Write Tip: Resources & Thoughts On Character Naming

Recently I’ve been copyediting The Very Best Book Of Baby Names by Barbara Kay Turner, and it’s gotten me thinking a lot about naming characters.  Character naming is an important consideration for many reasons. One, you want memorable names which stick with readers for a long time. Two, you want names that are decipherable by readers’ minds i.e. names they can sound out mentally somehow. Three, you want names that make sense in the culture and world and follow some sort of decipherable pattern or at least seem to fit together as classes based on people groups, etc. Four, names can have symbolic meanings which play a role in defining characters. Sometimes the formality or informality of it is important. A character who calls another by a nickname is assume to have a closer relationship with that character than another person who uses the formal name. I’m sure I could list other considerations.

I’ve posted on naming considerations before in Write Tips here, but what a great resources this naming book has turned out to be. I highly recommend the purchase of it or one like it by all authors.  Delabarre Publishing is coming out with an ebook version of Turner’s book very soon, for example.

The beauty of books like this is that they examine names based on a number of helpful factors:  genetic appropriateness, tradition, popularity, cultural origins, spellings, usages, etc. They dig into how names are created and used and all sorts of considerations which many authors might not even consider in choosing names. Names can be a way to say a whole lot with very few letters: about your character, your world, etc. There’s so much to think about when writing a book. Some authors spend years considering every little detail, others make decisions quickly and move on to the work of prose. There’s no wrong or right if it works in the end, but internalizing some of this information can add depth to your choices and weapons to your arsenal which will improve your writing and the reading experience for readers of your work.

Here are some examples of charts which could be useful from Turner’s book:

Traditional Boys’ Names (Western world)

Aaron
Adam
Alan, Allen, Albert
Alexander
Andrew, Drew
Anthony
Arthur
Benjamin
Bradley
Brian, Bryan <—- For some reason, I’m really attached to this one
Bruce
Carl, Karl
Charles
Christopher
Colin
Craig, Greg, Gregory
Curtis
Daniel
David
Dennis
Derek
Donald
Douglas
Edgar, Edward, Edwin
Eric, Erik
Ethan
Eugene, Gene
Evan
Frank, Francis
Gabriel
Garrett
George
Gerald
Grant
Henry
Ivan
Jacob
James
Jared
Jason
Jeffrey
Jeremy
Joel
John, Jonathan
Jordan
Joseph
Joshua
Julian
Justin
Keith
Kenneth
Kevin
Lawrence
Louis
Luke
Mark
Martin
Matthew
Michael
Mitchell
Nathan
Nathaniel
Nicholas
Oscar
Patrick
Paul
Peter
Phillip, Philip
Preston
Randall
Raymond
Richard
Robert
Rodney
Roger
Ronald
Ross
Russell
Ryan
Samuel
Simon
Spencer
Steven, Stephen
Stuart
Theodore
Thomas
Timothy
Trent
Victor
Vincent
Walter
Wayne
William
Zachary

Traditional Girls’ Names (Western world)

Abigai
Adrienne
Alexandra, Alexis
Alice, Alison, Allison
Amanda
Andrea, Ann, Anna, Anne
Barbara
Brenda
Brooke
Candice, Candace
Carol, Carole
Carolyn, Caroline
Catherine
Christine, Christina
Claire
Claudia
Cynthia
Danielle
Deborah, Debra
Denise
Diana, Diane
Elizabeth
Emily
Erica, Erika
Evelyn
Gabrielle
Hannah
Helen
Irene
Jane, Janet
Jessica
Joanne, Joanna
Josephine
Judith
Julia
Justine
Karen
Katherine, Kathryn
Kristen, Kristin
Lara, Lora, Laura, Lauren
Linda
Lindsey, Lindsay
Margaret
Marie, Maria, Mary
Martha
Mercedes
Melinda
Miranda
Natalie
Nicole, Nichole
Olivia
Pamela
Patricia
Priscilla
Rachel, Rachael
Rebecca
Renee, Renae
Roberta
Ruth
Sarah, Sara
Sharon
Stephanie
Susan
Sylvia
Teresa, Therese, Theresa
Veronica
Victoria
Virginia

Okay, those are pretty standard for those of us in the Western World, but they are recognizable and probably frequently jump to mind. What if you want something more exotic or a better mix? How about international names with variant spellings? Some were included on the above list and some were not:

International Names for Girls

Alexandra, Alastar, Alexina (English, Gaelic); Alixandra (French); Alejandra, Allessandra (Spanish/Italian); Alexandra (Scandinavian/ German); Aleksandra(Slavic)

Alice, Ailis, Alison (English, Gaelic); Alice (French); Alicia (Spanish, Italian); Elka (Scandinavian/German); Alisia (Slavic)

Angel, Angelica, Aingeal (English, Gaelic); Angele, Angelique (French), Angelita, Angela (Spanish/Italian); Angelika (Scandinavian/German); Andelka (Slavic)

Ann, Aine (English/Gaelic); Anne (French); Ana/Anna (Spanish/Italian); Anni, Annika (Scandinavian/German); Anya (Slavic)

Barbara, Bairbre (English, Gaelic); Barbe (French); Barbara (Spanish/Italian); Birgit/Brigitta (Scandinavian/German); Brygida (Slavic)

Carol, Carrol (English, Gaelic); Carole (French); Carola/Carolina (Spanish/Italian); Karel/Karol (Scandinavian/German); Karola (Slavic)

Christine, Christina, Kirstie, Cristiona (English, Gaelic); Christine (French); Cristina (Spanish/Italian); Kristin/Kirsten (Scandinavian/German); Krystyna, Kristina (Slavic)

Eleanor, Elinor,  Elionora (English, Gaelic); Eleonore, Alinor (French); Leanor/Eleonora (Spanish/Italian); Leanora/Eleonora (Scandinavian/German); Eleni (Slavic)

Elizabeth, Elspeth (English, Gaelic); Elise (French); Isabel/Elisabetta (Spanish/Italian); Elisabet/Elsbeth (Scandinavian/German); Elzbieta (Slavic)

Frances, Proinseas (English, Gaelic); Francoise (French); Francisca/Francesca (Spanish/Italian); Frans/Franziska (Scandinavian/German); Franciszka (Slavic)

