VWC Revision: Renaming Characters

Still learning how to write, I don’t always do the right thing at the right time.

The writing luminary Orson Scott Card has rules for naming characters (here and here). The primary rule is that character’s names should not start with the same letter or sound. A sensible rule.

The image below lists all of the named characters in Vengeance Will Come and highlights the problem.

VWC Named Characters Original

(Those in grey are minor characters who don’t get a point-of-view. Some appear repeatedly, and others are only in a single scene).

Too many names?

There are, arguably, too many names and if possible I’ll cull a few of them during the course of the revision by de-naming them.

The reason for so many characters is two-fold. I admit I find it awkward and unnatural to refer to someone multiple times without assigning them a name. Occasionally I’ll give them a nickname (like “Tuxedo” or “Double Muscle”), but doing that too often also feels unnatural – unless that’s a point of view character quirk. Also, like a good fan of Robert Jordan I plan to take a few of the minor characters and elevate them in subsequent books.

Breaking Uncle Orson’s rule

This is a problem I should have fixed much earlier, but better late than never. You’ll also notice in the original image there are a heck of a lot of characters named with similar letters (S, T and M). So here are my proposed changes:

VWC Named Characters Revised

I’m achieving a few goals with these changes:

  1. I’m de-stacking the heaviest use letters.
  2. I’m strategically changing the gender of Teskan (see upcoming post about gender balance).
  3. I’m structuring names in-world. It’s always bothered me that some characters have two names while others only have the one. This was just how it was and I had no good reason for it. Now I do: important individuals (the elite) in the world get two names, whereas everyone else gets one.

The only difficult, and possibly controversial change I wrestled with was “Three”. My opinion pivoted like a see-saw.

On the one hand some reviewers found it understandably difficult, because it’s a real word with a different meaning. It can therefore trip the brain up for a while.

However some respected reviewers liked it and were upset at my thoughts of altering it.

It does breach Uncle Orson’s rule, and is especially dangerous because another major character (Terefi) use the same letter. I can’t change Terefi because of the origin of his name.

But I was also really fond of the name. It’s so different that I think it helps put an “other world” spin on it. (Which, in hindsight, is kind of ironic because we have some crazy names being used on this planet). As I originally conceived it, it is also more than just a name, though that won’t become apparent until later in the series.

So eventually the see-saw motion stopped and Three remained.

A final warning

The other draw back I’ll warn you about is using words that the grammar checker will work itself into a lather over. Because three is a legitimate word, but capitalising it in the middle of a sentence is not kosher, the grammar checker has a perpetual hissy-fit. Even worse (and I’m not sure I should admit this) “Three” started off as “X”. Just a bad move; I don’t think I could get the spellchecker to ignore the single letter.

Hopefully these changes will help to balance out name-usage and make it easier for my readers. Now it’s just a matter of retraining my brain and muscle memory to type the new names instead of the old.

Help over the fence

Want a beta-reader? I’ve been helped in my development process by other beta readers and now it’s my turn to ‘pay it forward’. Each month I’ll read a chapter of someone’s story and comment on it. To be eligible, just comment on one of my posts with “*Review*” in the comment and you’re in the running.

A Writer’s Error. Again.

On the long weekend just passed I’d intended on getting a good chunk of writing done. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

(Sidebar: In On Writing Stephen King wrote, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” If I may take literary license, I believe King was close: the road to hell is paved with good intentions, which are described in adverbs yelled by the travelers on the road).

The derailment of my writing weekend began innocently enough. For months the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I had been discussing the need to re-mulch our garden but had been either busy or the weather had not played along. However on this weekend, the fine weather and the empty calendar dovetailed together perfectly: This wasn’t an error. Even though I had planned to do writing on Saturday (after a few other errands) the garden did need mulching, and I like to look after what I own. So we called in the truck and shoveled mulch, spreading it far and wide. (Too high, it turns out I was told by a well-meaning but ill-timed piece of advice). Too late now; fight-to-live or die, garden.

Even though the work was done in just under 2 hours (an epic job), I was exhausted. The remainder of the day was spent recovering on the couch. No choice there; the body was sore and weary.

