonk Murders Trilogy – so this one is all about a tripartite society. But who’s killing the aliens?

The Enigman Cave – can we find life on another planet and not screw it up? You know, like we do everything else?

The Real Hub of the Universe Trilogy – so the aliens who live among us in the 1870s and 1880s are at war. But why is that?

Mettle – so it’s all about how society goes to hell in a hand basket when the metals of the periodic table start to disappear. But then what?

Time Addicts – No One is Safe – so this one is all about what happens in the future when time travel becomes possible via narcotic.

Prep Work

So currently, my intention, for this year’s NaNoWriMo, is that I am writing the second novel in the Time Addicts/Obolonks universe. But I need to iron out the plot! So a lot of this year will be spent on that. This one will be called Time Addicts – Nothing is Permanent.

Third Quarter 2020 Queries and Submissions

So here’s how that’s been going during third quarter 2020.

In Progress

As of third quarter 2020, the following are still in the running for publishing:

Publisher Title
Defenestration Magazine Soul Rentals ‘R’ Us
Journey Into… None of This is Real
Minola Review Gentrification
Protean Justice
Salvage Blue Card
Short Story.me Who Do We Blame for This?
The New Southern Fugitives The Guitarist
The School Magazine A Kitten
Utopia Science Fiction The Student
Whiskey Island Magazine I Used to Be Happy
Zooscape A Kitten

All Other Statuses

So be sure to see the Stats section for some details on any query statuses for third quarter 2020 which were not in progress.

Stats

So in 2018, my querying stats were:

  • 68 submissions of 19 stories
  • Acceptances: 4, 5.88%
  • In Progress-Under Consideration: 3, 4.41% (so these don’t seem to have panned out)
  • In Progress: 10, 14.71%
  • Rejected-Personal: 14, 20.59%
  • Rejected-Form: 24, 35.29%
  • Ghosted: 13 (so these were submissions where I never found out what happened), 19.12%

So in 2019 my querying stats were:

  • 23 submissions of 11 stories (so 6 submissions carry over from 2018)
  • Acceptances: 4, 17.39%
  • In Progress-Under Consideration: 0, 0%
  • In Progress: 11 (so this includes 2 holdovers from 2018), 47.83%
  • Rejected-Personal: 4, 17.39%
  • Rejected-Form: 3, 13.04%
  • Ghosted: 1 (so these are submissions where I never found out what happened), 4.35%

2020 Stats

So in 2020 my querying stats so far are:

  • 27 submissions of 12 stories (so 9 submissions carry over from 2019)
  • Acceptances: 2, 7.40%
  • In Progress-Under Consideration: 0, 0%
  • In Progress: 11, 40.74%
  • Rejected-Personal: 8, 29.63%
  • Rejected-Form: 2, 7.40%
  • Ghosted: 4 (so these are submissions where I never found out what happened), 14.81%

It can be pretty discouraging and hard to go on when nothing new comes up which is positive. It was a huge lift when Killing Us Softly got an acceptance!

Third Quarter 2020 Productivity Killers

So it’s work, what else? I am working on a ton of things and since that is also writing, it can sometimes burn me out. So there is a lot going on, and I am busy as all get out. Because you just know that third quarter 2020 will not be the end of that!

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Career changing Legal Promotions Writing

Swag for Independent Writers

Swag

Do you like swag?

Swag for Independent Writers | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Adventures in Career Changing
Swag for Independent Writers.

So, swag is necessary when you go on the road. Work a convention at a dealer’s table, or get your book into a library, and you may need a little extra something to give away. Hence here are a few choices.

Bookmarks, a Very Common Form of Swag

Maybe the best and closest kind of giveaway item is the humble bookmark. In one sense, it’s perfect because it relates directly to books and reading. And you can spend as much or as little as you like. Plus maybe you only want something straightforward, perhaps a section of your cover, often printed on one side on heavy cardboard stock. And that’s great!

Because you’ve got some real estate, consider some additions, such as your website or even a QR code for a discount off one of your books. However, I suggest leaving one side blank for notes. While that’s not strictly necessarily, it may end up cheaper for you, not to mention it having an actual purpose.

