All posts for the month July, 2011

Character Names and Traits

Published July 29, 2011 by caitlinnicoll

Last week, Hektor, over at After Troy wrote a post about the science behind words — or, more specifically, the sensory perceptions some words evoke (you can read the post here if you haven’t read it already). This got me thinking about character names.

How do you choose your characters names? Do you search for names based on meanings, or do you pick names that are olfactorily pleasing?

For me, it depends on the story. I tend to gravitate towards names I like, even when choosing them based on meaning. TLF was the only book where I actually picked names based on meaning. After all, they are gods and it would be silly to have the god of fire’s name to mean cherry blossom, or pretty princess, no matter how much I may like either name. I’ll file them away for another character in another book.

Do you think your favorite character’s name accurately describe the character of said person? Or do we associate these traits based on the bias of knowing the characters?

For instance, does the name Katniss Everdeen evoke the picture of an indecisive huntress? A person who can inspire a revolution? And I don’t know about you, but Peeta reminds me of Pita bread and that makes me very hungry.

How about Bilbo Baggins? Do you think of an unassuming yet cheerful person whose favorite hobby is food? Someone who is quiet, and clever, and tricksy?

Does Dorian Gray evoke a handsome, charming, yet deprave man who is obsessed with his own beauty? A man willing to do whatever it takes to preserve it?

And then there is Captain Jack Harkness, who quite possibly has the most awesome name ever. Personally, I think his name fits his personality perfectly. Hearing that name, I think of a handsome, charming, adventurous, debonair man. A man who may have questionable behavior, but one who will stick to his guns.

Lastly, for your viewing pleasure, a song that has been stuck in my head for weeks now:


YA Recommends–Sci-fi

Published July 24, 2011 by caitlinnicoll

With all the hoopla surrounding a recent WSJ article which Shall Not Be Named, I noticed there are a lot of adult readers who, for various reasons have avoided/shied away from YA. This is the third in a series of posts where I recommend “gateway” novels– novels that will help  ease reluctant adult readers into the Behemoth known as the YA world.

This week are my sci-fi recommendations. I could only think of four off the top of my head, so if anyone else has some suggestions, let me know!

All synopses were taken from Goodreads.

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender Wiggin is a very bright young boy with a powerful skill. One of a group of children bred to be military geniuses and save Earth from an inevitable attack by aliens, known here as “buggers,” Ender becomes unbeatable in war games and seems poised to lead Earth to triumph over the buggers. Meanwhile, his brother and sister plot to wrest power from Ender.

2. Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.
Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone – one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship – tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.
Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

3. Human.4 by Mike Lancaster

Kyle Straker volunteered to be hypnotized at the annual community talent show, expecting the same old lame amateur acts. But when he wakes up, his world will never be the same. Televisions and computers no longer work, but a strange language streams across their screens. Everyone’s behaving oddly. It’s as if Kyle doesn’t exist.
Is this nightmare a result of the hypnosis? Will Kyle wake up with a snap of fingers to roars of laughter? Or is this something much more sinister? Narrated on a set of found cassette tapes at an unspecified point in the future, Human.4 is an absolutely chilling look at technology gone too far.

4. Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow by Nathan Bransford

I know, I know, it’s MG, not YA, but no excuse!  It’s like the Hitchhiker’s Guide for children. Almost. Well, it’s funny like Hitchhiker’s Guide. You should still read it.

Jacob Wonderbar is used to detentions, but when a spaceship crashes near his house, he finds himself in a whole new level of trouble. After swapping a corn dog for the ship, he and his two best friends, Sarah Daisy and Dexter, take off on a madcap adventure. They accidentally cause an epic explosion, get kidnapped by a space pirate, and are marooned on planets like Numonia and Paisley, where the air smells like burp breath and revenge-hungry substitute teachers rule. And that’s only the beginning . . . It turns out that there’s an entire colony of space humans, and Jacob’s long-lost father just might be one of them.

Failure of Wit

Published July 22, 2011 by caitlinnicoll

So, the heatwave has come to the Northeast (well yesterday, but I was too hot and lazy to post). While its not nearly as hot as the Midwest, its still hot. I’m used to it because growing up in Boston, upper 90 degree weather was not unusual in July and August, but apparently in the mountains it is. The east coast is hotter. And wetter. Anyways, the reason I feel so melty, droopy, sweaty, cranky, headachey, and tired is because I live on the 4th and top floor of an old brick building over a Chinese restaurant with no air conditioning. I take about 5 cold showers a day.

Now, on a slightly more important note, The Hobbit has begun filming (it has been for a few months, but still)! My nerdy self is kind of excited that Martin Freeman will be playing young Bilbo. It leads me to wonder if he will pack his towel.

I was going to write a witty, insightful post, but it is just too damn hot to think straight. So I’ll save it for next week. Enjoy the weekend, drink lots of water, and now I’m going to go jump in the pool and pretend I’m a fish. Because fishes are cool.

Character Play lists

Published July 19, 2011 by caitlinnicoll

Recently, on the Bransforums, the discussion of character play-lists came up (you can view the thread here). While I generally don’t have specific play-lists for my characters, there are certain songs that I will associate with some of my characters. There are songs that when I hear them, I feel they were written specifically for that character. Some will convey their emotions, others a state of mind, and others yet a particular scene.

I will share the songs I associate with my most prolific musically inspired character, Oki. While she isn’t necessarily my favorite character, nor is she even a MC, she may be the most poignant character I have created yet.