Sunday afternoon was also slated for writing; it didn’t occur. Due to laziness, I admit. It was, I realise now, a fault of thinking: I considered that I had a choice whether or not to write. Writing, however, for me, should not be treated like a hobby but a job. If I want to write full-time, then I must take it seriously. There is no choice, just like my Monday to Friday job. You must turn up to write, no choice involved. There is always Monday I thought, I can write all day Monday, I promised myself.

The brain, I think, is like any other muscle: you must exercise it. If you let it be lazy, then it likes to be lazy. All of Sunday on the couch watching TV meant my brain wasn’t in any shape to work creatively on Monday. Sure, I squeezed out a few hundred words – but my brain has been trained to be lazy. I’ve unwittingly shown it how. Being lazy for one day, can mean more than one day is lost in productivity.

My next mistake was trying to be too focused on a single project. I was trying to write chapter 2 of The Hostages. I did some of it, but then I persisted trying to do more when it wasn’t flowing nicely. What I should have done (earlier) is switch projects. So, if writing The Hostages hit a wall, I could have swapped to revising The Rebel Queen. Ordinarily I like to focus on a single project at a time plot threads don’t mix or character motivations don’t muddle. However, progress on any writing project is preferable to a complete lack of progress. Also I might have tried to skip ahead in the story; there is nothing to say a story has to be written chronologically. I knew this, of course, but the knowledge was different to explicit internal permission to do so.

The final lesson is the need to learn lessons. I’m sure if I trawl back through my blog I will see the same themes, if not exact words. On my to-do list since January has been to extract the key lessons from my 2016 posts onto some of my other resource pages. I haven’t done that yet, but I need to if I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes again. And again.

Changing Plot Gears

I’ve written previously that when writing I’m try to remember to consistently refer to the character-related attributes. For example if a character has “daddy issues” then that should appear (albeit expressed differently) in a number of places. The last thing I’d want to do is mention it once and have it like a cheap paint job.

I worried earlier that I’d failed to maintain consistency. Now I realize that wasn’t my issue. I can best describe the situation with an analogy. My novel was like a theme park with each character like an individual attraction. In the early chapters you get to know the characters. However when the plot really kicks in it’s like you’re on a roller coaster. The thrill of the plot is so intense that for the moment you’re not thinking about other issues. If you’re in the middle of the plot and thinking about anything beyond the immediate surroundings then the author has missed the mark.*

I have realized that my current speed bump is that my plot has changed gear. The engine has been racing but now the plot calls for some simmering instead of boiling. Wow, that’s more analogies than you can poke a stick at, which probably counts as another one.

Chapters 5 through to 9 are completed in 7 hours of story-time (13,000 words). The subsequent chapters will be over a number of days which is far less intense for the reader. My first thought was that I needed to find a way to keep the pressure on. That if I was unable to rush the timeline I needed to add pressure or intensity elsewhere.

I think that was also a wrong turn. There is an alternate view which says that too much intensity wears the reader out. The reader must get breathers between action.In a way I think we see this in movies like Jaws. The prolonged presence of danger can be more terrifying than instantaneous danger. Not that I’m writing a book that is  terrifying but I think that same intensity can translate across genres. Even James Bond has some time to wine-and-dine his female counterparts between bare knuckle street-fights.

Not entirely sure how I solve this issue of gear-changing, yet.

On another note, by way of an update. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you have probably noticed I overuse commas and semi-colons.  I’ve been going over my earlier chapters of Vengeance Will Come and correcting that. Consequently, the progress bar hasn’t moved (in fact, it has actually dropped as I found more words to cut). Hopefully it is a better story for the haircut.

vwc progress.PNG

Some of the columns are not actually comparable, given I’ve moved the chapter order around a bit. It’s now down to 97, 452 words. At the current rate of editing I think it will be down to about 75k by the time I finish, which is a good first-book length.

* There is a school of thought that says the plot should be character-driven. I don’t think I am breaking that rule.

TMI: (Way) Too Much Information

Here on BenEzard.com I’m sharing my writing journey which includes the ugly and the good. If I’m being generous to myself I’d say its a ratio similar to the chemical composition of Hydronium: three ugly for every good.

A while ago I created a method of secret communication for my novel, Vengeance Will Come.  (Lacking expertise in this area I have no idea if this is a plausible solution…) The idea was that one tremendously large file hid the secrets of anyone who paid to use the storage service. To any observer, it would appear just one long piece of encrypted text, with no way of knowing where one message began or ended. Only the sender/receiver would know the coordinates of their message, and the encryption keys to decrypt it.