Helen, Aileen (English, Gaelic); Helene (French); Elenor/Lena/Elna/Helena (Scandinavian/German); Alena, Olena (Slavic)

Jane, Sinead, Janet (English, Gaelic); Jeanne (French); Juana/Giovanna, Gianna (Spanish/Italian); Johanna (Scandinavian/German); Jana, Ivana (Slavic)

Katherine, Caitrin, Catriona (English, Gaelic); Catherine, Cateline (French);  Catalina, Caterina (Spanish/Italian); Karin, Katerine (Scandinavian/German); Katrina, Ekaterina (Slavic)

Madeline, Madailein (English, Gaelic); Madeleine (French); Magdalena/Maddelena (Spanish/Italian); Magdalene (Scandinavian/German); Magdalina (Slavic)

Margaret, Mairead (English, Gaelic); Marguerite (French); Margarita/Margherita (Spanish/Italian); Margareta, Margit (Scandinavian/German); Marketa (Slavic)

Mary, Maire, Moira, Mairi (English, Gaelic); Marie, Maree (French); Maria (Spanish/Italian); Marieke/Marie (Scandinavian/German); Marinka, Marya (Slavic)

Susan, Siusan (English, Gaelic); Suzanne (French); Susana/Susanna (Spanish/Italian); Susanne, Sanna (Scandinavian/German); Zuzanna (Slavic)

 

International Names for Boys

Alexander,  Alasdair,  Alistair (English, Gaelic); Alexandre (French); Alejandro, Alessandro (Spanish/Italian); Alexander (Scandinavian/German); Alexsandr, Aleksander (Slavic)

Andrew, Aindreas, Andra (English, Gaelic); Andre (French); Andres/Andrea (Spanish/Italian); Anders/Andrea (Scandinavian/ German); Andrei (Slavic)

Anthony, Antaine (English, Gaelic); Antoine (French); Antonio (Spanish/Italian); Anton (Scandinavian/German); Antoni, Anton (Slavic)

Benedict, Benedict (English, Gaelic); Benoit (French); Benito/Benedetto (Spanish/Italian); Benedikt (Scandinavian/German); Benedek (Slavic)

Charles, Searlas, Cormac (English, Gaelic); Charles (French); Carlos/Carlo (Spanish/Italian); Karl (Scandinavian/German); Karol, Karel (Slavic)

Christopher, Criostoir, Kester (English, Gaelic); Christophe (French); Crisobal/Cristoforo (Spanish/Italian); Christoph, Kristoffer (Scandinavian/German); Krystof (Slavic)

Edmund, Eamon (English, Gaelic); Edmond (French); Edmundo/Edmondo (Spanish/Italian); Edmund (Scandinavian/German); Edmon (Slavic)

Edward, Eamon (English, Gaelic); Edouard (French); Eduardo/Edoardo (Spanish/Italian); Edvard/Eduard (Scandinavian/German); Edvard (Slavic)

Frank, Francis, Proinsias (English, Gaelic); Francois (French); Francisco/Francesco (Spanish/Italian); Frans/Frantz (Scandinavian/German); Franc, Franek (Slavic)

Frederick, Fardoragh (English, Gaelic); Frederic (French); Frederico (Spanish/Italian); Frederik/Friedrich (Scandinavian/German); Fryderyk, Fredek (Slavic)

Geoffrey, Jeffrey, Sieffre, Siofrai (English, Gaelic); Geoffroi (French); Godofredo/Geoffredo (Spanish/Italian); Gottfried (Scandinavian/German); Gotfrid (Slavic)

George, Geordi (English, Gaelic); Georges (French); Jorge/Giorgio (Spanish/Italian); Jorgen/Jeorg (Scandinavian/German); Georgi, Yuri (Slavic)

Gregory, Grigor (English, Gaelic); Gregoire (French); Gregorio (Spanish/Italian); Joris/Greger (Scandinavian/German); Grigor, Grigori (Slavic)

Henry, Einri (English, Gaelic); Henri (French); Enrique/Enrico (Spanish/Italian); Hendrik/Heinrich (Scandinavian/German); Henrik (Slavic)

James, Jacob, Seamus (English, Gaelic); Jacques (French); Jaime/Giacomo (Spanish/Italian); Jakob (Scandinavian/German); Yakov (Slavic)

John, Sean, Shaun, Shane, Ian (English, Gaelic); Jean (French); Juan/Giovanni, Gianni (Spanish/Italian); Jon, Johan (Scandinavian/German); Jan, Ivan (Slavic)

Joseph, Ioseph (English, Gaelic); Josephe (French); Jose/Giuseppe (Spanish/Italian); Josef (Scandinavian/German); Josef, Jozef (Slavic)

Laurence, Lorcan (English, Gaelic); Laurent (French); Lorencio/Lorenzo (Spanish/Italian); Lars, Lorenz (Scandinavian/German); Lavrenti (Slavic)

Lewis, Louis, Llewelyn (English, Gaelic); Louis (French); Luis/Luigi (Spanish/Italian); Ludvig/Ludwig (Scandinavian/German); Ludwik, Ludvik (Slavic)

Luke, Lucas (English, Gaelic); Luc, Lucien (French); Lucas/Lucca (Spanish/Italian); Lukas/Lucius (Scandinavian/German); Lukas, Luka (Slavic)

Mark, Marcas (English, Gaelic); Marc  (French); Marcos/Marco (Spanish/Italian); Markus (Scandinavian/German); Mark, Marko, Marek (Slavic)

Martin, Martainn, Mairtin (English, Gaelic); Martin (French); Martin/Martino (Spanish/Italian); Marten, Martel (Scandinavian/German); Martinas, Martyn (Slavic)

Matthew, Maitias (English, Gaelic); Mathieu (French); Mateo/Matteo (Spanish/Italian); Mattias/Mathias (Scandinavian/German); Matyas, Matei (Slavic)

Michael, Micheal (English, Gaelic); Michel (French); Miguel/Michele (Spanish/Italian); Mikael, Mikkel (Scandinavian/German); Michal, Mikhail (Slavic)

Nicholas, Nicol, Nicolas (English, Gaelic); Nicholas (French); Nicolas/Niccolo (Spanish/Italian); Niklas, Nikolaus (Scandinavian/German); Nikolai (Slavic)