Bookmarks are particularly useful because not only can you put them in your own books, you can put them in library or bookstore books. Yes, they might be removed and discarded. However, you need to consider that these are loss leaders; you need to be ready to lose some cash on these.

Business Cards

These seem hit or miss. If you go to conventions and run a table or booth, you will need cards. And again, try to keep the back blank. Pro tip: use matte. Shiny card stock costs more and it makes it harder to write on the card. Because you want people writing on your cards. Oh, and don’t be stingy with them. Give them away. Meet someone? Give them a card. Someone stops by your table? Give them a card. Like bookmarks, these will be discarded by a lot of people. Accept that as a cost of doing business.

Tee Shirts

These can work really well if you have a fantastic and memorable cover design, or a great catch phrase. Imagine a tee shirt which has your cover on the front and your catch phrase on the back. You can make people into walking billboards this way. Be ready to give a lot of these away, and maybe even use them as contest prizes. Most people will not purchase these unless you become really famous. Again, this is a cost of doing business.

Toys and Action Figures

Funko Pops lets you design your own male and female characters. But volume is an issue here. And so is the startup cost. The blank figures in that link are almost $10 apiece. Hence a large run of these may not be in the cards – so take advantage of their rareness and play on the scarcity aspect when giving these away or selling them.

For other types of action figures, look at prices and consider what you want to settle with. If the figure doesn’t end up looking a lot like you, how will that make you feel? If the answer is ‘terrible, of course’, then you might want to do something else with your swag budget.

Swag: Some Takeaways

Giving away swag may seem counterintuitive. After all, you want to make money, rather than spend it. But if you are new on the scene, it can be a great way to get noticed and show how you’re different from all the rest.

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Inspiration Writing

Getting inspiration from injuries and medical care

Getting inspiration from injuries and medical care

Medical care matters in our lives, so it should matter in fiction, too. Because unless your setting is a magical one, somehow, some way, any hurt characters will need healing. And they may even need it in a magical setting as well.

Injuries and medical care

Medical care might not seem like an inspiring subject. However, doctors naturally witness drama on most days. And some of the most compelling stories can be about that, such as Coma.

Injuries

So, have you ever broken a bone, or suffered a sprain? And if either of those things happened to you, what happened next? Did you faint? Or seek medical attention? Was it fast? Or maybe did your injury linger, even with an infection or complications. Did you need to have surgery? And even if you were not the injured party, maybe a friend or a family member was.

Illnesses

So illnesses, of course, can run the gamut. They can be mild colds or HIV. And they can be chronic, like diabetes is considered to be today, or a death sentence, such as Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is even more compelling and heartbreaking due to its gradual theft of the self.

We often think of cancer as the worst of all possible diseases, yet treatments are better now than they ever have been. However, if you are writing historical fiction, that was not the case, even as recently as the 1970s or so. And if you aren’t squeamish, look up the treatment for breast cancer for John Adams’s daughter. Yes, that John Adams.

Childbirth

Of course these days only women give birth (although medical science may change that someday, and don’t forget about transmen!). However, men can always witness it, not only the actual event but also everything leading up to it.

Death

Of course death comes along with the territory. Consider the impact not only on the patient and their family, but on the caregiver(s). How do home health aides feel? And what about doctors, or even researchers trying an experimental treatment? Losing a patient is tragic, yes, but researchers can learn a lot from that.

Plus, naturally, the end can bring with it an autopsy.

Medical Care: Takeaways

Characters slip and fall, or they get battle injuries or just a cough. The medical care they receive matters.

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Publishing Writing

Character Creation

Background – Character Creation

Character creation is rather personal. It depends on how organized you are, and how much you like to plan. So character creation will vary. This is what I tend to do. However, my methods are not necessarily the best or the most consistent ones.

Character Creation Adventures-in-Career-Changing
What’s your character creation process like?

Your mileage, when it comes to character creation, will undoubtedly vary. And that is perfectly okay.