This was my first attempt at ‘writing it’ (many, many moons ago).

He went to the DataBank site which required no login and no password. After entering his credit card details – one of the number of fake identites he had on Drasius – he entered two coordinates. The Databank held a single file stream which was yottabytes in size.

Unmarked portions of the file ‘belonged’ to the tens of millions of users – individuals and companies who wanted to store data securely. Any person could upload/download any portion of the stream (paying per megabyte). The trick was, only you knew the coordinates in the stream where your data began and ended, and the encryption used on it. Without knowing where the ‘data ownership’ began or ended, or the type of encryption that was used, decrypting it was nearly impossible.

Cameus entered coordinates that were hundreds of megabytes on either side of his desired data block. This cost far more money, but also meant that anyone tapping the planetary-net would have to try decrypting a lot more data. The download process to his computer took a few minutes. Cameus then disconnected from the net and entered another two coordinates into the computer with the encryption details.

These coordinates were where his message was, ignoring the padding on either side. His computer was powerful and compact, but the decryption process would still take about twenty minutes. Cameus headed back toward the warehouse.

Congratulations if you read each of those 226 words. You’d be among the minority, and I don’t blame you if you didn’t make it all the way through. No one – except for me and a very rare egghead care about how the encryption specifically works.

For this reason in the next editing pass I savaged my creation, diluting its so-called brilliance for the sake of brevity.

He went to the DataBank site which required only one of his false identities credit cards. Entering in coordinates that were only known to him and his employer he began to download data. The Databank held a single file stream which was yottabytes in size, the unmarked portions of the file ‘belonging’ to tens of millions of users on Drasius. Cameus had downloaded hundreds of megabytes on either side of his desired data block; which cost more but would exponentially increase the difficulty for anyone trying to locate his message. The download process took several minutes after which Cameus entered the two precise coordinates of his section with the encryption details. His computer was incredibly powerful for its size but the decryption process would still take about twenty minutes.

So I had cut it severely down to 129 words but it was still not enough. The passage was a mouthful without flavor – calories without enjoyment – ready to frustrate the reader. I don’t know about you, but if I’m absorbing calories I want enjoyment: reading is no different.

So now my creation is rendered invisible, for the greater good of the story:

On the roof of the drinking shop he used his wrist computer to connect to the dark side of the net, downloading the encrypted stream from the DataBank. Cameus started the decryption algorithm and headed back to the warehouse at a run.

Author’s Notes: When Nightmares Wake

This post is my author’s notes to When Nightmares Wake where I describe my thought processes, decisions and mistakes in writing the story. Think of it like the Director’s commentary on a DVD; only better because it won’t be in monotone (unless you read it so).

Continue reading

On “When Nightmares Wake”

When Nightmares Wake is a short story I’ve been working on inspired by a bout of poor
sleeping. It was supposed to be a quick little project, a little oil for the editing-weary pistons of productivity…

Well it hasn’t been a nightmare, but neither has it been a beautiful dream. It’s taken longer to write than anticipated and the draft is (so far) not as great as I expected. My quick little side-adventure is now impeding work on my main project, Vengeance Will Come.

I have considered abandoning it as a troublesome off-shoot of creativity… However having already invested time, and promising it to you, dear reader, I feel somewhat obliged to deliver; even if it isn’t a polished gem.

So can I learn anything from this experience? Why has the project gone awry?

Firstly, I over-predicted my productivity. I have been less productive than hoped- partly due to a lack of self-discipline (distractions) and partly due to forces beyond my control. Discipline, as a writer, again proves to be of inestimable importance.

Mainly I blame my lack of preparatory plotting.I started with a great ending, but nothing else. I didn’t know where the story began or what events happened in the middle or the sequence of them. I also vacillated over points of the story, changing things back and forth with as much conviction as a swinging pendulum. Does my main character arrive before or after the big battle? Is it the dark of night or the light of day? Small changes like this meant I kept having to rehash the earlier parts of the story.

Larger questions like how the magic system functioned also dammed my creativity. Whether it was internal angst at the delay the story was costing me or something else, the words just didn’t flow. I was hoping for an experience like when I wrote Escape From Hell which almost wrote itself. (The one challenge was balancing important but unpleasant scenes without putting the reader off).