Paul, Pol (English, Gaelic); Paul (French); Pablo/Paolo (Spanish/Italian); Poul, Pavel (Scandinavian/German); Pavlo, Pavlik (Slavic)

Peter, Peadar (English, Gaelic); Pierre (French); Pedro/Pietro (Spanish/Italian); Per, Piet (Scandinavian/German); Pyotr (Slavic)

Philip, Filip (English, Gaelic); Philippe (French); Felipe/Felippo (Spanish/Italian); Filip/Philipp (Scandinavian/German); Filip (Slavic)

Richard, Rickard (English, Gaelic); Richard (French); Ricardo/Riccardo (Spanish/Italian); Rikard/Richert (Scandinavian/German); Rikard, Rostik (Slavic)

Robert, Riobard (English, Gaelic); Robert (French); Roberto (Spanish/Italian); Robert/Ruprecht (Scandinavian/German); Rupert (Slavic)

Stephen, Steven, Steaphan (English, Gaelic); Etienne (French); Esteban/Stefano (Spanish/Italian); Stefan, Stephan (Scandinavian/German); Stefan (Slavic)

William, Liam (English, Gaelic); Guillaume (French); Gillermo/Guglielmo (Spanish/Italian); Vilhelm/Wilhelm (Scandinavian/German); Vilem, Vilmos (Slavic)

Okay, not exotic enough? How about some African names then:

African Names for Girls

Ada (Nigerian) “First daughter.”
Adanna (Nigerian) “Her father’s daughter.”
Aisha, Aysha, Ayeisha (Swahili/Arabic) “Life.”
Alika (Nigerian) “Most beautiful.”
Ama, Ami (Ghanese) “Saturday’s child.”
Amadi (Nigerian) “Rejoicing.”
Amina (Swahili/Arabic) “Trustworthy.”
Ashia (Somali) “Life.”
Aziza (Swahili/Arabic) “Precious.”
Chika (Nigerian) “God is supreme.”
Chinara (Nigerian) “God receives.”
Dalila (Swahili) “Gende.”
Deka (Somali) “Pleasing.”
Folasade (Yoruban) “Honor confers a crown.”
Jamila (Swahili) “Chaste, holy.”
Jina (Swahili) “Name.”
Kalifa, Kalifah (Somali) “Chaste, holy.”
Katifa (Arabic) “Flowering.”
Layla (Swahili) “Dark; born at night.”
Lulu (Tanzanian) “Pearl.”
Marjani (Swahili) “Coral.”
Nadja (Uganda) “Second born.”
Neema (Swahili) “Born in prosperity.”
Ola (Nigerian) “Precious.”
Rasheedah (Swahili/Arabic) “Righteous.”
Sade, Sharde (Yoruban) Short form of Folasade.
Safiya (Swahili) “Pure.”
Shani (Swahili) “A marvel; wondrous.”
Zahra (Swahili) “Flowering.”
Zalika (Swahili/Arabic) “Well-born.”

 

African Names For Boys

Abdalla (Swahili) “God’s servant.”
Ajani (Yoruban) “Struggles to win.”
Aren (Nigerian) “Eagle.”
Chike (Nigerian) “God’s power.”
Ekon (Nigerian) “Strong.”
Faraji (Swahili) “Consolation.”
Haji (Swahili) “Pilgrim to Mecca.”
Hasani (Swahili) “Handsome.”
Jabari (Swahili) “Valiant.”
Kato (Uganda) ‘Twin.”
Mongo (Yoruban) “Famous.”
Nuru (Swahili) “Born in daytime.”
Omari (Swahili) “God the highest.”
Rashidi (Swahili) “Counselor.”
Salim (Swahili) “Peace.”
Tau (African) “Lion.”

Still not enough? Oh man you people are demanding. Okay, how about creating your own names? Here’s some tools which can help you create names that sound common even if they aren’t:

Basic Name Endings

a, i, ee, ie, y, ye, ia, ea, ae, an, en, in, ian, ien

ann, anne, ana, ahna, anna, ani, anni, anee, ianne, ianna

een, ene, ena, enna, ienne, ine, ina, inda, ita

ele, ell, elle, ella, iel, iell, ielle, iela, iella

ess, esse, essa, eesa, eece, iesa, iessa, isha, icia

ette, etta, iette, iara, iera, ille, ila, ilia

iss, isse, issa, ise, isa, ice, ica, icka, ika oni, onie, ona, onna, iona, ionna, ionne

 

Name Endings Plus Consonants

bel, bell, belle, bella

chel, chelle, chele, chella

ceen, cine, cene, cina, cinda, coya, cacia

da, die, dee, del, dell, delle, della

dine, deen, dina, dene, dena, dean, deane, dona, donna

gine, gina, geen, geena, ginny, gini

keisha, kisha, kesha, keesha

kie, kee, kia, keta, kita, keeta, kiya, kira

lana, lani, lanna, londa, linda

lane, laine, laina, layne, layna

lee, lie, lia, lea, leah, lita, leila

lin, linn, linne, linna, lyn, lynn, lynne, lynna

line, lina, leen, leena, lene, lena

lisa, lise, leese, leesa, leeza, liza, licia, lisha

liss, lisse, lissa, lyssa, lesse, lessa

mika, mica, meka, meisha, mesha, misha

nae, naya, nea, nia, nel, nell, nelle, nella

neece, neese, nice, nicia, nesha, neisha, nisha, niesha

ness, nesse, nessa, neesa, nissa, nisa

net, nette, netta, nita, nica, nika, niqua, nique

nille, neille, neil, nora

quise, quita, quetta

rae, raia, ray, raya, raye, raine, raina, rayna

ree, reese, rice, rise, risa, rysa, ressa

rell, relle, risse, rissa, reesha, rona, ronna, ronda

rene, reen, rina, rena, rienna, rill, rille

sha, shah, shay, shae, shai, saundra, sondra

shan, shana, shanna, shonna, shawna, shaunda

te, tee, tae, tai, taye, tia, tiya, tel, telle

teen, teena, tine, tina, tana, tasha, tisha, tosha

tesse, tessa, tonia, tonya, tori, tory, toria

treece, trice, trise, trisa, tricia

vette, vetta, viette, vietta

von, vonne, vonna, vonda, vona

 

Name Endings Favored For Boys

an, en, in, on, ano, ino, ion, ian, ien, o, yo

andre, andro, aundre, ante, ondre, onte

del, dell, tel, trel, quel

jon, juan, Ion, lonn, leon

mar, mario, marco, marcus, mond, mont, monte

rik, rek, rak, rick, rel, ron, ray

sean, shawn, shaun, shane

van, von, vonn, vaughn, vonte, vel, vell

If those still aren’t enough, maybe you want something a bit more fantastical? Try these sites:  The Fantasy Name GeneratorDwarf Name GeneratorCharacter Name Generator,  Elven Name Generator and there are plenty more.