This is actually a picture of me from 2015, by the way.

Origins for Character Creation

For me, characters arise in a few ways. One is just that I can ‘hear’ their ‘voices’. Or I might see a face clearly. Lots of situations or activities can create a focus. So I might walk around my neighborhood and consider what I see. This is whether it’s something from nature or just someone’s illegally parked car. Music in particular can be helpful for this, although it is not absolutely necessary.  For a fanfiction bad girl character I named Pamela Hudson, her personality came barreling in when I heard the Amy Winehouse song, You Know I’m No Good.

And sometimes, characters just appear, fully formed. I tend to consider names in the context of how they sound and what they mean. Hence a character like Marnie Shapiro Chase came out of nowhere because I liked how her name sounded. Then I worked on putting her together. The same was true of Colonel Craig Firenze. He started off sounding good and I built from that.

Character Creation: Ethnicity

Still other characters might arise out of names and ethnicity. Or even national origin. Jazminder Parikh and Akanksha Kondapalli are both Indian women, but Jazzie is a doctor, whereas Akanksha is an attorney. I also tend to like someone to be from the southern US. Hence Jeannie Louise Scutter and Patricia LaRue arose. Characters from the UK might be Dave Shepherd, super-spy, or Dr. Devon Grace. Plus there are also scullery maids Frances Miller and Ceilidh O’Malley. So it runs the gamut of rich and poor.

In addition, I try to write some characters of races different from my own. These run the gamut from Dr. Elise Jeffries and Dr. Mei-Lin Quan to Solar System President Fankald Williams and her sister, Tamara Woods.

What’s in a Name?

While draping a character around the meaning of their name is kind of silly, it can sometimes help to inspire. I liked the name Ceilidh O’Malley, and it was a bonus that her name means a type of jig. Hence someone who grew up in grinding poverty had a rather frivolous name. So I gave her the middle name of Aisling, which is Irish Gaelic for dream.

Dave Shepherd didn’t originate as a protector in the Obolonk universe, but as I wrote him, he became one.

Other characters just almost tell me their names. This was certainly the case with Craig Firenze and Kitty Kowalski in Mettle. In Mettle, the two bratty tweens were always going to be Kitty and Mink. Tathrelle was another name that sprang up, for Untrustworthy. Frances always existed in The Real Hub of the Universe, but her surname started off as Marshall, not Miller. Her name was changed as a character named Marsh was mentioned too often with her.

Other characters are named for people I know, in whole or in part. The Enigman Cave is particularly chock full of such characters. It’s everyone from the Chief Veterinarian to a space defender to the Chief Engineer. The Real Hub of the Universe has some, including the Chief of Police. Plus the Ashford baby is named for a man I know.

Character Creation: Show Some Emotion

Characters also exist to make the main character feel something. And this isn’t always something good. Ben Chase exists to piss Marnie off in The Enigman Cave. Johnny Barnes exists in The Real Hub of the Universe to terrify Ceilidh and force her into action. Jeannie exists in Mettle to anger Craig and eventually make him not feel too bad about getting on a plane. And one of the reasons Dave Shepherd exists in the Obolonk universe is to help Peri get over Charlie.

Plus there are always love interest characters, even if they don’t last. That’s Lex Feldman in Enigmans and Dalton Farouq in Time Addicts, the 2019 NaNoWriMo novel.

Shapiro, Shapiro, Shapiro

As a kind of personal ‘tell’ and Easter egg in my works, every longer piece (except for Untrustworthy, as none of those characters are human), somebody is named Shapiro. This is even true in fan fiction, where characters Ethan and Rebecca Shapiro (father and daughter) figure prominently in the overall storyline.

The Obolonks series has Greg Shapiro. He’s a wisecracking cop living in Connecticut. The Enigman Cave has Marnie Shapiro Chase, the captain of the spaceship. Marnie’s kind of frumpy and nerdy but also very smart. Then in Real Hub of the Universe, the name is subtle. Blima Shapiro Taub is a character never actually seen ‘on screen’. Blima is known more for her jealousy than anything else. In Mettle, Shapiro is Eleanor Braverman’s maiden name. Eleanor suffers from Alzheimer’s.

