July 24th, 2010

Baby and me

30 days on writing: Entry #3

30 days on writing, fiction, random gloats, writing, valley of shabathawan

More memeage.

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3. How do you come up with names, for characters (and for places if you're writing about fictional places)?

This'll be quick and easy: who the hell knows?

Well, that's not quite fair. In my case, character names and characters' locations come from all over the place, without any (conscious) method or even pattern.

Sometimes I'll give a character a name simply because I like it. My first attempt at a novel (no, you may not — not until I'm dead and buried — read it; some things are far better left to the imagination) was called Edwin, because, well, I'd recently met someone by that name and liked it. Liked him well enough, too, but I really liked his name.

In the case of Ashera Hawkins, the first name through a consult with the genuinely awesome The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, when I had realized that Ash's birth-mother was a flakey earth-mother type hippy who would naturally name her daughter after a goddess. The last name came from the woman who would rescue Ash from that birth-mother, but ultimate (of course) came from me and my memory of a beautiful and brilliant, slightly older and vastly more sophisticated woman I'd known during my time with the Youth Coalition for Peace. Yes, I'd had a crush on her, but also, I'd just liked her last name.

Orson I named "Orson" because a friend wrote a play which included a character based on me. Called "Orson". Which he told me meant "little bear". And so I, half-tongue in cheek, ret-conned my own stand-in character with that name as well.

But usually, I couldn't tell you why a particular character has the name he or she does. It's mostly a pretty arbitrary process, which might explain why I'm probably unhappy with them at least half the time.

Similarly, most of the stories I've written have been set in places I've been to or (more likely) have lived in. Usually Toronto, with most scenes in Kensington Market or near Queen West.

The major exception is the unfinished Valley of Shabathawan. The name of that Northern Ontario town I unabashedly stole from my mother. She hosted the drive-time show for CBC Sudbury for quite a few years and for a while (until management noticed what she was doing and told her to knock it off) weather reports and tongue-in-cheek public service annoucements for a non-existent town she called "Shabathawan". If I remember a'right, she called it that because it sounded Cree or something similar. In any case, I enjoyed the joke and liked the sound of the name and so decided that was where my novel took place.

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