Ready, set, beginnings

On August 5, 2014, nevvawinter wrote, I have a question about beginning a story. I often come up with elements for a story, such as a setting and a character or some dialogue and a conflict, but I have trouble putting these elements together and adding elements to make a complete story out of my initial slightly-fuzzy vision. Any advice would be appreciated.

I have all those problems, too!

End of post.

Just fooling–about it being the end of the post.

I started The Two Princesses of Bamarre prequel that I’m working on right now by telling the reader something my main character doesn’t find out until much later. It’s a dramatic revelation, and it provides instant interest. I’ve been sending my editor fifty-page chunks of the manuscript to keep me from getting seriously off track, and she disagrees with my choice. She thinks the reader shouldn’t learn this truth until my MC does. Maybe she’s right. I won’t be sure–if I ever am sure–until I finish the book and go back and probably try it the other way.

In Two Princesses itself I didn’t get the beginning right until after the advance reading copy had gone out to reviewers–for which the book suffered in the reviews. Then I finally figured it out, and the published beginning is fine, or so I believe.

Before I was a writer I used to paint, and I loved using watercolor. But in watercolor you cannot correct mistakes–or you can, but to a very small degree. Oil is more forgiving; still, in all of painting that isn’t done digitally, earlier versions are covered over. It’s hard to go back.

Writing is infinitely forgiving, especially writing on a computer or laptop, but even pen-and-paper writing is, too, as long as we don’t destroy what went before or cross out so mercilessly that the earlier version becomes indecipherable.

I love that. It takes all the worry out of beginnings. I often start in one place then realize that important scenes precede my beginning, so I add them to the front, sometimes more than once.

Or, going the other way, I may discover that my beginning presents information that the reader doesn’t need. It’s back story that helps me develop my character or my plot, but it doesn’t come into the present adventure. When that happens, I move the unnecessary part into a document called Extra, in case I discover a use for it later.

When I’m fooling around with an idea for a book or a story, I write a lot of notes. Many writers think without writing. They may stare out their window, daydreaming productively.. I can do a little of that, but usually my mind really shifts into gear when I’m typing. I write about where my idea might take me, what characters I need to put it in motion. I may think about the setting, the world it will be in. Often I wonder if there’s a fairy tale I can use to help me with my plot. During this process a beginning usually comes to me. The way that it generally comes has to do with the conflict at the heart of my idea. When that happens, I write my tentative first scene and then go back to my notes.

One way to begin is to start with the central conflict at its height and take it from there. For example, suppose we have a village under some sort of threat, and the village is divided about how to address the threat. Let’s imagine that the danger is seasonal flooding, which seems to get worse every year. The villagers, some unwillingly, have raised their houses and public buildings on stilts. We start with a flood. Alas, the stilts aren’t strong enough, and several houses are swept away, including the home of Skye, our MC. In the disaster her father, Quinn, is killed.

That’s a fine way when it works. We tear into the problem and then we present the difficulties with solving it, revealing character and setting as we go. In my historical novel, Dave at Night, I begin with the death of Dave’s father and plunge the story into the central problem right away.

I tried this with Two Princesses, too, less successfully. In one of my attempts to get the beginning right, I introduced Meryl’s illness immediately. As soon as the book opens, she gets sick. It was a powerful start–too powerful, because the reader couldn’t focus on all the other things I needed to set up: Addie’s timidity, monsters, and the epic poem that features Drualt.

In Dave at Night and my example of Skye and her dear departed dad, the beginning may succeed because these beloved characters are dead and done with, and the story can move on. But suppose Skye’s father doesn’t die. Suppose he’s last seen clinging to a ceiling beam in a rushing river. The reader may be unable to pay attention to anything else because she’s so worried about him, and yet we need to set up the rest of the story.

So instead we start with something not quite so intense but that introduces elements of the conflict to come. In Skye’s story, we might start with a town meeting where Quinn argues loudly against raising the houses and in favor of a system of dams to control the water. Meanwhile, Skye wishes her father weren’t so confrontational. Then we move into the work to raise the house, which Quinn does with all the skill at his command. He disagrees with the town’s decision, but he’s going to do his best. We show the relationship between him and Skye and anyone else we decide to put in the family. Maybe we show that Skye is her dad’s opposite. She’d rather not get what she wants than argue. Since, in my mind, the village is kind of a character in the story, we introduce a few of the residents: the mayor, Skye’s best friend, the horse doctor, the owner of the inn. We produce weather reports. We don’t send in the flood until at least a few scenes take place and establish this world and its inhabitants.

