Saturday, October 3, 2009

But I Bet None of the Main Hobbits Have “-s” Names

by Jeremy Edwards

When I was first invited to make this guest-blogging appearance, I was torn. (Well, I was conflicted; the cover of my paperback dictionary was torn.)

Since I love OGAG and greatly admire those involved in it, I was of course immensely flattered by the offer. But at the same time, I was faced with the inescapable truth that I’m not really a Hobbit person. Why, I’ve never even read any of J. L. R. Tolkien’s work. (What? All right, all right: J. *R.* R. Whatever. We fortysomethings aren’t obligated to remember more than two initials at once, you know.)

Fortunately, by the time I reread the invitation, my bifocals had accidentally found their way onto my face. (They normally reside atop the snout of my stuffed Tigger. Please stop looking at me that way. You too, Tigger.) At this point, I discerned that I’d been offered a slot blogging about writing *habits*, and this simplified the situation considerably. My sole worry now was that Ashley and I--whose minds work alike to a degree that even television vampires have described as “frightening”--would craft virtually identical posts, distinguishable only in that (a) my piece would have fewer u’s (favor, harbor, candor), and (b) his piece would be better.

What with one thing and another, I’d gotten out of the habit of thinking about my habits, and so this assignment forced me to take a long, hard look at myself. (Long looks at myself are always hard, chiefly because of the strain on the neck muscles.) The first thing I noticed--other than the fact that my earlobes are slightly asymmetrical--was that my writing habits could be divided into three categories: good habits, bad habits, and odd habits. (Technically, a good or bad habit might also be an odd one; but for the purposes of this discussion, good- or badness trumps oddness.) I then took the liberty of further organizing these habits according to which aspect of the writing task each pertained to.

The first area I’d like to explore (though it wasn’t the first one I thought about--see Sequence, below) is that of Momentum. As all writers know, momentum is what ultimately allows us to have a body of finished work (sometimes even with a head attached), rather than just a quaint menagerie of promising starts. Here are the habits of mine that I’ve identified as momentum-relevant:

Good habit:
Building on Success.
This is where I say, “Wow, the passage I just drafted feels good. I think I’m really in the groove, so instead of switching to another task I’ll keep writing, for now.”

Bad habit:
This is where I say, “Well! That’s an awesome 175-word paragraph I just wrote, if I do say so myself (and there’s no one else in the house, so I’d better). I know it’s only 9:23 in the morning, but I do believe I’ll take the rest of the day off.”

Odd habit:
This is where I say, “Sweet! That passage reads beautifully. I wonder how it would look in 15-point Baskerville Oldface.”

Then there’s the issue of Sequence. Though I often, as they say, begin at the beginning, I don’t necessarily write an entire story in the order in which it will be read. (I’m assuming a reader who reads left to right and top to bottom--unlike my aunt Felicia, who is a career bureaucrat and insists on reading the words in alphabetical order.) Here again, I exhibit a cluster of habits:

Good habit:
Going with the Flow.
The “flow” might be the chronological sequence of events as it will be seen by readers other than Aunt Felicia, or it might not. The “flow” is simply whatever direction my creativity is going. If my momentum (see above) keeps me progressing from point A in the narrative to points B, C, and D (please note the Felicia-friendly order), then, great--I’m writing in sequence. But if I’m stuck at point A-and-a-half (also known as A-sharp, or B-flat) and, meanwhile, my spontaneous creative Eislaufbahn* is making a totally separate scene unfold before my eyes, then that’s the flow with which I should go. In that case, I’ll be embracing the literary equivalent of the cinematic tactic called “filming out of sequence”--and, if it makes me feel important, I can even shout “Action!” at the start of every paragraph. (As noted earlier, I’m usually alone in the house when writing.)

*Disclaimer: Accuracy of random, impressive-sounding German terms not guaranteed.

Bad habit:
Writing a New Scene without Carefully Rereading the Old Scene.
It’s all well and good to go with the aforementioned flow; but if I begin my writing day by plunging headlong into a shimmering new episode in my story, without first refreshing my mind regarding little things like hair color, point of view, and, oh, gender (since I write both hetero and lesbian stories) ... then my characters and I may get into trouble.

Odd habit:
Writing Sex Scenes Last, Even If They Fall in the Middle of the Story.
I don’t always do this, but it’s not unusual for me. What can I say? Having a story two-thirds finished gives me a virile feeling.

I also have an array of habits that relate to Character Names. (I’m referring to the names of my protagonists and their associates, and not to items like the percent symbol or the left angle bracket--though, come to think of it, Percent Symbol sounds like she’d make a cute leading lady.)

Good habit:
Reviewing the List of Names I’ve Used Before.
I won’t say I never repeat names, but I do try to avoid giving my most faithful readers the impression that I have a small stable of recurring characters on the payroll, who behave in inconsistent manners from story to story and jet capriciously back and forth between American and British settings.

Bad habit:
Starting Out with an “-s” Name.
I’m sure other writers will recognize what I’m talking about here. Phyllis. James. Dennis. Mags. It sounds like a yummy foursome ... until I get one page into the draft and find myself stuck in a possessive-case Essiggurkefass like

James’s hand lingered on Mags’s breast, even as Phyllis’s gaze, then Dennis’s, intersected Isis’s line of sight. [Yes, I threw Isis in there for good measure.]

When it comes to selecting names, possessives are nine-tenths of the law.

Odd habit:
Gravitating to Three-Syllable “M” Names for My Female Protagonists.
For eroto-aesthetic reasons that are obscure even to me, the as-yet-untrod stage of a new Jeremy story is often rushed by a Millicent or a Marigold, a Melanie or a Minerva. Sometimes--just sometimes--these prima donnas get to stay, if they promise to behave *very* nicely.