I hope this is helpful. Love to hear suggestions in the comments below. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Write Tip: Outlining From A Finished Draft For Pantsers (How I Do It)

Okay, if you’re a pantser like me, you may reach a point where you feel like you need to actually get a better handle on organizing your manuscript. You’ve finished a draft or two but there’s character arcs to refine, plot line arcs to refine, motifs to identify & exploit, etc. You’re not an outliner. Organization is a crutch. It might even block your process. But there comes a time when one has to refine and examining the structure is usually key to success in doing that. Since people ask me for advice on this, I’d like to show you how I go about this process. It may not work for everyone, no method does with writing, but at the very least, it might stimulate your creativity and help you create your own approach to accomplish the same thing.

First, I like to do this on paper. One, because staring at things on screen gives you an incomplete image of each page/scene. Two, because I stare at the screen all day when writing and editing and need a break. Three, because I can do it anywhere without electricity needed and thus find energy by moving around or even have the manuscript with me on errands if I wind up having to wait, etc. (Although please don’t do it while driving. This has been a public service message from bryanthomasschmidt.net.) Four, because it helps you stay focused on the goal without getting distracted tweaking your manuscript and then never getting back to this task. (Don’t lie, you know it happens.)

 

Second, there are three phases to this:

 

Phase One, make a list of your plots and subplots and assign each a number or letter. For example:

A Assassins are killing Vertullians and Davi and friends must investigate

B Davi and Tela’s relationship hits some road blocks

C Aron has joined the Council and must adjust to life as a leader working amongst his former enemies

etc.

 

Phase Two, you reread the document which you should have not touched for at least 2-3 weeks, preferably a month, so you can be objective and fresh. As you go through, you make notes.  You will label each scene with the letters of the plotline it relates to: A, B or AB if it involves more than one plotline as some scenes can. If you want to focus on the outline, you should also make notes of anything such as character names switched or POV issues or pl0t holes. But keep it short so you can stay focused. You can go back later and wrestle with these. Make notes in margins or keep a separate sheet. You might even do a separate sheet for each plot line. It’s up to you.

 

Phase Three, this is where you go back and take your notes and write a brief description of each scene on a page for each plot line or a master sheet for the whole story with plotline indicators (A, B, C). You might even want to color code it in Excel or with highlighting in Word. This will allow you to read through each plot separately and examine the arc and tension and turning points, etc. to make sure it’s where it needs to be. All you need in scene descriptions is the key dramatic points and which characters and plots are involved. Keep it concise. No need for a whole synopsis of each scene unless you feel compelled. There are no rules. Writing is a journey and a constant process of growing and refining your craft, after all, and that’s what these Write Tips are designed to help with and stimulate. None are intended as end-all rules.

 

That’s it. Three easy phases to an outline AND the bonus is you’ve probably already made notes on some of the issues you need to address. Now it’s easy to go back and move scenes around if you need to, find flaws in plotting or character arcs, or expand motifs. You can also look at pacing, balance and other things.

Now lest any of you pantsers get said pants in a bunch with the “I CAN’T WORK FROM OUTLINES” attitudes, remember that all I am helping you do is make a chart of the outline that already exists in your work. You wrote it by the seat of your pants but you still created a structure in doing so. Now’s the time to fine tune and refine it and I’m merely suggesting a way to do that simply so you can be more effective. If this doesn’t work for you, feel free to take the concepts I suggest and make your own method. In fact, I’d love if, when you do, you’d comment on this post so we can all learn from it.

So there you have it, a simple method for Outling From a Finished Draft. At least, that’s how I do it. What’s your way? We’re waiting with baited breath. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Write Tip: Cat Rambo’s Developmental Editing Checklist

One way to be sure your manuscript is ready to submit is to make sure you get a good developmental edit. Now unless you’re making a lot of money already, paying someone may be out of the question. Most submissions editors will reject anything that’s not at least ninety percent there. They do line edits, proofing and fact checks, not developmental edits. So the onus is on you. If you’re like me, being close to your work, can prevent you from not only knowing what questions to ask but having the objectivity needed to view your work well. Some sort of guide would make a big difference.

In her Editing Basics class, Author-Editor Cat Rambo (Fantasy Magazine) offers the following checklist for doing a good multi-pass Developmental Edit yourself. Cat suggests a multi-pass approach to allow yourself to address various aspects one at a time instead of trying to catch-all in one pass. The checklist is broken out by pass type. But before you begin the checklist, ask yourself the following questions:

1) What works and what doesn’t overall? (Make a list)

2) What is the story? Can you sum it up in a few sentences? If not, there’s a problem.

3) Look at the first and last page. Do they hook the readers in 13 lines or less? Does the story end strong?

 

Once you’ve addressed these basics, you’re ready for the more detailed Developmental edits. Be sure and ask questions down to a scene level, not just about the whole manuscript.

 

Character Pass:

1) Are the characters likeable?

2) Are the characters acting or reacting?

3) Can readers identify with the characters?

4) Does the reader know what the character wants?

5) Are there too many characters? Can any be combined?

6) What are the missed opportunities?

7) Where don’t we understand what the character is doing?

8 ) Where can we go deeper into the character’s head?

9) Is the dialogue interesting and informative of character?

10)  Can the reader put themselves inside the story?

 

Story Pass:

1) Is the ending set up in a satisfying way? Is it the result of character actions?

2) Does the story make sense or are pieces missing?

3) How does the story move? (Is pacing good?)

4) Should pieces be removed? (And what should be done with them?)

5) What are the secondary story lines and are they delivered on?

