Monday, October 12, 2015

GUEST BLOG: Brenda Clough on Names in Fantasy and Science Fiction (part 2)

Writer and Book View Cafe member Brenda Clough shares insights on how she comes up with names for characters, places, and more!

You write fantasy or science fiction novels. And, unless you write very philosophical Olaf-Stapledon
type fiction about colliding universes and enormous spans of time, you have created science-fictional or fantasy characters — elves, Klingons, Martians, Wookkies. They need names — and this time you cannot resort to Robert, Mildred and Susie!

This is particularly hard for those of us who need to have the names in hand before starting to write. Because names imply enormous things. We do not notice this so much, because modern Western culture pervades all we see and do so thoroughly. But step out for a moment. You don’t need a rocket ship and FTL to travel to another world. All you need do is learn another language and culture. And suddenly names mean something different. Paul Atreides changes his name to Paul Muad’Dib in Dune. The change of name shows the spiritual change. Or open your newspaper. Some Midwestern kid moved to Syria yesterday and joined ISIS. What did he do, just before that? He changed his name from Jason to Ali.

So, somehow, before you’ve invented the world, figured out the plot, or anything, you need a character. And to handle him you need a handle — a name. In fact in inventing this name all the rest will follow: because the world is encapsulated in the name, and the name embodies character which will inevitably lead you to plot. Pantsers have it hard! But even if you are not a pantser — names are so important that you might well start here as well. J.R.R. Tolkien had Middle Earth and its languages mapped out in fanatical detail long before he sat down to write The Hobbit. But to start that work he needed Bilbo Baggins, who is not (as Gandalf notes) in any of the material about the Eldar at all. All those appendices at the back of LOTR, they were not the story. Bilbo was the story.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Guest Blog: Article Review: Differences in Health Risk Behaviors Across Understudied LGBT Subgroups

From Open Minded Health: 

480px-RGB_LED_Rainbow_from_7th_symmetry_cylindrical_gratingI’ve been saying for years now that the phrase “LGBT community” is insufficient when it comes to health. It’s not one community — it is multiple communities. The social issues and health issues that a gay transgender man faces every day are different from the issues a bisexual cisgender woman faces every day. There are some similarities and grouping the communities together has been politically useful. But it should never be forgotten that L, G, B, and T all face different types of health concerns and have different civil rights battles to face.
A study came out in August that has to be one of my favorites this year. Researchers in Georgia surveyed over three thousand lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, and queer people. They asked about health behaviors of all kinds. And then they did statistical analysis, comparing the various genders (cis male, cis female, trans male, trans female, genderqueer) and sexual orientations (lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, queer, straight). Let’s look at what they found!
  • Diet and exercise: The researchers asked about fatty foods, eating while not hungry, quantity of vegetables and fruits eaten, and about hours and types of exercise. Transgender women had the least healthy diet of all genders. As a group, they were less likely to eat many fruits and vegetables, and more likely to drink sugared drinks and eat when they weren’t hungry. Both cisgender and transgender men were also less likely to eat many vegetables compared with other groups. Genderqueer people and gay cisgender men were most likely to exercise.

Monday, October 5, 2015

GUEST BLOG: Brenda Clough on Naming Characters (Part 1)

Writer and Book View Cafe member Brenda Clough shares insights on how she comes up with names for characters, places, and more! This is the first of a series. Welcome, Brenda!

You write a novel. Naturally it has characters. And those characters need names! Let us set aside for some other day the issue of creating fantasy names, and consider today only naming characters with cognomens that already exist.

Depending upon how you roll, this usually comes very early in the writing process. For me it comes before beginning the writing at all; if I don’t know the character’s name I cannot write. I can get away without looking at my hero for many thousands of words. I was more than halfway through the first draft of How Like A God before I thought to actually cast the authorial gaze upon my hero; I knew what all the other characters looked like because I was using his viewpoint, but he had never done the old look-in-a-mirror stunt. (When I did look I was astonished, and marked the place in the text.)

But there are a number of factors to consider. The most important of course is time and place. A work that takes place on Mars in AD 2502 is going to have a differently-named cast than a work that is set
in 1741 in Wales. Given names especially come and go in fashion in an easily-charted way. You can search on it and kick up sites that will graph for you the popularity of, say, John as a name for boys over the centuries. Certain names are highly redolent of their time. Consider my own. Every Brenda you are ever likely to meet is between 50 and 70, because that was when that given name was in fashion. Nearly all Lindas are the same, whereas a Madison was surely born the year after Splash and is around 30 years old today. You therefore are foolish indeed to name your Elizabethan heroine Brenda or Madison, and if the novel is set in ancient Rome, all I can say is for god’s sake don’t! Rome, like many other non-Western cultures, had its own naming conventions which you should research carefully.

Surnames, if your characters need them, are also a challenge. An old writer trick if you need foreign names is to look up categories of people — sports figures, say, or members of the state legislature, or plumbers. You need a Czech villain? Find the list of the members of the Czechoslovak Olympic soccer team from the 1950s. Plenty of nicely authentic surnames and given names will pop up, and a little slicing and dicing will get you a correctly-named supervillain. The great Georgette Heyer derived all her realistically-English titles for the earls and dukes of her fiction by plundering maps — all the names are obscure villages in the English countryside.

Beyond that, the vagaries of naming a character are mysterious — an art rather than a science. My heroine is staying with an elderly Frenchwoman. When the character was named Solange she was tall. Now she is renamed Cresside, and she is shorter. If I rename her again to Yvette she will be shorter yet. How do I know this? Why is it so? I have no idea. At some point the Muse takes charge of the process, and I have to let her do that. A rose by any other name does not smell quite as sweet.

All names, and in fact all terms and invented places, should be shoved through Google. If someone with your hero’s name was just executed in Beijing for sex crimes, you want to know this. You say nobody will likely notice? It is possible you will sell those Chinese-language rights, you know.

Oh, and one more very important tip: when you change her name from Cresside to Yvette, go through the ms with care. Do a Global Search and Replace, but then reread it. There are sad stories about writers who changed the hero from Richard to Wallace on page 200 but didn’t do a Search and Replace. The readers were confused!

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest.
Her novel How Like a God, forthcoming from Book View Cafe, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires.