Choosing Names for Fictional Characters

Belonging to discussion groups for fiction writers, one often comes across beginners asking each other how to come up with names for their characters. Should they just page through phonebooks? Should they ….?
– Seems to me it hardly matters what you call them early on. They often haven’t found and developed their depths and complexities throughout much of the first draft anyway. But once they have begun to discover and express themselves, some names will seem to express their specificities and complexities more than others would. Call them any name that comes to you as you are first developing the story. But after that it becomes a process of helping them to reveal their own names through whom and what they have become.

In “The Mourning After” I called the little boy Denis to show that the father may have been a war hero soldier, and demanded a man’s name for his child, but he also loved his wife, and yielded enough to let her spell it with one N (Thus letting it sound more sensitive, poetic, and maybe even a little Frenchified). – None of this was actually mentioned in the story, but a character’s name definitely has its effects on the moods of the tale, and on that character’s believability.

In “The Gardens of Ailana”, Marsha is first introduced as a bit of an insensitive lout and a truck driver. So I gave her a name that allowed other characters to nickname her Marsh, often a man’s name, thus referring to her manly qualities. But then, further into the story, people actually started to know her and like her, and at that point, Marsh became their nickname for someone they actually liked as a woman.

Artists must decide for themselves when their painting, or poem, or whatever is ready. My personal standards are that I will not release a novel until no word could be changed without losing some of its power and meaning within the story. Until each metaphor has layers; may refer backwards and forwards through several threads of the story; and is in no way cliched, boilerplate, or traditional (No blood red skies, or ideas hitting me like lightning, for example). And the book is also not ready if even a passing background character is left two-dimensional and under-developed. A part of each character’s richness then, would have led to them finding names that suit them.

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Writing Theosophically for Those Who Suffer

One of my major challenges in writing theosophical novels for readers who don’t know they’re theosophists is that so many of our “spiritual” concepts fail to stand up to the rigors of most people’s lives. It is all well and good to have a select few esotericists, knowing some Sanskrit and New Agey kinds of phrases, paying a few bucks at our lecture halls so we can remind them that everything is Mayavic illusion. That in truth they themselves are God, and ultimately unassailable. I myself believe these things, and live accordingly.

Then they go home and buzz for a while on the poetic eloquence of such a philosophy until that starts to wear off and they need another hit at another uplifting metaphysical conference.

But what of the masses who aren’t in any way ready or willing to listen to, or build their lives around that? Do we just abandon them as unenlightened fools? Where is our compassion if we take that approach?

Obama makes health care affordable, sets limits in how much our insurance companies, credit cards, and health services can milk us for. Tells big industries to stop polluting our environs.

Our child has suffered horrible, debilitating illness for so very long, but now we can finally afford treatments, and medicines. We watch him getting better. Healing. Laughing. Playing.

Then along come the Republicans. They take our insurance away from us. Raise the costs of our medicines by multiples. Lower our incomes. Take meals away from poor school children. Tell heavy-handed polluters they can dump all the poisons they want to into our food, air, and water.

So then, what do I/we tell those parents? That there are no external enemies? There are no battles to fight; no evils to stand up to? Just be at peace with watching your child returning to his long and awful pain, to that crippling he was just beginning to climb out of? And what does that parent tell his kid? That this is all an illusion? “Just suck it up kid, and keep dying. You’ll get it together one of these lifetimes, and then all this will be behind you”?

Totalitarian dictators throw us out of our homes, drive us off of lands our families had farmed for generations. They buy up all water rights in the deserts as tribal families wither up and die by the thousands, and we should just ignore this? None of this is real?

I write from the knowing that there are different levels of reality, suffering, and coping; and that most people are doing their best to hang on with what they have. I try to offer them hope that there may be some Higher meaning, and deeper access to healing and growing beyond a lot this, but I do not essentially call them numbskulls; tell them this (and their dear child’s suffering) is all their fault for believing that any of this is reality.

For most of us suffering is very, very real. And so that is where I start my stories. I welcome other readers who already know some of these things, and maybe carry them in a little deeper; but I will not slam any doors on the hearts of these others.

Writer’s Block may be a Way of Slipping into Deeper Gear

As so often happens in my strange writing process, after weeks of distraction; of not thinking about the book at all; yesterday I started writing before the sun was up, or coffee was made. Whipped out a whole chapter of probably six or seven separate scenes in less than two hours. Now today, the whole story has slipped into a deeper level of knowing and connections than has (as far as I know, anyway) ever really been written about before. This is much as my experience was with Ailana, when I kept slipping into deeper and deeper gears. Bringing forth insights I myself had never learned or suspected.