 

World Pass:

1) Is the world clear?

2) Does it feel generic? (Is it?)

3) Does it make sense?

4) How important is the science of it?

5) Where should we know more?

6) Are the facts right? (Light fact-checking)

7) Where can the world come forward more?

8 ) How are things ordered? Point A to Point B? Or more like Momento or Pulp Fiction?

9) How hard does it make things for the reader and is the effect achieved worth it? (Because if it’s not there for effect, it’s pointless.)

10) How can it be improved overall?

11) Are the conventions consistent?

12) Where are the info dumps and what strategies surround them?

 

Chapter Level:

1) Do the chapters make sense structurally?

2) Does something happen over the course of each chapter?

3) Does the POV change over the course of the chapter? (Should it?)

4) Is the Prologue or Epilogue necessary?

5) Is head hopping an issue?

6) How do you make the book match conventions?

 

Making these four Developmental Editing passes enables you to focus on specific aspects of your manuscript and strengthen them each in turn. You can be sure you’ll cover other aspects in other passes and thus free yourself to really focus in.  I hope this helps you improve your editing strategies not just for your own work but in helping others.  What are the questions and approaches you use to self-edit? I’d love to have you share them in comments. And if the checklist still isn’t enough, consider taking one of Cat’s fine classes. They are well worth the money and the time.

For what it’s worth…


John Barth described Cat Rambo’s writings as “works of urban mythopoeia” — her stories take place in a universe where chickens aid the lovelorn, Death is just another face on the train, and Bigfoot gives interviews to the media on a daily basis. She has worked as a programmer-writer for Microsoft and a Tarot card reader, professions which, she claims, both involve a certain combination of technical knowledge and willingness to go with the flow. In 2005 she attended the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. Among the places in which her stories have appeared are ASIMOV’S, WEIRD TALES, CLARKESWORLD, and STRANGE HORIZONS, and her work has consistently garnered mentions and appearances in year’s best of anthologies. Her collection, EYES LIKE SKY AND COAL AND MOONLIGHT was an Endeavour Award finalist in 2010 and followed her collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer, THE SURGEON’S TALE AND OTHER STORIES.

She has edited anthologies as well as critically-acclaimed Fantasy Magazine, is a board member of feminist science fiction group Broad Universe, a member of the Codex Writers’ Group, and volunteers with Clarion West.

Although no longer actively involved with the game, she is one of the minds behindArmageddon MUD, the oldest roleplay-intensive MUD (an interactive text-based game) on the Internet, which has been described as “like no other mud I have played before“, “the most entertaining game I’ve ever played“, “the most creative, emotionally involved mud on the Net” and “a place of astonishing beauty and detail“. She continues to do some game writing as well as technology journalism and reviews for Publishers Weekly.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: 3 Steps To Cost Effective Homemade Bookplates

You never know when you’ll run into someone who wants an autograph or knows someone else who would like one. Signing books is a matter of spreading good will and showing gratitude to readers. As SFWA Vice President Mary Robinette Kowal recommends in her great post on signing books, they should be on hand for when you need them. But bookplates can get expensive. So I decided to make my own, using my years of computer and office support staff experience. Here’s how I did it.

Supplies: Things You’ll Need
1) Avery Labels 8164 or compatible (you can easily replace this with heavier duty labels but these work find with caveat below*)
2) An image with license to use
3) Microsoft Word or Open Office

3 Steps To Making Your Own Bookplates

1) Create a full page template of labels with Avery 8164 in Word. Here are the buttons to click:

a) Click Mailings. (It’s in the top menu bar for MSWord 2077 and 2010. Earlier versions vary.)

b) Click labels on the box that opens up.
c) Click the  button then select Avery 8164 from the list that pops up.

e) Click .

f) Click .

A sheet filled with the labels will appear in MSWord.

2) Create Your Bookplate Template

a) Create a Text box and insert Ex-Libris, standard Latin used on bookplates or some other phrase.
b)Insert the image centered on the page below the Ex-Libris (leave blank space at the bottom for your signature)

c) Once you have the image and text where you want them, then copy and paste to the other labels to make a page and save.

3) Print your bookplates

a) I suggest that you print first on the back of a label page OR a blank 8 1/2 x 11 sheet and hold on top of labels up to light to see if the borders work.
b) Once borders are verified and any adjustments made, print your bookplates on the labels themselves.

Cost: $10.99 for labels (25 sheets of 6 each) + partial print cartridge and your time.

My bookplates look like this: 

 *Caveat: Label adhesive, like tape, can lose strength over time. For best results, I suggest adhering these to the inside of a book page rather than the inside of a cover and be sure and rub it down good so it adheres well.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, an honorable mention on Barnes & Noble’s Best SF Releases of 2011, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎4 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: If You’re Not Signed Up for Kindlegraph, Why You Should Be

KINDLEGRAPH is new. You may not have heard of it, but it’s a MUST DO for published authors. Here’s why:

1) It’s free

2) You can do this, in less than 15 seconds from your laptop at home at any reader’s request:

 

 

Yep, they buy your ebook.

Then they request an autograph.

You type a message which comes out in handwriting as shown.

You sign with the mouse. (I’m sure my signature and yours will improve with practice.)

You send it.

Costs you nothing.

Gives them the chance to have what before only hard copy owners could.

It’s a win-win for everyone and if you’re a published author, it’s a no brainer, you need to sign up. Go to http://www.kindlegraph.com/ and click Author’s Sign-up here! 

 

Any questions? Seriously? Why wouldn’t you do this?


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎3 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

 

 

Write Tip: The Importance Of Business

There’s this little thing referred to in Hollywood script talk as “business.” It also gets a mention in Phil Athans’ excellent The Guide To Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy from Adams Media. “Business” in this instance is those little actions characters do underneath dialogue in scenes. You know, they’re having an argument and one washes dishes while the other shuffles paperwork on a desk, or they’re on the phone and each is doing something else while talking. What they’re doing in both examples is “business.” Using “business” in your fiction is a great technique to make your writing more vivid and realistic and reveal character at the same time, as well as move your plot forward.

