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A Side Character Inside Your Own Book

Would you rather be a side character inside your own book, or the main character is someone else’s? I’m not a fan of self-inserts, even if they’re not Mary Sues. I think being a lead in someone else’s book would depend on the author and what they write. Do I get to choose?

I would not, for instance, want to be the protagonist of a Stephen King or Charles Dickens novel. Anything period, like a Brontë or Austen piece, sounds miserable. My next obsession is going to be spy thrillers, and as much as I love John le Carré and Robert Ludlum I would not want to live in their worlds. Nope nope nope.

A Side Character Inside Your Own Book

This leaves me with being a side character inside one of my own books. I could find a comfort level there. My characters tend to be curious about how the world works, ask questions about human behavior, and try to figure out their own feelings. Which is, basically, me. I’m already baked into all of them, so I might as well be them. It beats getting shot at, eaten by monsters, or dying of consumption.


The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

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One Life That Lasts a Thousand Years

Would you rather live one life that lasts 1,000 years, or 10 lives that last 100 years each? Both sound awful. Part of me thinks that the continuity of a single life would have more advantages, though. You could continue to build on what you have, without having to repeat childhood and assorted learning curves.

If you believe in reincarnation, then we already live several lives of a hundred years or less. We don’t remember them. I’m assuming that in this exercise we do. More of a Shirley MacLaine thing than a tenet of an Indian religion. Presumably that way we get to learn from our mistakes, but don’t have to carry around other baggage like a poor credit score.

One Life That Lasts a Thousand Years

I’m not sure what this question has to do with writing. To try and frame it in that context, I guess you’d be able to build a body of work. There would be historical or cultural value in comparing what you’re writing now versus what you wrote a few hundred years ago. Even if you wrote fiction, it would chronicle how tastes changed over time. What would Shakespeare be writing about today, or Dickens? I’d kill to read a David Mitchell or Jonathan Lethem novel from a hundred years from now.


The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

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Coming Up with Character Names

There was a time when I owned an extensive collection of baby name books. Coming up with character names was a time-consuming process. Now I use random name generator websites, which has sped up the process considerably.

For incidental characters, where I might just need a first or last name, I’ll generate 10 or 25 and pick one that feels right. With main characters I will do the same, write down a few that strike me, then generate a few more. Within a few minutes there will be something that I’m satisfied with.

On rare occasions I will want a name that means something specific. That’s where I’ll do more research. When I had the baby name books this was my default process, which is why it took so long. At some point I realized that I was trying to be “deep” and ridiculously pretentious and stopped.

My wife tends to have true crime shows on in the background while she works. She keeps a notebook next to her and writes down the names of the people in the shows. Not the killers, usually, but victims, investigators, witness, and so on. Then she mixes up first and last names, usually across shows.

My final stop is usually Google. I check names to make sure that some famous person I never heard of doesn’t have the name. There’s nothing worse than discovering you’ve picked a first name-last name combination that already belongs to some violent criminal or, even worse, a politician.

Coming Up with Character Names

Okay reader, how do you name your characters? You don’t have to be a participant in The Merry Writer game to play along here!

The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

Categories
Journal

Introducing Your Supporting Cast

This is where I get technical and “plotty”. Introducing the supporting cast can’t be an info dump. Within the first act, though, every major supporting character has to make an appearance or at least be alluded to. It’s a Chekhov’s Gun thing with me. If the main character is going to visit their grandmother in the third act, they should talk to them on the phone in the first act.

Introducing Your Supporting Cast

It shouldn’t be completely on the nose. The first scene doesn’t have to establish that there is a character named Roger, who will appear around the middle of the book. It can be as simple as a throwaway conversation where a main character mentions she likes redheads, and later on she meets a character who is a redhead. Yes, it has to be subtle and not heavy-handed.

I’m not closing off the possibility that characters I haven’t even conceived of will begin to appear as I’m writing. Their foreshadowing or overt insertion into the earlier part of the story will be added in revision. To facilitate this, I’m cheating. I stuck in a party scene where I will add characters , or mention them in conversation, when I revise. Don’t look at me like that. I’m being proactive here.


Progress Report: Day 6

  • Today is day 6 of 90 on my journey to write the first draft of a novel.
  • Yesterday I wrote 679 words, bringing the total to 5,256.
  • That puts me 2,256 words ahead my target goal, based on writing 600 words per day.
  • I’m currently working on the setup scenes of the first act, and closing in on the inciting incident. I think I’ve established the main character and the key points of the setting enough that I can now throw everything into disarray.

Notes

  • Today is Finnish Independence Day. It’s almost a combination of American Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, the Kennedy Center Honors, and the Oscars. A televised military parade, held in a different city each year, happens in the morning. People go to cemeteries to lay flowers on the graves of veterans. Otherwise you stay home, light blue and white candles, and eat Christmas-type foods. In the evening everyone watches Linnan juhlat (the Castle Ball), a red carpet event where the President greets politicians, celebrities, artists, teachers, scientists, and other accomplished Finns.

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