Specifically, our beginning can be presented just about any way: through dialogue, action, thoughts, emotion, more than one. Setting is harder, but that can work too. In this story, which has to do with the natural world, setting may be just the thing. We may want to start with rising water. Or with how beautifully the village has recovered, finally, from the last flood twenty years ago.

And, of course, we can change our mind. We can start with a few lines of dialogue and then decide that the dialogue should come later or isn’t needed at all.

Here are four prompts:

∙ Write Skye’s story beginning with Quinn’s death in the flood.

∙ Write Skye’s story beginning with Quinn being borne away by the rushing water. See if you can make it work.

∙ Write Skye’s story beginning, as I suggested, with the village meeting.

∙ Start the story several ways and just write a few paragraphs. Start with dialogue, then with setting, then with action, then with thoughts, then with emotion. Keep writing from the beginning that interests you the most.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Beginnings are so tough! Usually I start way too early, before anything exciting enough to interest the reader happens. I'm a major plotter/planner, so I almost always know where my story is going, but for whatever reason I can never pinpoint when it would be good to start. In all honesty, I'm quite terrible at it. My very first NaNoWriMo, I spent 50,000 words just trying to get to my first plot point (and didn't even get that far). I was trying very hard to pick up the pace, because I wanted to describe my character's every day life and the flurry of excitement that accompanied an event that was a major difference from how things normally were in her life. But the writing was slow going, and none of it was particularly interesting enough to be opening material. It wasn't until I got to my first plot point (55,000 words in) that the writing suddenly became easier and the plot picked up. It took me quite a while even after that for me to finally recognize that the reason the writing got easier was because I should be starting the story there, rather than giving so much background.

    However, I also have started to realize that even though I start my stories too early, it's not necessarily bad. Usually, even though the reader doesn't need that much background information about the story right away, I–as the writer–need it. It's a way for me to settle into my character's surroundings and get to know what her daily life is like. I get to see her interact with people and how she sees the world. Even though a reader would never actually read those scenes, by writing them I'm able to better slip into my character's head.

    And like you said–the beauty of words is how flexible they are, and it's much easier to add, cut, or rearrange after the fact. It doesn't hurt the story to have too much written at the beginning, so long as you know when you need to take it out (although it can be difficult to look at such a large number of pages that need to be taken out).

    (Also, I just wanted to share how excited I am. After going to your event and getting to listen to you talk about Stolen Magic, my son–who loves dragons–decided he wanted to give A Tale of Two Castles a try, so we’ve started reading it together at night. And, while I’m on the topic, Stolen Magic was simply wonderful. I loved it so much! Especially Elodie’s and Masteress Meenore’s friendship. It was so beautifully written, and such a pleasure to read.)

  2. Two writing questions to the website from Yulia. Here's the first:

    I finally worked out my oversensitive main character. Thanks so much to you, Elisa, and Bibliophile for the advice. But now I’ve kinda got a new problem.
    See, I’m writing a new main character. She’s got an Elodie situation, going away for 15 years to be an apprentice. (Don’t worry, there’s no dragons, ogres, or thieving cats so I’m not plagiarizing). I didn’t want her to be anything like my first main character, since I can’t rewrite the same character over and over without going batty.
    Now my problem is that she’s a heap of stone. No emotion. She’s through all the trouble and hardship a person could be through, and she’s calm as could be. She’s leaving for 15 years to a forbidden country where people of her race are hanged in the streets, and she’s not scared. She’s pretty much an empty body who only thinks when she’s speculating about who killed the king (it’s a mystery. Oh, not trying to plagiarize-I swear he wasn’t poisoned, so I hope I don’t sound like one big old copycat).
    I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. I don’t want her to be always freaking out, but she seems inhuman right now. What do I do with a too-calm character? Is there even such a thing as being too calm? All I can say is that I’m certainly not calm about this situation.