For example, say you have a couple who are detectives but also date. At some point, you have them investigating a crime scene but while they’re doing it, they’re having a couple fight about some issue between them. That’s “business,” and, in this case, it moves two storylines along simultaneously if you do it right. Also, the mannerisms and actions of the characters can reveal things about them: their emotional state, their attitudes toward each other, their focus or lack there of, etc. Because “business” is something we all do in real life–sometimes hiding from it with the label multi-tasking–having characters do it adds depth to your story by bringing realistic life to scenes. So “business is a writing technique you want to learn about and practice whenever you can.

Let’s look at examples. One from a script, one from a novel.

First, because it’s popular and a lot of people have seen it, here’s a scene from the pilot of The Walking Dead TV series:

INT. A PARKED POLICE CRUISER - DAY

 

... revealing a SHOTGUN in its floor mount. CONTINUE
DRIFTING past a dangling DAY-GLO NET BAG containing a few
spare 9MM AMMO CLIPS and .357 5PEEDLOADER5 ...

 

SHANE (Offscreen)
In my experience? Never met a
woman who knew how to turn off
a light. It's genetic. They're
born thinking the switch only
goes one way -- on.

 

WE DRIFT past rubber-banded notebooks. A stapler. A dashmounted
cup of mismatched pens and pencils. All the little
telling details that show a cop car is a working office ...

 

SHANE (O.S.)
It's like they're struck blind
when they leave a room. Every
woman I ever let have a key,
swear to God, I come home and
my house is lit up like a mall
at Christmas.

 

We come to a GREASY TRAY-BOX OF FRIES on the dash. We
hear rustling fast-food wrappers, slurps of soda ...

 

SHANE (O.S.)
So then my job, apparently
because my chromosomes are
different, is to go through the
house and turn off every light
the chick left on.

 

A HAND reaches in, grabs fries, dips ketchup ...

 

SHANE (O.S.)
This, then, is the core basis
of the male-female dynamic. The
yin and the yang.

RICK (O. S.)
That right?

 

FOLLOW THE FRIES TO: OFFICER SHANE WALSH, County Police,
in the passenger seat outside a fast-food restaurant.

 

SHANE
Yeah, baby, Reverend Shane is
a'preachin to ya now ...

 

He shoves the fries in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully.

 

SHANE
The same chick, mind you, will
bitch about global warming.
That goes double if you want to
drive something with a decent
V6 under the hood, in which
case you're a selfish prick
killing baby polar bears.

 

He grabs the box of fries off the dash, passes them ...
REVEAL: Rick Grimes at the wheel, looking way more spitand-
polish than in the teaser, half-heartedly picking at
his burger. Rick's a quiet, Gary Cooper-type, has long
experience when it comes to listening to Shane.

 

SHANE
So Reverend Shane quotes from
the Guy Gospel: Well, darlin',
maybe if you and every other
pair of boobs on this planet
figured out the light switch
goes the other way too, we might
not have so much global warming.

 

RICK
You say that?

 

SHANE
The polite version. still. Earns
me a look of loathing you
wouldn't believe. Out comes
this Exorcist voice, out of
nowhere: "You're just like my
goddamn father! Always yelling
about the power bill and I should
turn the goddamn lights off!"
(looks to Rick)
See, to us it's just lights. To
them it's a traumatic flashback
that dredges up all their father
issues.

RICK
What do you say to that?

 

SHANE
I know what I want to say. I
want to say: Bitch, you mean to
say you been hearing this shit
all your life and you're still
too goddamn stupid to learn how
to turn off a switch?

 

Pause. Shane looks over.

 

SHANE
I don't actually say that,
though.

 

RICK
That would be bad.

 

SHANE
I do the polite version there
too.

 

RICK
Very wise.

What can we read from this business? We have two cops eating lunch in a cop car. They seem friendly and comfortable with each other.  Neither is watching their manners in how they eat or how they talk, so we can infer that they are likely, in this case, partners, and used to sharing private details about themselves with each other, maybe even seeking advice. Also, they have to be ready at a moment’s notice to answer emergency calls so they eat on the run which means in the car and fast meals they can consume with limited time and hassle, hence the fast food. Can you see how much we’re learning about them already through this “business?”

Okay, now let’s look at how the same thing plays out in a novel. Here’s a scene from my debut novel The Worker Prince:

She stood in the shadows as he began looking them over. Two mech-bots entered through another tunnel and began working on some of the Skitters behind him. As she stepped out of the shadows into the cave, Davi looked up at her.

“Hey,” she said, with a slight wave and a smile.

“Hey,” he said, going back to examining the Skitters.

“How’d the rest of the session go?”

He shrugged. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Not even eye contact. So maybe he was upset with her. “Sorry I left. I needed some air.”

“I was disappointed you didn’t stay for your turn,” Davi said as he examined another Skitter. “Seeing someone actually succeed on the simulators would have been encouraging. I sure could’ve used it.” His voice sounded tired.

“Was it really so bad?”

“You tell me. You saw how some of the students did,” Davi slid into the seat of a Skitter, fiddling with the controls.

“Some of them are a long way from being flight-worthy,” Tela said, watching the mech-bots working behind him.

“Some make me wonder if they ever will be.”

It saddened her to see him so discouraged. He had always been so positive and supportive of the students. She wanted to do something to cheer him up. She took a seat on another Skitter and turned it on, hearing the steady hum of the engine and feeling it rise up off the floor to float on the air as she adjusted the controls.

“Come with me.”

“For a joy ride?”

Tela smiled. “Sure. There’s something I want to show you.” She waved toward the Skitter he’d been examining.

He shrugged, climbing onto the Skitter. The engine hummed as it rose into the air. “Okay. Lead the way.”

In the larger picture of the narrative arc, Davi has been crushing on her and she’s blown him off, but here she’s starting to at least warm up to him as a friendly person who’s going through some difficulty because of other people he doesn’t deserve. Students have been harrassing him in class because he’s the former leader of their rival group and Davi’s just trying to teach them well and frustrated with their attitude getting in the way.   Here, Tela is concerned about Davi but there’s an awkwardness. He is hardly paying her any attention while she is completely focused and trying to engage with him. We are in her Point Of View, so snippets of her internal dialogue tell us how she’s feeling but it’s the “business” which tells us what might be going on emotionally and mentally with Davi. In the end, because he’s so focused on the Skitter’s (flying motorcycles essentially), Tela decides to shift tactics and use that to engage and takes him on a ride. But the tone of her interest and his disinterest initially says a lot about the status of their relationship. Notice, in this case, that the “business” also has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Again, multi-tasking is so common for us today, it’s a great way to add realism to a scene.