One final observation: When a habit proves to have a positive influence on my writing journey, I upgrade it, for labeling purposes, to a “strategy.” This terminology makes it sound like I’m carefully stewarding my creative process--like I’m in control.

The disadvantage to this is that since all the good habits become “strategies,” most of the official “habits” I’m left with are bad ones. So thank goodness for the odd ones!


  1. Jeremy,

    It's a pleasure to have you here at the blog. Your post has cracked me up and there isn't a part I don't relate to on some level or another.

    Your point about '-s' names is something I thought was my own personal foible: I'm delighted I'm not the only one who thinks that way about possessive apostrophes. I do know, if I'd written the Bible, Jesus would have been called John or Jim :-)

    Thanks for visiting us here at the Grip.



  2. John H Christ, you made me laugh Jeremy!

  3. I seriously laughed out loud repeatedly at this, Jeremy. Delightful! Thanks so much. :)

    Ashley said,
    "if I'd written the Bible, Jesus would have been called John or Jim"

    And what a bonus, I got to laugh out loud perusing the comments too!

  4. Hi, Ashley! First of all, a huge thanks to you (and all of you) for inviting me into the spotlight.

    I'm so delighted that you enjoyed the post! And I'm tickled to see it confirmed, once again, that you and I are on the same wavelength. (Do you think there may be a "separated at birth" story to unearth here?)

    Excellent (and hilarious) point about the Bible. Seriously, this problem must come up a lot with translations—and also with minor characters who become major characters in sequels. I've never thought about those complications.

  5. Hi, Nikki! So glad you liked it—and LOL to "John H Christ"!

  6. Thank you so much, Emerald, for reading and laughing!

  7. Hi Jeremy,

    What a great post! At first I was a bit concerned, not being a Hobbit person myself, what the hell you were talking about. Then I started laughing.

    I love your good habit of building on success- that's the one I aim for. Sadly, sometimes I fall into the Microlaurel-Resting-- "that was a good scene, I should check my email now, and then visit a few blogs to see what's going on."

    Though 90% of the time I write in sequence, I've also saved some sex scenes for last. I have to be in the proper frame of mind to do those justice, and prefer not to have a bunch of people bouncing off the walls around me at the time.

    Looking back over my character names, I use very few -s names. Keeping it simple, I guess.

    Ash and Nikki's variations on the name of Christ made me think of Stephen Lynch's comedy song 'Craig Christ'-- if you haven't heard it, go listen to it on You Tube. LMAO!!!

    Thanks for the guest blog, Jeremy. Very entertaining!

    ~ Jenna

  8. Jenna,

    I hadn't heard 'Craig Christ' before. That is a brilliant track. Thanks for the head's up.


  9. Thanks, Jenna!

    Now I'm wondering if there's an all "-s" name fictional universe somewhere, where all the names we've passed over have their day in the sun.

  10. If you're ever truly interested in writing Hobbits, as opposed to writing habits, I suggest reading "The History of the Lord of the Rings," an annotated compilation of all of JRR Tolkien's notes, outlines and drafts for "The Lord of the Rings," edited by his son. You and Tolkien may have more in common than you realize, including the rereading of scenes and lists of names ;)

    We all have our good, bad, and odd habits, and I think yours are just perfect! (I particullarly love the habit of Fonsturbation.)

  11. The dreaded 's names. OMG, I thought I was the only one. LOL

    Awesome post, Jeremy. Thanks for the chuckles, and I'm so glad you joined us today.


  12. We all have our good, bad, and odd habits, and I think yours are just perfect!

    Thanks, Helen! My habits are beaming with pride. : )

  13. Thank you for the praise, Jude—and for letting me get my Grip on!

    The dreaded 's names. OMG, I thought I was the only one. LOL

    I love how, as writers, we can compare notes about this stuff and commiserate.

  14. Hey Jeremy, what an excellent examination of that mysterious and twisted place known as the writer's mind! I can relate to so much of it, but must say Fontsurbation sounds new and exciting.

    Oh, and thanks to Jenna. I had not heard the song "Craig Christ." Hmm. I really like that song.

    And speaking of Bible characters, I always wondered what they were thinking with all the confusion around Marys and Judases. I know the authors dropped the ball, but I'm also disappointed at the editors.

    I mean, there's that King James guy and Matthew and Luke and all who could have cleared that mess up from the get go.

    Sorry, I got carried away.


    Felicia hi I said tell

  15. Thank you, Craig!

    Felicia hi I said tell


  16. Thanks for an inside peek at your habits, Jeremy - writing habits that is. I'm sure if all the writers on this topic posted their personal habits the week would've been informative but frightening.

    I'm showing my age when I divulge the reason for my one syllable character names - back, wayyyyy back in the day, when we wrote on typewriters, I named a character Mrs. McCallum. Over the course of the creation of this particular opus, which was a screenplay, I must've had to type Mrs. McCallum a hundred times. Yikes!

    From then on my characters were named Anne, Claire, or Joy, if women, and Jack, if men.

    Nowadays, of course, I could go to two or three syllable names, and I do, but not without trepidation. Old habits die hard.

    When using Movie Magic for scriptwriting, I make sure not to give characters names that start with the same letter, because then I have to type TWO letters before Movie Magic knows which name to automatically enter.

    I love technology. I do not miss white-out.

  17. Oh Jeremy, you make me laugh!
    Great post.

  18. I love hearing about all this, Madeline! It's always interesting to me how practical considerations influence art.

    I wondered be surprised to learn that Dickens et al. deliberately repeated names in full when being paid by the word.


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