    Ideas, anyone

    • Well, I'm pretty sure you have to add some fear. Even the toughest person would be at least concerned about this particular situation. That said, I'm all for characters who are practical, with a firm goal in mind, that don't let emotion get in their way. There aren't enough of those out there. I'm not saying you need an emotionless hero, just one who does who needs done despite her emotion. I think a lot of people forget that there are more than two emotions. Love and sadness are great, but don't forget about anger, hate, despair and happiness. Also, I think something to take into mind is that a lot of people prefer a character with a personality to a super emotional one. She could have all sorts of personality traits. She could be curious, clever, sweet, playful, witty, peaceful, clueless, careless, quarrelsome, flighty, practical, complacent, foolish, flashy, satirical, obnoxious, nosey, bossy, pliable, stiffened, harsh, cynical, gracious, reserved, grave, kind…the list is rather endless. Another thing to do is give her quirks: She could collect the shells of a particular type of snail to make sculptures, she could always wear a particular color, she could have a rule that she never swims on Thursdays, she could use a particular word incorrectly on purpose, she could secretly build intricate toys and give them to children that she sees crying, she could be fascinated by the flight pattern of the hemgoladragfish bird, she could keep pet lady bugs, or even doodle things in obscure languages on the forehead of the watchman when he falls asleep at his job. Fun, weird things like that.

    • I agree with Elisa. I think that practical and calm characters are great, and there are plenty of ways to make them interesting.

      The other thing to consider is whether your character is suppressing their fear or just isn't afraid. The latter is far less likely in normal circumstances. I did a quick Google search just now, and apparently there is one woman who is incapable of feeling fear due to a disease she has. There was a Washington Post article in January about her that was really interesting. You could go this route–it would definitely make your main character interesting, although my initial thought is that it would take a lot of hard thinking on your part to make sure it's accurately portrayed (since a character who doesn't feel any fear would obviously view the world very differently from the rest of us, even normal everyday situations).

      But I also think you could do a lot with a character who suppresses their fear. She is going into a very alarming situation. My guess is that the only reason she's going to do this is because of very dire need on her part–possibly because of the King's death? One way or the other, it sounds like she has very little choice in the matter, either because someone is literally forcing her to go or because her conscience won't let her do otherwise. In that case, she may be suppressing her fear and trying to convince herself that she's not afraid as a way to survive. This is the type of situation that is so terrible it could paralyze you with fear, to the point where you don't do anything because of the danger that lies ahead. As a way to cope with that, perhaps she tries to convince herself that she isn't afraid, either because she'll be good enough at hiding to not get in trouble or because she convinces herself that even if she's caught/hurt it's worth it (most likely again due to the moral reasons she's going).

      I think if you choose to go with her suppressing her fear, it would be important to show that she isn't entirely fearless, but that she's refusing to acknowledge her fear. In this case, it's important to get in her head and look at what she thinks and feels during the course of the story. Maybe she can see something terrifying happen and feel a jolt of surprise, but then she quickly thinks to herself, "It's not a big deal. That doesn't scare me." Even though she's telling herself she's not scared, as the reader we know that she probably is, given that the situation made her jump in surprise. In this case, her words are lying, but her actions tell us the truth. If you go this route, you would have an unreliable narrator, since she would be lying to herself (and the readers). I personally LOVE unreliable narrators, because it can be a puzzle to figure out what they have lied about (or just don't know the full truth about, even if they think they know).

      Actually, if she's a very logical character, I feel like it would make sense for her to want to put her emotions (including fear) aside as she tries to learn more about who killed the king. If she's a very logical person, she may feel that her emotions would get in the way of her understanding a situation (very similar to how Meenore and Elodie different, actually. Another great example of this, although from an adult fantasy series, is the character Jasnah from Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive series. She's a brilliant thinker, but she often pushes aside her emotional connection to things in order to carefully evaluate the evidence at hand).

      However, suppressing your emotions is not a good thing, and can cause a lot of stress. But I think that would make your character even more interesting. Perhaps she suppresses her fear in an attempt to better achieve her goal, but because suppressing her emotions is unhealthy it actually has a backlash that hinders her later on.

    • I noticed that there are several very long and detailed replies on how you might deal with the emotional aspect of your character, for that reason I would rather address this part of your question; "She’s pretty much an empty body who only thinks when she’s speculating about who killed the king".

      First of all, I would like to point out that this is an interesting characteristic that you don't find too often in mainstream fiction. At least, not one that occurs for the whole or majority of the story. When you do find it, it generally occurs after a very traumatic event that happens to the MC. I assume that this is what you have in mind in you MC's back story as you say that "She’s through all the trouble and hardship a person could be through". In addition, I feel as though, with that in mind, she is either escaping somewhere; or she is being forced to travel to this country and work for this person. Personally, I lean toward the latter idea because it takes a great amount of will power, mental capacity, and emotional fortitude to get the wherewithal to escape from something. This is just my personal opinion obviously, your plot and back story for your MC might be completely different from that.