1. Hurricane by 30 Seconds To Mars

2. Set Fire to the Rain by Adele

3. Howl by Florence and the Machine

4. Nothing Else Matters (instrumental) by David Garrett

5. The End by Kings of Leon

6. All I Wanted by Paramore

7. Hostias by Mozart

8. Breaking My Own Heart by Duffy

9. Butterflies and Hurricanes by Muse

10. Turn Around by Annie Guthrie


So, what about you? What songs do you associate with your characters?

YA Recommends–Dystopia

Published July 15, 2011 by caitlinnicoll

With all the hoopla surrounding a recent WSJ article which Shall Not Be Named, I noticed there are a lot of adult readers who, for various reasons have avoided/shied away from YA. This is the second in a series of posts where I recommend “gateway” novels– novels that will help ease reluctant adult readers into the Behemoth known as the YA world.

This week, dystopia! There have been so many really good books in this genre that it was hard for me to choose, but I finally did, so here they are!

All Synopses taken from Goodreads.

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

2. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Set initially in a future shanty town in America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being dissembled for parts by a rag tag group of workers, we meet Nailer, a teenage boy working the light crew, searching for copper wiring to make quota and live another day. The harsh realities of this life, from his abusive father, to his hand to mouth existence, echo the worst poverty in the present day third world. When an accident leads Nailer to discover an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, and the lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl, Nailer finds himself at a crossroads. Should he strip the ship and live a life of relative wealth, or rescue the girl, Nita, at great risk to himself and hope she’ll lead him to a better life. This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss. Yet amidst the shadows of degradation, hope lies ahead.

3. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Synopsis for The Hunger Games:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

4. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Imagine waking up one day in total darkness, unsure of where you are and unable to remember anything about yourself except your first name. You’re in a bizarre place devoid of adults called the Glade. The Glade is an enclosed structure with a jail, a graveyard, a slaughterhouse, living quarters, and gardens. And no way out. Outside the Glade is the Maze, and every day some of the kids — the Runners — venture into the labyrinth, trying to map the ever-changing pattern of walls in an attempt to find an exit from this hellish place. So far, no one has figured it out. And not all of the Runners return from their daily exertions, victims of the maniacal Grievers, part animal, part mechanical killing machines.

5. Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld

Synopsis for Uglies:

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license — for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there. But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world — and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

6. The Giver by Lois Lowry

Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

7. Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.

Uping the nerd quotient

Published July 14, 2011 by caitlinnicoll

Mcgeek. Changing the way we perceive geeks everywhere.

Nerd: an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit.

Recently, my boss’s 9 year old daughter and niece, who I shall call Hurricane and Tsunami, made me and my co-workers take the “kid” test. Basically, it was a bunch of which would you rather questions. For example, would you rather be a nerd and make lots of money or be in a band (they’re smart enough to know musicians don’t make any money)?

I, of course chose the former. And got it wrong. Whatever, the test was highly biased anyways. They neglected to tell us that we were supposed to choose what they would rather do.

Historically, geeks and nerds get a pretty bad rap. They are the uber-intelligent kids who have zero fashion sense. Often considered ugly, feeble and sometimes contradictorily, stupid. However, in recent years, there has been a subtle shift in the way nerds and geeks are perceived.  Geek-chic is now popular among the stars. Nerdfighteria is making its way from underground to mainstream. Being nerdy is no longer something to be ashamed of.

The Doctor, proving once and for all that bow ties are cool

I’m a mix of both, or a neek as Brenda (Dios4vida for you Bransforumers) so eloquently put it. I can hold an entire conversation in Princess Bride quotes. I spend more time with my head stuck in a book than conversing with people. I’m obsessed with history, draw fan-art like it’s nobody’s business, read manga, own a collection of antique katanas, and prefer SYFY over MTV. But I don’t look like your typical “nerd”. Most people don’t realize just how nerdy I am until they’ve spent some time with me. Basically, I’m a covert nerd.

Everyone has an obsessive knowledge of something. Whether it’s the love lives of current celebrities, who sang what on American Idol, every player on their favorite sports team in the last 50 years, the latest runway fashions, fluency in Quenyan, the rules of D&D, the history of the typewriter, or the ability to quote the entire Star War series word for word. Some like to dress up to go to the Harry Potter premier, others to a showing of Serenity, others yet prefer to dress up in period clothing and re-enact the battle of Gettysburg.

I guess what I trying to say in a long and round-about way is why not take your character building a step further, and give your characters a passion, an obsession about something other than their love interest? For instance, what would motivate your character to dress up in a costume and stand in line outside of a bookstore at midnight? What do they have an expansive knowledge of? Do they randomly quote things? Do they know the capitol of Assyria off the top of their head? How about the first 20 digits of pi?

And if your book takes place in a made up world, it is no excuse not to up the nerd quotient. You’ll just have to get a little creative. Take Hermione for example. Total know-it-all book nerd. She can recite passages from Hogwarts: A History (which is a good thing too, considering Harry and Ron never seem to actually read it themselves). If your character is living in a made up world, give your characters a made up book to love. Or maybe an encyclopedic knowledge of 500 year old weaponry, or the names of  every species of butterfly or were-whatever in their made-up universe is more their nerd style.

Give your characters something to fangirl/boy over. Because everyone is a little bit of a nerd on the inside.

What brings out your inner nerd?