So you can see that the Easter egg characters are all rather different.

In the November 2019 NaNoWriMo novel, the name shows up as a the married name of a sibling of the protagonist.

Character Creation: Purposeful Characters

Sometimes characters are necessary to fulfill some purpose or another. Technically, that’s supposed to be the case with all characters (oops!). Either advance the plot or be background exposition. Hence Noah Braverman’s fellow reporter, Francine O’Donnell, serves to give him a bit of a reason to express his thoughts out loud in Mettle. Ben Chase serves as Marnie’s foil, but he also makes a big discovery which helps drive the Enigman plot. And I needed Livia Thorson in Obolonks to explain some of the robotics, just as I needed Ned O’Malley in Real Hub to explain how Ceilidh was going to get to the states.

Sometimes purposeful characters come in the form of radio or TV show hosts, or nameless people reading news stories aloud or commenting on them. How many times have you stood in line at a coffee shop and heard people discuss the events of the day? Even if it’s the sports section or politics or whatever, it can still help to orient readers as to time and place.

In Untrustworthy, Ixalla started off as a kind of explainer character, but then the role grew when I turned her into a revolutionary.

Takeaways

Why do you need a character? Do you like them? Do they drive the plot? Will you kill them off if you have to? Make characters to fulfill these purposes or to add depth and background. Give your story dimension with people who feel real.

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Categories
Writing

Self-Review – Your Call is Very Important to Us

Your Call is Very Important to Us – a Look at a Short Story

Your Call is Very Important to Us comes from a general concept of ‘the world turned upside-down’. This short story was written for the third volume of The Longest Night Watch. All of the proceeds will go to the Alzheimer’s Association. So that is, if we ever publish it.
Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Quill | Your Call is Very Important to Us width=
I never name the narrator in ‘Your Call’. The reader just gets her husband’s name, Milo.

Background

The world has gone to hell in a handbasket, and we’ve dropped the bomb. And so has our unnamed other side. There’s devastation. No one and nothing will survive.

Enter our characters.

As the narrator says, her husband was a doomsday prepper. And while everyone thought he was nuts, they were okay even as the world came to an end.

So who’s sorry now?

But our narrator’s got one big problem. She’s bored out of her mind.

Plot for Your Call…

With nothing to do but read, eat, and fool around, the narrator and her husband are at the ends of their tethers. They are older people – there aren’t going to be any children. So they are not going to repopulate the earth.

The one break to the monotony comes in the form of something you and I both hate – automated telemarketer calls.
Of course, a ringing telephone in the middle of nuclear devastation is a cause for concern, wonder, hope, and fear. I will admit that a part of the idea came from Ray Bradbury’s classic Martian Chronicles story, The Silent Towns

Characters in Your Call…

The only characters, apart from people the narrator talks to on the phone who may or may not still be alive, are the narrator and her husband, Milo. Milo never speaks and neither does the narrator. All the reader gets are her rambling, wacky thoughts, presumably in writing.

Memorable Quotes

When the bombs dropped, we were already ensconced in our shelter. Milo built it. Milo’s my husband. He was one of those doomsday preppers. People used to say he was crazy. But they’re not saying it now. Why not? Because they’re probably all dead. If the radiation and heat won’t get you, the germ warfare will, Milo says.

We live just outside of Henderson, Nevada. It’s near Las Vegas, or at least it was. I’m not so sure what’s up there anymore. It’s probably not much.

Rating

This story has a K+ rating. While the one sex scene takes place off screen (as it were), the backdrop is nuclear war, and of course that’s upsetting.

Upshot

One very big issue is that the volume has been delayed for what I believe is coming upon years. Yes, really. So I just checked – the story has been in limbo for over two years. So will it ever be published? Right now, I’ve got to say, I have my doubts. Big, big doubts. And that’s unfortunate, because I really love this story. And I love the charity and the group. But I suppose we’ve got … issues.

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