There are many ways to use the concept of “business” in writing. What are some that you can think of? How can you use this to enhance your own prose? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: 9 Tools For Character Development

Character Development is core to good storytelling. After all, characters are whom readers connect to and if they are stagnant and unchanging, the story can fail to hold reader’s interest. Growth of characters creates drama and propels the story. So what tools can you use to develop characters well? Here’s ten suggestions:

1) Treat Your Characters As Individuals–People are unique, no two the same, and so should it be with your characters. So each character should respond differently to a situation as any other character. In particular, fight scenes, for example, can often be a place where characters blend into one, as they all react the same. Instead try treating such common scenes as opportunities to reveal character through uniqueness. How would one character fight differently than another? Work this in and your story will be richer, your characters stronger. There are many other common scene types where you can similarly emphasize the uniqueness. Look for them.

2) Vary The Vocabulary–People use words differently, so your characters should as well. One of the best ways to distinguish and develop characters is through dialogue. Educated people use more sophisticated words, while less educated structure sentences  differently. Think of this as you develop each character’s voice and use it to set them apart, create conflict and develop them throughout your story. Vocabulary, in fact, is far more effective than attempting to create accents. Phonetically, accents already pose problems and can even devolve into silly or, far worse, confusing dialogue styles which detract from the story.

3) Scene Point Of View–Another way to develop character is by choosing the protagonist whose point of view will tell particular scenes. I tend to consider who has the most at stake in a particular scene and make the scene happen in that POV but there are varied theories. Whatever your method, your characters can be developed well through use of POV. For example, I had a scene where a couple are fighting. At the same time, an old enemy is stalking them, intent to do them harm. I told the scene from the enemy’s POV, even though he never interacts with the couple because it allowed me to further both the romantic storyline and the antagonist’s storyline in one scene through his internal monologue as he witnesses their discussion. Three character arcs and two plotlines were thus furthered in one short scene.

4) Sartorial Style–People’s tastes vary, and so should characters’. What they wear, how they choose it, etc. can be a part of characterization. Everything from color to fabric choices to scale, formality, and even clothing cost can be used to establish character. We use such things daily as we observe others to determine things about them, and readers will use such details as clues to define characters if you include them.

5) Naming–Names say a lot about who we are, and so choosing character names is another way to develop them or establish particular impressions almost immediately in reader’s minds. Someone named ‘Timothy’ and someone named ‘Theodore’ will be considered differently by readers. The first sounds more common and less formal, while the second sounds a bit more haughty and implies a different educational level or even class level. Now that’s stereotyping, of course, so sometimes naming a character contrary to the impression the name gives can also be a tool you use. But whatever the tactic, character naming is a very important tool in their development. In addition to formal names, nicknames can also be employed as well. Whether a character has a nickname, uses it or likes it, can say a lot about who they are.

6) Props–We all have our favorite do-dads, don’t we? Things we take with us everywhere we go. The cliches for women are purses and for men, perhaps, favorite hats, but we all have something. Sometimes it’s small enough to fit in a pocket. Other times, it’s carried around for all to see. Props are a great tool for revealing character. Spend time observing people around you. What props does each person have? Keep a spreadsheet or list of potential props for characters. Yes, when writing fantasy or science fiction you might have to be more inventive than just copying from a list you made at the mall. That’s called writing, dears. In any case, props can add great flavor and speak volumes about characters.

7) Companions–Fellow characters, animal or otherwise, can be great for revealing character. We see how they interact with each other and we learn volumes about who they are. Think about it: what would the Lone Ranger have been without Silver or Tonto? What about Batman without Robin? There’s a reason Michael Keaton quit after two movies: he was lonely (Ok, that might be just a guess). Who a person spends his or her time with says a lot about them and so use it to develop your characters well.

8 ) Backstory–It seems obvious but sometimes it’s easy to forget to dig deeply into a character’s past for material to develop the character. Even things you know about them but don’t include in your narrative can be of value. All the experiences of that character’s past serve to shape who he or she is becoming, from determining responses to various stimuli to emotional hotpoints from happy to fearful. When your character seems to become stagnant, review what you know about his or her past, then ask yourself if maybe there might be more to uncover which would help you as you write. You can only have too little backstory, never too much. It’s core to the internal battles all people face and will enrich your ability to write your characters with depth and broadness that stretches outside the boundaries and limitations of your story itself.

9) Traits–Another that seems obvious but developing your character’s likes and dislikes can take you all kinds of places, especially when you examine how they might clash with those of the characters around them and even the attributes of the world around them. All kinds of instances will soon arise where you can reveal more of the character through actions resulting from these traits. In the process, your story will have built in conflict and drama and perhaps even humor you might not have thought of before. Character traits are a great way to add spicy detail to your story, surprising and entertaining readers at the same time. And don’t just limit yourself to personal preferences either. Character traits can also include physical ticks like clenching hands when angry or a slight stutter or even a limp or other defect.

Okay, there you have them: 9 Tools For Character Development. Have more? Please add them in the comments. I’d love to hear what tools and tricks you employ. Let’s learn from each other.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Writers, Be Who You Are: A Process Of Discovery

I love when I come across an article, as I recently did on a blog, where a person is so enamored with their way of writing that they insist it’s the only way to do it correctly. Pantser v. Outliner: it’s an old debate. And I think it takes most of us a long time to sort out where we fit on the very broad scale. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say it may vary by project. Sequels, for example, do take more planning than the books they follow, perhaps. And certainly much experimentation is involved as one learns and develops writing craft to sort out what works and doesn’t for him or her. The only advice I feel absolutely confident in offering to everyone, as much advice as I tend to offer on this blog, is to Be Who You Are.

Don’t get me wrong, these advisors mean well. They’re very passionate about what they do. They have rightfully put a lot of thought into it and develop the understanding an comfort with it over time. But the writing journey for me, and most writers I’ve spoken with, has always been a process of discovery. You try something for a while then hear something knew and try it on to see if it fits. Sometimes you adapt it in full, sometimes you just take parts, and so on it goes as you fill your toolbox and learn new skills. In the end, much of it tends to become intuitive anyway. Some things need to be intuitive to be effective, others need more thought and deliberation every time they’re used.

