Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Character Naming Game and Cross-Dress -- er, Cross-Genre Writing

For our own writing projects, we discovered that sometimes characters tell us what their names are. More often than not, surnames pop out about the same time a character shows up in a story. Last names occasionally stem from ones we’ve heard in our past or they’ll relate to the personality – or the just the opposite. In The Silverville Swindle, Howard Beacon isn’t exactly a bright light, Billy Noble is anything but, whereas money preoccupies Buford Price. 
Same thing in All Plucked Up: Madame Pompeii is as disastrous as her namesake, Maurice LeVieux plays an old geezer (“LeVieux” is French for that), and the “three fools” are our hat tip to Moe, Larry, and Curly. Whether or not readers catch our wordplay, the name puns are amusing to us. In The Magicke Outhouse, we named our protagonist Micah Musil because it sounds funny, its accentual syllabics imitate the corresponding anti-diuretic we’re punning, and it fits a person who encounters visceral turbulence – in a black-comedy sort of way. In a similar vein, we couldn't resist giving the new Outhouse star, April, the last name of "Schaures" – an intentional sound pun.
We were even more shameless in our punning when we gave the little alien-looking kid, Otto, the last name of Diesewelt. Try saying that name two or three times quickly and you'll most likely be able to figure out where he's from -- or at least, where he's not from! 
We were also shameless in our hat tips to name punning when we got into the whole naming game that the Pantiwycke clan engages in from All Plucked Up. Characters are always trying on names, changing them, and not unlike the paces we as authors put our cast through as we write.
We don't mind lifting the edge of the stage curtain -- or the petticoat -- to tease our readers on the side, giving them hints or offering side jokes about what we're doing as we do it. Guess it doesn't get any campier that we even gave ourselves cameo roles in All Plucked Up. If that's not a wink to the reader that we try never to take ourselves too seriously, we're not sure what could be!
And speaking of a bit of stagecraft and superficial flash, our new adventures in screenwriting have put a whole new spin on collaborative writing. We still follow the same techniques for telling a tale or naming a name, but through the perspective of seeing the story on a big screen. We first gave it a shot with The Silverville Swindle, mostly because readers kept telling us the story would make a good movie. We’ve never let knowing what we’re doing stop us before – starting a magazine, putting out a weekly paper, writing that first novel – but this time it seemed like a good idea to find out more about how movie scripts come together. The summer after the novel came out, we went to a writing conference that had a session on screenwriting. We decided to try it. That first draft taught us enough to know that our script was just that, a first draft. For one thing, we mostly cut-and-pasted dialog from the novel, and what we got turned into a monster, dialog-wise. Worse, when a film-maker read the script for us, he pointed out that one particular sentence would cost a studio $10,000. So back to the drawing board for us. We needed to think in terms of not only story but also production – and what kind of response we would get from future collaborators – i.e., producers, directors, and film companies. We buried our noses in books, subscribed to trade journals, and read successful scripts. Along the way, we learned a whole new approach to tightening up a story so that it fits inside two hours. And we discovered we really liked it.
No longer did we have to fill in so much background, and we could skip a lot of exposition altogether. We could completely focus on the key scenes; we both now looked at story as a series of visuals. Version 2.0 of The Silverville Swindle looks a lot different from the first draft, and very different from Version 3.0. We chopped with gleeful abandon – many peripheral characters and subplots completely disappeared; we repackaged conflict and action. We also rewrote the scenes to keep our protagonist in front of the camera. In the end, we think we created a tidy little package that won’t cost a studio an arm and a leg. We must have done something right because it got the attention of a Colorado-based indy film company and later a movie producer/packager with some well-known screen credits.  Time will tell where this one goes, but in the meantime, we’re enjoying our new playground and have a few more screenwriting projects in the works. Not adaptations, but straight-to-script projects.
And along the way, we still love writing novels. In fact, our current project, The Magicke Outhouse, is virtually writing itself as we breathlessly try to keep pace.
Will any of our projects lead to hot rendezvous in bed? Probably not.
Like we said before, we can’t write love scenes, which might seem odd for two people who compare co-writing to good sex. 
Our passion is private except when it comes to crafting a good tale together.


  1. The two of you are on an exciting adventure! I'm also looking into screenwriting...just dipping my toe in the water right now. It will be a while before I ever get to that point with my ms.

    Names. I'm a freakin' freak about them. They can make or break a character, or even worse, an entire story. I even wrote an article about it:

    Thus, the reason I took interest in April's name. Now that I hear a few of the others, we're going to be lifelong friends (and I love the name of the town - very alliterative sounding with the L's and V's).

    Names are so important to me that I still haven't settled on many for the characters in my WIP, which is done and about to go through its first revision. The cousins are still "Cousin1" and "Cousin2." I want to make them authentic, as it takes place in the late 1800's, and found many of them in an 1850 census.

    The protagonist's name, Monty Tucker, is from that census; his full first name is Montgomery. CLASSIC. Love it. It was one of the last names that I made into a first.

    Anyhoo...gotta get back to my own writing! Trying to get it done before the Superbowl.

  2. We love Montgomery as a first name. And Monty Tucker -- that has a marvelous ring of authenticity. Nicely chosen. We certainly agree: choosing the right name is essential (if only part art, and a touch of luck).

    Mark's recent sci-fi novel, STRANGE ATTRACTORS, uses the name Morgan for a protagonist, chosen because it's a time-travel story and Morgan is the German word for the future. It's a private joke, never explained in the story, but helped him stay focused.

    Naming is such fun.

    Good luck on that screenplay. We actually had two directors and a producer give a look at our Silverville screenplay, but we soon realized we were out of our depth and needed to learn more about the craft before we blithely tromped around, burning bridges willy-nilly because of our ineptitude rather than garnering valuable networking contacts.

  3. Oh...that screenplay is miles away. I've yet to clean up the book. :o) But, when finished and published and the time comes for Hollywood (the power of positive thinking), I want to be involved in the production, therefore, I better have a working familiarity with the process. I'm wise enough to know when I'm out of my league.

    I found the $10,000 sentence interesting...would love to know what their reasoning was for the cost.

    Mark, I do the same with many things in my book...whether they are ever noticed isn't's more of a little "Easter egg" that I hide, and if never found, is okay, but if the reader does indeed find it, it's a little treat for them.

  4. Great article. I thought of my writing colleague, Mike, (ML, above) when you talked about the names-- he indeed gives great thought and care in choosing his names.

    Interesting to see your interest and dabbling in screenwriting. I recently read Save The Cat about that subject-- lot of thought and work goes into it! I'll be excited to be at the premier and whisper to the people next to me, "I, uh, know these writers.. brilliant, just brilliant..." :)

  5. Hi! I just wandered over here from Julie's blog, and have to say that the title "The Magicke Outhouse" really makes me want to read it! Only a certain kind of mind would think of something like that. . .

  6. Thanks, Rebecca. Sounds like you are of like mindedness when it comes to the offbeat, and the book is certainly that (also the current one, All Plucked Up.)

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and great to make your e-quaintance!