War Eats Away at the Spirit

… The frayed and gritty edges of everyone’s world were being worried away by neighbors you’d never noticed until the air spilled over with the tragedy of their loss. The war had taken them or their children; killed them, lost them, torn off body parts, shipped them back brain-fried….

… Tales fell from hearts in heavy, wet tones of grief and confusion….

… Even when rare moments of relative calm and clarity crept briefly through our days, they crawled in with head hanging through that most familiar of all tunnels, our sense of loss. Each new friend seemed only to step in and announce himself with his last breath. Why hadn’t we loved him earlier when there had been more time?

That overriding sense of loss was the dismal cloud through which you viewed the world. Dreading life’s relentless advance, but knowing your locks could never keep it out….

… As the late 60’s gave in and died, and I trudged through my first year as an art student in college, even the old folks were growing up. Their World War II glories clouded over. Someone had shot the president, his brother, and a great civil rights leader, dragging us all out of our warm, snuggly innocence.

People seemed infested by life, burdened by the stifling weight of it, until we could only force shallow, labored breaths. Each new day was just an old one playing through again, a dust-laden August, a storm always riding right on top of you that never quite cut loose. It settled into your joints until they grew achy, too heavy to lift; tarring all hearts with a dark, heavy plaque. Days stuck together as walking and breathing grew tedious. Until even my bubbly sister couldn’t offer up a smile without a shadow lurking inside it. We trudged through life as our mighty nation killed our sons and broke our buddies, defending itself from skinny barefoot farmers with sticks, in rice swamps somewhere on the other side of existence, where you couldn’t tell the good guys from the bad. Some lost tiny nowhere that hadn’t even existed when you’d been a kid; when the world had been innocent and untainted. Back when Father Knew Best, Beaver’s mom fed his dad all the answers, and Annie Oakley never had to shoot to kill….

  • From “Entertaining Naked People”

Fighting for What’s Real

Ericka had thought of them as her glory days when she had wanted to march on every capitol; kick down the doors of the most powerfully entrenched; when she had wanted to right every wrong, and stomp out villainy everywhere. Gene had called her the “Rebel with too many causes”.
But that had been different. It was as if all that had just been a training period, mere preparation for the way she felt now. That had been student idealism. This was the pain of a grieving mom who couldn’t watch anyone else’s kid suffer.
In her short time on the planet, their sweet daughter Madie, their little Bitsie, had taught them so much. About priorities. About courage. About how they could truly love and treasure another single human life, not just hold some general, pro-active fondness for all of humanity everywhere.
In loving that tiny child; knowing all the while that they were losing her, Ericka and Gene had suffered immensely. But they had also grown. In tending to their frail, courageous little girl, Ericka had once again unleashed her inner need to help others; an essential part of her being, but now with renewed, and focused passion.
Once, when Ericka had broken down and wept as she’d had to hand her baby off for more tests, it had been little Madie who had comforted Mommy. She’d told Ericka she was glad she could do this so they could find out what was wrong with her, and then maybe other little kids wouldn’t have to hurt this way ever again.
One way or another, her mommy now would make that little life count for something.
Ericka wanted to; she needed to cram all her pain into something she could change. Someone somewhere she could actually help, but not lose in the end. She had to find causes she could pour her almost fierce, hard-charging nature into, and actually save somebody this time.
It didn’t have to be one particular disease; it could be hunger; it could be anything, but she had to get out there and do something.
Before she had fought for causes.
But now those causes would have little faces.
– A taste of my new book, “The Soul Hides in Shadows”

Life is What We Believe

In pain and loss, we can find either meaning, or hopelessness. The choice is ours.

How we see things, how we interpret them, how we emotionally react;

these call more of the same into our lives.

We build a world for ourselves out of what we believe.

And how we choose to respond.

Whether we let it take us under,

or rise to meet it.

  • From “The Soul Hides in Shadows”, a novel by Edward Fahey

I am a Writer; not a Short-Order Cook!

One thing an early-on writer has to learn, is to be comfortable with and responsive to critique. When five people in a group tell you this chapter sucks; don’t snap back at them with, “Sure, but it gets better in another 6 or 7 chapters!”

Listen. – Thank them. – Consider.

They can look from a fresh perspective, and catch things that you might be too close to see.

But, you will also learn along the way that not everyone in a group of relative amateurs themselves, is going to catch everything, and there will be a few who seem to never understand much of anything.

Some will always want paragraphs chopped down to explosive missiles of passion, while others are more used to long composite paragraphs that I myself find impossible to wade through.

You may, once you have hit your full stride and power, feel comfortable telling a few of them, “Look. This isn’t a diner. I don’t take orders: ‘I’m gluten intolerant; he can’t do salt; she’s allergic to peanuts …’

“If what I offer is a salad bar, then No; I am not going to fry you up a cheesesteak!”