And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. We are individuals, after all, unique beings with none exactly like any other. So why assume that such unique beings could have only one way to do something as complicated as writing? It doesn’t even seem possible when you think about it. No, I mean really think about it, setting aside those preconceived ideas. There. See what I mean?

So don’t succumb to any pressure to be like some other writer, no matter how famous they are, how much money they make or how much you like their work. You will never approach writing exactly like them. And that’s absolutely fine. Your journey is not their journey, and their journey is not yours. You have to find your own way. Sure, you can learn from their mistakes sometimes. You can even borrow their shortcuts, but there is no real shortcut to being the best writer you can be except trial and error and writing itself.

Along the way, you choose your tools, and no, they don’t all have to come from Sears. Ace Hardware has good stuff, too, and so does Target sometimes. Even Walmart. It doesn’t class down your writing to use what works for you and toss what doesn’t. That’s just smart. After all, writing is a personal activity and it’s also a business. Run it the way that allows and enables you to be most successful and never look back.

Be Who You Are, writers, and be proud of it. It will continue to change as long as your on the journey, and here’s hoping it’s the journey of a lifetime.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Write Tip: 8 Tools For Using Humor In Your Fiction

Humor can be an important part of both character development and reader engagement. When used well, it can endear both writer and characters to readers. When used poorly, it can ruin an otherwise successful tale. Here’s some tips for how to use humor effectively in your stories and novels.

 1 ) The Running Gag– This tool is one of the stand-by tropes of good comedy. Typically employed following the rule of threes, the running gag will repeat three times, with each one increasing in absurdity and corresponding laughter inspired. The first two act as set-ups for the big pay off of the third. Study any sitcom or romantic comedy and you can always find running gags used to great effect. For example, a character slips on a banana peel on the sidewalk in front of his paramour’s door, embarrassing himself. The next time he goes there, he looks around carefully to avoid something similar but this time, something falls from above, knocking him down. The third time, perhaps during the finale of the story, he winds up ignoring the fear and facing running after her behind a banana truck whose cargo is falling out scatters across his path, leading to all kinds of slippery footwork. This is a basic slapstick example. Most running gags or more complicated. But I think it gives you the idea.

2 ) The Love-Hate Relationship– Nothing brings out humor better than two characters thrown together who are constantly at each other’s throats–not in the “I want to choke you to death” sense, but rather in the “hurling biting insults and cutting down” sense. Watching them each attempt to outdo the other can be mined for great humor and,  at the same time, used to build character. One of the best ways is for them to exploit each other’s flaws for their comments.

3 )  The Flawed Character– No one’s perfect. We all know this about ourselves. Your characters become more real when you also show this about your character. And the worst part of flaws? The way they embarrass us or put us in difficult situations where we look bad in front of those we want to impress. Exploit these situations, and you’ll find all kinds of humor in them. Another advantage is that readers are drawn to characters who are flawed in relatable ways. “Oh man, I know just how he feels!” That response endears your character to your reader and draws them into your story. It’s just part of using your character’s humanity to build empathy and sympathy and connect him or her with your readers, which, in turn, keeps them more involved and interested in your story.

4 ) The Subverted/Misunderstood Context– While creating empathy is helpful, at the same time, your character needs distance from readers for them to see the humor. If they identify too much, they won’t laugh at the humorous situation in which the character finds him or herself. It helps to have the character see the humor in the situation, nor matter how painful it may be, but again, make sure it is not too painful or offensive or the readers will be turned off. Key to this is subverting or applying misunderstood context. People interact daily with different worldviews and understandings of the context in which that interaction occurs. Mining that for misunderstandings and humor or allowing circumstances to subvert one character’s correct understanding of the context can be used to mine humor in the situation for readers.

5 ) The Fish Out Of Water– There’s always humor to be found in situations where a character is put in situations or places with which he or she might be unfamiliar or even made uncomfortable–a priest visiting a crack house, for example, or a Sunday School mom in an NFL locker room. The interactions with other characters who are comfortable in that world and even the character’s reactions can be used for great humorous effect.

6 ) Exaggeration– Exploiting a character’s perspective through exaggeration is a great tool to create humor. Pushing the character to the edge of their limits can result in funny reactions, dialogue and situations for readers and interesting ways of building or wrapping up a scene. It makes everything a bit more outrageous, but to use it effectively, everything the character does needs to have elements of exaggeration throughout. It starts small and builds to be most effective, until they are pushed to a point where they explode (figuratively, of course, in most cases).

7 ) Surprise– Another great tool is the element of surprise. If a character walks into their apartment to find all their furniture turned upside down or a totally unexpected situation, or if events unfold in ways that catch both characters and readers by surprise, humor can result. The surprise can be either physical or emotional, but as mentioned above, it can’t be too painful or offensive that it would alienate the reader. The character’s discomfort is fine and can be used for humor, but the reader’s own discomfort has more limits and must be carefully considered when using any of these tools. Be sure to arrange the elements of the scene to maximize tension and release. This will make the effect of the humor more powerful.

8 ) Satire/Parody– South Park, The Simpsons, and many other popular TV Shows employ satire and parody to mock socially relevant attitudes or even current events and point out flaws or ironies in these situations and you can too through your characters and plots. These two can be tricky to pull off well. Avoiding preachiness, for example, can be hard when it’s a subject on which you feel passionate. Take great care never to push the humor too far. Most especially, allow readers to draw their own conclusions. A few prompting remarks can be carefully exploited through dialogue but don’t overdo it. Especially if you yourself have spoken out publicly about such issues, readers will tend to see right through it and the moment may be destroyed. Still, satire and parody are classic humor tropes which should always be a part of your toolbox when writing humor.

So there they are: 8 Tools to be employed in adding humor to your fiction prose. Like any tools, using them takes practice and development of skills. Some do tend to have more natural instincts than others, but like most tools, these can be learned and incorporated instinctually into your writing arsenal. Despite being age old methods, they remain popular because they consistently work. If they work for other writers, you can be sure that, when done well, they’ll work for you.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.