      Second, I would like to point out, though I have no doubt it makes sense to you, that the only time she ever thinks is when she thinks about the king's unfortunate demise. As a plot point I think that it is odd, but explainable. From your post and that alone, I assume that she is kidnapped royalty that is existing in a forced bondage slave like state. Again, opinion only, feel very very very free to correct me if I am wrong. Given that, I assume that something triggers this- a poster of the king, overhearing gossiping guards, something like that will set off that thought process in her head. Once that sets in, I would expect her to become more… aware for a lack of a better word. She will begin to think more, and also begin to experience more emotions, which freaks her out a little as she hasn't felt anything in so long. I would liken this to coming out of a drugged state. For inspiration, read the Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, the MC spends a ungodly amount of time being drugged up.

      Given all the bit above, this is how I would approach her mindlessness. Do not write this in first person. Main reasons for that are, A) She's mindless, B) She's emotionless, C) She is, therefore, a boring and an incomplete storyteller. Give it a nice, close third person POV. Things like, (and I'm just making up names here), "Elise slowly walked over to the campfire as the men beckoned her closer, the tantalizing smell of cooking meat in her nose. She didn't care what they would do with her, let her mind think about what might happen. All she knew was that she was hungry and they had food." In other words, she is animalistic in nature and has nothing but the most basic instincts. Of course, that can't last for more than a chapter or two before the reader gets very bored very quickly and the beginning of thoughts should begin soon. But please, again, correct me if anything I say is incorrect, or not applicable to your story, please let me know.

    • Yulia, I agree with Katie B and Elisa when they say that calm and practical characters are good. Also, I will try to keep my reply short (I tend to go on and on and on and on and– you get the point =) ).

      Calm characters are perfectly fine. However, the character should have personality. For example, in the fairy tale The Light Princess, the king is perfectly calm and basically has no emotions. However, his personality shows through when he decides (several times in the story, actually) to go argue with the queen for the fun of it. Here you can see that a) he likes to be right, b) surprisingly, he stays married the whole time, so he is confident that his wife is fine with it, and c) he DOES have emotion stored up somewhere inside him, he just doesn't have a positive way to get it out. The king isn't perfectly calm and practical, even though he is for most of the time, and he is quite interesting as a secondary character.

      I agree with Katie B when she says that suppressing your character's emotions can lead to a very interesting story. You should try to throw in a few flashbacks in your novel; maybe the character's mother died as well as several of her siblings from a plague that was sweeping the country and she kind of had to always be strong for the rest of her family, so maybe she has trained herself to not show feeling. In that case, it would be interesting to write from your MC's POV and write out her thoughts.

      I hope that helps, and sorry for the repeated word "interesting" =).

  3. Here's the second from Yulia:

    I’m currently writing a story about the Mongolian revolution. I know, not very interesting, but I have a fascination with Mongolia because that’s where my mother is from. See, I know my story’s about the Mongolian revolution, and that’s it. I don’t have a plot. It’s just “about a girl living during the Mongolian revolution”. I know she’s a student, and her mom is a housewife, and her dad is a factory worker, but that’s all I’ve figured out.
    Can you help me?

    • In your shoes, I would read as much as I could about the Mongolian revolution. Even though you don't have a plot yet, you can use what you learn as research for the setting. But I bet that while you're reading you'll come across an idea of some sort that sparks a bigger idea for a plot.

      I actually had a very similar situation several years ago. I personally love Otto von Bismarck (I studied German for a very long time), and I was really interested in the Franco-Prussian war, which eventually led to the creation of Germany as a country. I wanted to write a story about a girl during the war (which was very short), but I didn't know what I wanted to write about. But as I read more about it, I realized that there was a political divide between people in Germany. And I decided that I wanted the girl and her family to be on one side of the divide, and her love interest to be on the other. Not particularly original (very Romeo & Juliet), but what makes the story interesting is the historical actions that occurred during the Franco-Prussian war in particular.

      Anyway, I hope you have fun with it one way or the other! 🙂

  4. What?? A revolution is totally interesting! And one in Mongolia even more so! What/who are the people revolting against? Does the revolution close the factory? What do they make in the factory? Will the family become homeless? What side are her parents on in the revolution? What side is your MC on? Will she be separated from her family? Will there be famine? Will the school/university be closed? Will they have protests at the school? Maybe answering some of these questions will help you find the plot. Best of luck!

