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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Month

April 2016

So, there’s this writing page I follow…..

……..and someone was griping about the exercises being posted every day, saying that if he had the time to do the exercises (which are, in some cases, pretty detailed), then he would have the time to actually write, which is what he would rather do (the implication being that he did not have such time).

This is why it’s called ‘discipline’. You write whenever you can, wherever you are because you can’t NOT write. If you need huge chunks of time and no distractions in order to write, then you’re enamored of the idea of being a writer, with no intention of actually doing the hard work it entails. This applies to every artistic and creative pursuit, not just writing. Heck, it applies to just about anything that tickles your interest.

Stephen King and JK Rowling (to name the most obvious) wrote while struggling financially at menial, hard-labor jobs or while trying to find steady employment and surviving on assistance.

The point is, if you want to write, then write. Outlining your need for the perfect time and quantity of time is just a way to avoid committing to an indeterminate amount of time to create a world within a story.

And that’s the fear – commitment and looking inside yourself to see what monsters or angels lurk there.

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So, a few years ago, I picked up a blank journal……

……..and jotted down the kernel of an idea for a story (woman inherits farm in foreign country, travels over with intention to sell, finds horse in back yard, hilarity ensues) and then promptly forgot all about it.

This happens with me a lot. I have stacks of journals with story kernels that have yet to blossom into full-blown stories. I don’t really worry about it, because I know when the right combination of inspiration and willingness to hear the story happens, words get written.

So, while traveling on tour in Ireland, as I observed the countryside from my seat on the bus, I saw a lot of homes – modern and historic – dot the fields. One such older home that had clearly been vacant for some time and in the back yard, I saw horse wearing a green blanket. It was staring towards the road, its attitude one of complete surprise.
I recalled the kernel of an idea and immediately, the story came to me, full-blown. I had fully developed scenes, bits of dialogue, characters, plot, background – I had it all within seconds of seeing that horse in the green blanket.

I didn’t write anything down right away – I needed it to percolate for awhile before putting it down on paper. Part of this was because I had issues with finding the right names for at least one character (in the novel I’m currently working on, one character not only changed his name eight times, but his nationality as well). For me, finding the right name is important – it is the identifier of the person, it holds the key to understanding and it has power.

So, even though I had found the journal I’d jotted the kernel of an idea in, I held off writing anything down, even basic notes. The story kept building itself in my mind, but it wasn’t until I found the right names for the characters that I felt free to add the scenes and notes to the original idea for the story.

It’s funny how an idea I’d had years ago seemed to come to life upon seeing that horse in the green blanket. I wish I’d had time to snap a picture of it and I wonder, even now, what had held his attention, what it was that had surprised him.

I suppose I will never know about the real horse, but I can have a lot of fun imagining what comes next.

 

***
Editor’s note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC

So, it seems I have a mystery on my hands……

……about my great-grandfather, his three (yes, three) different birth years, the lack of a birth certificate from the state he was (allegedly) born in or any record of his parents in the same area. What information I have at hand comes from his diaries (beginning in 1902 and skipping to 1912), a death certificate, family lore and some historical references (my great-grandfather was something of a mover and a shaker in his day). Everything prior to 1900 is obscured in the shadows of time, lack of personal diaries and any connections to his siblings. I don’t even know their descendants or when my great-great-grandparents died or even where they are buried.

The information, as I’ve mentioned in another blog post, is sketchy at best. I have a death certificate for my great-grandfather (to be referred to as E.J. from now on), which has his parents names and general location of where they were born. I have good pieces of information, but I’m unable to fit them together and make a complete picture of the man who was such a strong influence in local events. He died years before I was born, so I have no memory of him, but his diaries make it clear that I would have enjoyed his dry wit.

He left home at a young age and for all intents and purposes, it seems he never looked back. He didn’t forget his past, but he didn’t seem to dwell on it, either. A lesson, I suppose, we should all embrace. But I want to know him, to know his history, his parents, his siblings. I’m very lucky – I know where most branches of my family came from, who they were and where they’ve been.

E.J. is an enigma, a mystery, a man who came out of the mists, almost as if he was born the day he left home and moved west.

I have a mystery on my hands. I have few leads and they only seem to lead to more mysteries. It is time to put on my deerstalker cap and think like the man who literally invented the forensic sciences over a century ago with the creation of the world’s most famous fictional detective.

It’s time to ask myself “What would Sherlock do?” and use his methods of elimination to find my answers.

Because what will be left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

So, when starting a project……

……..it’s usually from point A to point B and all the way down to Z. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end, the culmination of the vision that inspired you to do the project in the first place. It can be creative, it can be a meal, it can be a paper for a class – the thing is, there’s a place where you clearly have a start point to jump from. But often, there doesn’t seem to be a clear point of departure, so the only thing to do is to jump right into the middle of things and start swimming in any direction.

This is what I’m doing as I research my great-grandfather’s history and that of his parents, who emigrated from Ireland shortly after the Great Hunger. The logical thing to do would have been to start with his papers, which are currently archived in another state at a historical center (he was something of a local bigwig in his day, serving as a lawyer, a justice and being part of the energy development). The next step after that would have been to then go to the state he had been born in, see the cemetery his parents and siblings had been buried in and look into local records. The third step, after having gained all pertinent material (birth dates, wedding dates, city and/or parish names), would have been a trip to Ireland and tracing the rest of the family from there.

Being that I have a somewhat impatient nature to get things started, I jumped right into the thick of it – I began with Step Three. I talked to a lot of people once I landed in Ireland – my driver, the tour guides – and they were very keen on helping me find the next step. I had a lot of pieces, they assured me, but they didn’t seem to connect together. The thing to do is to start back at the beginning and find those missing pieces, if, indeed, they can be found.

That I even know where to go to start my search is a big plus. I was kind of hoping to avoid going to another state to do this, but in my original plan, I knew that I would eventually have to do so. Still, the rewards will greatly outweigh my reluctance to go and that is the ultimate goal – finding my ancestral family and knowing more about who I am in the process.

So, when it comes to naming my characters…..

……I tend to put a lot of thought into it. Actually, I put an obnoxious amount of thought into it. I have the usual suspects, er, books on names and their meanings. I mix, I match, I sound things out. Sometimes I even take two or three different names whose meanings I like and try to weave them into something new. Those names I reserve for epic fantasy tales, in the same vein of The Lord of the Rings or Crown of Stars series or the Shannara books. Titles are a little different, but I put the same effort into finding the right one for each story.

Why the effort?

Because names have power. Names mean something, not just to the person who carries it, but to the people who use it, whether with love or hate or indifference. Sometimes, names are secret, the true name of the self, known only to the one who holds it.

In my current Work in Progress, I had one character (a pretty major one, at that) be so dissatisfied with his name that it changed seven times. It was frustrating, to say the least. He was still so completely dissatisfied, that not only did his name change for an eighth time, he switched nationalities.

I would like to say that, as the writer, I have some control over wayward characters and plot. However, I know I’m not alone when I say, no, actually, I don’t. As soon as I start writing, it all takes on a life of its own and I have to hang on for the ride.

So whatever it is you’re naming – whether it’s your characters, your pet, your child, your project – put thought into it, make it count. Even if no one else understands it, you do.

And, really, that’s what counts. It’s your secret. Cherish it.

 

Recommended Reading:

The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Source Book – Sherrilyn Kenyon

 

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