Another contributing factor may be the genre was outside of my wheelhouse. When Nightmares Wake is very much strong fantasy with full-blown magic; not something I have written before.

Two more lessons that I’ve learned are:

  1. I don’t need a good solid block of quality time sitting at the computer. I can successfully contribute to a story, even if it’s a paragraph at a time written on a mobile on the bus.
  2. I didn’t write it chronologically, I jumped around like corn on hot oil. If that’s what it takes to get it done…

When Nightmares Wake is about 75% complete; hopefully coming soon…

Editing Lessons #3b: Character Dialogue (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my earlier post around character dialogue (part 1).

Character dialogue should be true to the  character. The way in which our characters communicate should be a reflection of their world view, position in life and their unique personality (see post about having distinct character voices). How they talk, how much, and what they say will all be effected.

To demonstrate this, I’ll briefly give you Ben’s definition of the four personality types according to the four temperaments, and look at how a character might speak if they were part of the Fellowship of the Ring in Lord of the Rings.

  • A phlegmatic character might be happy with “whatever”. They are either easy-going or too lazy to challenge the status quo. They’ll be unflappable as steel, but could be too casual and unlikely to lead.

“I’m happy to come too, but do we have to leave immediately? Can’t we wait until after the weekend when we are well-rested?”

  • A choleric will be all about achievement. They’ll be thinking and talking about how the goals can be accomplished. They’ll want to be organized in advance, but their driven nature might rub others the wrong way. They can make great leaders or administrators but lack “soft skills”.

“OK before we leave we should work out how long the trip will take, where we can stop and resupply and what items we need to carry. We should make a list of responsibilities and delegate them out.”

  • A sanguine loves to be the centre of attention and the life of the party. They will nearly always have something to say. They are upbeat and happy.

“Shouldn’t we have a party before we leave?”

  • A melancholic will be worried about the task, their place in it and how things could go wrong. They are often emotionally intelligent, but can get lost in the vortex of their own introspection.

“Don’t you realise they call it Mount Doom for a reason? It’s not going to be butterflies and rainbows. People I love are going to die, possibly me too.”

My worldview bleeds through – so here is a better diagram showing both the strengths and the weaknesses of the personality types. Normally a person has strong traits of two of the types (diagonally opposite don’t normally go together. As the saying goes though, “opposites often attract”).

4 humors
As you should be able to guess, from hidingplaceblog.blogspot.com

A character with low self-esteem will not often challenge a dominant character’s comments. A proud character may speak a lot, because doesn’t everyone want to hear what they are thinking? An introvert is less likely to speak in a group setting.

Dialogue tags should be used sparingly; wherever possible what a character says and the layout of the text should be enough to show who is speaking. Where dialogue tags are used, find different ways instead of using the common tags (said, replied etc.) Use motion or sound. (I’m still learning how to do this well).

One ‘industry person’ on the net unloaded both barrels on writers’ for using dialogue tags like:

“No!” he hissed.

“Yes,” he exploded.

The commentator sarcastically wondered if the character had become a snake… or assumed that it was the end of the story, given the protagonist was now splattered around the room.


Certainly you wouldn’t want to overuse such terms, but I personally don’t feel the objection was entirely justified. The reason why such descriptive terms are good is because the reader understands them. In one common word we can portray much. (Perhaps my viewpoint shows inexperience, or the ability to pluck low-hanging fruit…)



Character dialogue should not happen in a vacuum (aka “white room syndrome”). This is one issue that I need to improve in. I’ve been trying to unobtrusively watch people (without being creepy). Most often when we are talking to others we are also doing things. It is very rare to have someone’s full attention: we seldom stand looking at one another talking. Our characters should be doing things, reacting to what is being said. Other things should be happening around them. Life (and the rest of the world) doesn’t pause entirely for dialogue.


How characters speak to one another should be portray their emotions toward one another. Someone in love speaks very differently to the short sharp remarks of an adversary. Constantly adding a salutation to someone’s name shows respect or subservience (“Mr Frodo”) , whereas its noticeable absence reflects hostility. (“I refuse to call him Dr… it’s only an honorary title anyway”)


Dialogue should also be situational appropriate. If the tension is at a climax a “You shall not pass!” is more appropriate than “This is as far as you go. I will not allow you to hurt my friends.”


What other factors or concepts have I missed? Don’t all speak up at once, it would be out of character. (Wince)