  5. Hi, I have a question. I have this story, it is a very interesting story, but it is centered around a girl who is of a certain race that is hunted down for bounties. Almost her entire family was decimated right in the first chapter, only herself and her sister survived. This is not the first time members of her family have been killed though, several of her older siblings were killed in a massive man-hunt before she was even born. This story deals with a lot of death. How do I make Amaia cope. I mean, this is the only life she ever knew, so it wouldn't be quite so traumatic for her as it would be for some of us if our families were brutally murdered and we were the only one's to escape, she's been through this many times already, but it's still going to be a very big thing. How do I make her handle this. Another thing, I want her to remember her family. Nearly every single book I've ever read where a character's family dies, the MC gets all mopey for a few pages and then forgets about them and they are not mentioned until the very end where the character says something profound about how his family will always be with him etc. This bugs me a great deal. I want her to remember her family, and yet, at the same time, I don't want her to be obsessing over them. She isn't going to go on a huge revenge spree or anything, she does help start a massive revolution, but that isn't for revenge, that is for justice. How do I get her to cope, and how do I show that she remembers her family without being excessive, every-other-sentence-is-about-my-little-sister-who-was-killed. This is kind of tough. Does anyone have any advice?

    • I just realized that I sounded kinda conceited when I said "I have this story, it is an interesting story, but centered around a girl…" What I meant to say was that there is a lot more to the story than just death and destruction, with a lot of subplots and characters whatnot, not that I am a genius and only I could come up with such an interesting, terribly morbid tale.

    • Little things like seeing her mother's favorite flower, or hearing the birds that her father loved to feed before they flew away for the winter, bring those things up isn't obsessive, but sweet. Obviously they should be limited to about one or two mentions per chapter, but that should be enough to remind us that she is alone and her family is dead. Of course, flashbacks to the day they all died is also a good idea, but a little jarring and over used.

    • There's a long Wikipedia article (which I didn't read). Oh Gail this is why we love you.
      Elisa-Maybe she could develop an aversion to something connected with her family's death. One of my friend's brother's died a few months ago in an accident involving a common household item. I haven't seen her use one since.
      In the movie Saving Mr. Banks, and, I assume, P.L. Travers' real life, she was out buying pears when her father died. Years later, she hates them so much that she throws them off a hotel balcony rather than keep them in a gift fruit basket.
      Wow I sound somber today.

    • Thanks y'all! Bibliophile: Thanks, I will make sure to only mention the family references once or twice a chapter.
      Mrs. Levine: Thanks, that looks useful, I'll check it out.
      Eliza: I will take that into consideration. This all happened near the ocean, so a deep fear of the ocean would be logical. That was a really good idea. Thank you all!

  6. More from Yulia on my website:

    Thanks to everyone chiming in about my blah protagonist. I’ll tell you what quirks and bits of personality she has:

    She likes red.
    She hates green. Her older sister’s favorite color is green, and she always gets her sister’s hand-me-downs, which means she’s always wearing green.
    She’s afraid of anything dead. Even dead ladybugs give her the creeps.
    She’s very determined, stubborn, kind, and slow to anger.
    She’s forced to be an apprentice: she’s been literally dragged out of her house by the government, strapped into a wagon, and dropped off on the other side of a wall that separates her from her kingdom. And she doesn’t try to escape because she knows it’s dishonorable.

    I don’t think it’s possible for her to be drugged for majority of the book. I remember in Shannon Hale’s Enna Burning (truly a great book, you’ve ought to read it), Enna gets caught by the enemy troops and she’s drugged for 1/4 of the book. Then the fire awakens in her and pulls her out of that stupor. That worked really nicely.
    My MC is a fisherwoman. She’s never met anyone from outside her village, she’s very isolated, she barely knows there’s a king till she arrives in the city. I made her learn to read so she could interact better and find clues in books and stuff, but other than that she is very uneducated, unsocialized, and often clueless. She has lots of common sense, on the other hand.
    So, it looks like I’m in a pickle and I’m not sure what to do. Sorry about burdening you with all my writing problems!
    I just want to say that this is the nicest little writing chat-room I’ve ever found. You guys are so helpful! First you fixed my whiner, then this. Thank you so much!

