Monday, September 22, 2014

What's in a name? Apparently nothing.

*This is really a post for writers, but anyone can read it and hopefully gain something from it.

God, where do I even start? My majorly sarcastic side is about to come out and I may offend, but it’s the chance I have to take because I’m tired of guy writers being the only ones allowed to dish out sarcasm and deprecation (including self). I mean, I get it. I know why. When a guy is sarcastic, he’s awesome and witty and hilaaaaarious. He’s a cool guy. When a chick is sarcastic, she’s a total bitch. So just pretend I’m a man.

Before I dumped my old personal Facebook page (that I used for my business), I had a lot of contacts and “friends.” This is because someone much cooler than I am set it up for me, and she had loads of friends and was deeply connected to the indie writing world. Anyway, because I had lots of “friends,” I saw lots of stuff in my newsfeed. And I noticed a trend emerging among authors that gave me pause to think. And the more I thought, the more I realized that this particular trend was dangerous. (Not to mention complete bullshit.) And no one would say anything about it! No one would call out this trend for violating some very important, inherent rules of writing.

The trend? Name My Characters! contests. Sometimes not even contests. Sometimes just, “I’m too fucking lazy to think of a name, so just give me one” posts. People, this is scary, and here’s why:

1.      It’s deeply offensive to the creative writing process.

No self-respecting writer worth her salt would stoop to this type of writing collaboration. Writing collaboration is fine in a critique circle with other like-minded writers—writers whose purpose it is to call out your bullshit, expect you to tighten it, and help you strengthen your writing skills. Yes, skills, because as a “writer” you should have skills. Example: you should be able to identify some literary devices and actually use them in your novels. But let’s be clear: these like-minded writers in your critique circle are not naming your characters for you. If you asked them to, they would politely ask you to leave the circle. It’s your job to name your characters. That’s part of the writing process. Yes, just like writing the actual story.

Here’s something to make you chuckle. Out of all my characters’ names thus far, Cadence is the most important to me. It was deliberately chosen because of one major detail in the Too Good series: Mark’s obsession with music. It represents an important part of his life and acts as his therapy. Hence, I wanted the girl he fell in love with to have a name that means “rhythmic.” Cadence was, after all, “his song, his life.” In essence, she became his music therapy. Now for the funny part: half the reviews I read (when I still read reviews) called her Candace. Candace. *pausing and blinking* And that’s okay! Yes, it’s okay because not every reader will find meaning in your characters’ names (or remember what they are, for that matter). But guess what? You should. And also guess what? Some readers will. And they’ll message you about how clever you are. Isn’t that worth putting in the effort?

2.      It’s a cheap marketing ploy.

We all want to sell books. Hello. Most of us don’t look at this writing thing as a hobby. It’s a job we take seriously. It’s painstaking and oftentimes terribly depressing. One step forward, five steps back sort of thing. It’s a part of us—a skill and passion deeply rooted in our weird brains that house weird dreams and desires. So treat it seriously. And have a little self-respect . . . and respect for the profession. I’m not suggesting a writer shouldn’t devise clever, fun ways to market her books. I’m saying that when authors use cheap tactics to sell their work or garner new fans—“Name my character and you could win my book!”—it completely devalues the sacredness of storytelling. A character’s name should matter to the author. It’s just as important as that plot twist or decision to make the hero go right instead of left. If it doesn’t matter to you, then you’re probably not a writer. Not to mention it makes the rest of us writers look like assholes: “Why don’t you run a contest like that, Summer? You need to be connecting with your audience.” Well, I guess because I want my stories to sell based on the merit of the writing style, plot, character development and choices I make, since, you know, it’s my story.

3.      It’s a subversive power play.

The clever ones know what you’re doing. You want to be the really cool author who connects with her fans on a level none of the rest of us could ever hope to understand. You want your fans saying, “Look how creative she is! I just feel soooo connected to her.” Guess what? Simply writing your story and having the guts to put it out there for all kinds of critique (both constructive and just plain ridiculous) makes you the cool author! Yes! For real! You don’t have to try to compete. Your fans may think you’re being uber creative, but the other writers out there know that shirking the responsibility of naming your characters isn’t creative at all. It’s just lame.  

4.      It screams, “I don’t care!”

Look it: we all want to get that book finished so we can move on to the next one. We all want to publish every two to three months, but newsflash: if you’re publishing every two to three months, chances are your stories are shit. Take a breath and relax. Go on. You can do it. Relaaaaax into your story. Feel it. Be consumed by it. Live in it for the appropriate amount of time. What is that? It’s however much time it takes you to get 90,000 words on the page and then revise it ten trillion times. Let everything about your story be important to you. Make deliberate choices. YOU make them, not someone else who is not emotionally and intellectually invested in your story. They haven’t read it yet, so how can they be? But you’d let them choose your heroine’s name? Ugh. No. No no no. You’re better than that. Don’t be a lazy writer. Care about your work.

5.      It makes the indie writing world look stupid.

Are other professional writers doing this? Doubtful. I have a hard time seeing Stephen King asking his fans to name his next hero. I do, however, see him telling a writer who employs such ridiculous tactics to go fuck herself.


For the record, I have absolutely no idea if this trend is still . . . trending. I have about five friends on my new page, so I see nothing. I’m just going to assume that it still pops up every now and then to make this post sound relevant. And that’s really because it took me so long to write it.


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