  7. Hey! Okay, so I have a question about one of my characters, too. In my Jack and the Beanstalk/Twelve Dancing Princess story, one of my characters, Kenneth (the little brother of Jack, actually), does this weird thing when he's around other people where he sort of just acts like he's…stupid, I guess (simple? I don't know.) He's actually a very bright kid, and he's good looking, and can be funny when he's around his brother, but he just closes up and pretends he's an idiot around other people. He doesn't talk and he purposely puts on this vague look. His father, who was very abusive, looked a lot like him, and was also a very smart, funny and occasionally charming guy, and Kenneth doesn't want to be like him at all, and so pretends he isn't in any way, shape or form. SO. In a few of the original twelve dancing princesses stories, the leading guy is like that (pretending not to understand other people, I mean.) Would you guys let me know if my reasons for him being like that are just silly and don't make any sense (which is a complete possibility, because right now I don't have any objectivity with my own characters), and if they don't, what could maybe be some ideas for why he does do it? Wow. I'm not sure if ANY of that made sense, but thanks anyway in advance!

  8. Hi everybody! I am putting my own spin on the tale The Light Princess, which is one of my favorite fairy tales. I am stuck, however, on who the main character should be and how I should approach my writing. In the story, the princess seems WAY too flippant and careless (about people and just about everything) to be written from a first person POV. I feel like if I change that about her, it won't be the same story. Is there a way I can change her looseness in character without ruining the story behind it? (If that made any sense whatsoever.) Also, I am considering writing from the prince's perspective, or even the king's or the princess's lady-in-waiting. Can you give me any tips or ideas about this? Thank you!

    And Bug, that makes perfect sense to me! It strengthens the character because the reader can see that he has passions and ideas of his own, even if he may not be the MC.

    • Well, honestly, I don't see how you're going going keep her flippant and careless if people are going to like her. I've read the story, but I couldn't count it among my favorites for that reason. If she was a slightly antagonistic character, I wouldn't mind so much. If you want to have some other person be the MC, I would choose Makemnoit. You could do a lot of things with that. Or you could simply make the princess intelligent, but rather hopeless. If she has never known anything but being weightless it wouldn't bother her as much as it would any of us, and yet, she probably wishes that she wasn't weightless, but knows it is an impossible for it to be otherwise, and besides, the occasional floating jaunt could be lots of fun! In the version I read she was forced to wear gown weighted with lead in the hems and a heavy crown when she wasn't sure swimming. The crown could give her headaches, so she could secretly take it off sometimes. She might have a person that will "fly" her every now and again, holding her on a string while she floats, like a kite. And of course, the swimming. You can do all sorts of things with that. She could volunteer as a lifeguard of sorts, or be a swimming teacher…or she could just swim by herself. You just need to look at all the various angles of the story and make up your own version. I imagine myself in the place of fairytale characters to give me ideas, you could do the same.

    • I just read the fairy tale, which is new to me. What struck me is the connection between it and Elisa's question earlier about her MC who needs to be okay after a lot of tragedy. I wonder if these two might work together somehow: Elisa borrowing from the Light Princess; Martina using tragedy to reveal the Light Princess's plight, which is sad–it's awful to have one's dial stuck on happy.

    • Thank you everybody! I think that would be very interesting to write from Makemnoit's POV. I might do that…

      Also, Gail (is it OK if I call you Gail?) I love your blog! You have been one of my favorite authors for a long time now. Thanks so much for writing this blog!

  9. Hi! You are my absolute favorite writer! I love all of your books. Your book Writing Magic inspired me to start writing! So, I'm writing this story and I'm having a really hard time coming up with a good name. Do you have any tips on how to come up with good names? My character is strong, smart, feisty, independent, and haas magical green eyes. Do you have any ideas? Thank you so much for being my inspiration!

  10. You could look at They have all sorts of helpful tools for finding names you like. Compile a list of your favorites and then come back here and ask which ones everyone likes best. I've always had trouble with picking names, and every one here has been extremely helpful in this regard. They always help me find just the right one. Maybe the one you decide on won't have the most votes, but if it feels right to you, that's what's important.

  11. Is your character American, British, Australian, some other nationality, or from a fictional country? If it’s a fictional country you can name her a made-up name or very rare name, like Isi, Enna, Dasha, Rinna, Selia, etc. (all Shannon Hale characters) or Aza, Ivi, Areida (Gail Carson Levine).
    You can also check the Wikipedia. Type in “list of most popular given names”.
    I also love Behind the Helped me a lot while writing my Madame Butterfly story.
    Thank you so much Gail for redoing the site so I don’t have to keep bugging you on the guest book.
    : D

  12. Hey! So I have a question. I’m writing a book about a girl who goes away with her friends on a camping trip and then gets separated from her family. I’ve written the first four chapters – she gets lost at the end of the third – and she seems too panicked about being lost, while her best friend seems too calm! Any advice?

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