Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Looking for exclamations(!)

English: A black exclamation mark Magyar: Egy ...

English: A black exclamation mark Magyar: Egy fekete felkiáltójel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Ah, the humble exclamation mark. So much debate about such a little thing. Or is it?

 

For the uninitiated, exclamation marks are, apparently, to be used sparingly at all times. Elmore Leonard once famously opined that “[y]ou are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” F Scott Fitzgerald once told a student that “an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke”. More modern rules include the directive that you should use only one in any one e-mail, for example. In other words, exclamation marks are a bad habit of the novice writer, which must be broken at all costs.

 

Naturally, there are exceptions. I recently re-read the Harry Potter series, in which exclamation marks are sprinkled with gay abandon. In fact, even a novice writer such as myself noticed the excess of exclaiming, which perhaps says that there may have been a couple too many. A lot of sentences are, in fact, stronger and more meaningful with just a full stop (period) rather than an exclamation mark.

 

Is the exclamation mark rule quite so cut-and-dried, though? Stuart Jeffries from The Guardian argues that they can make the written word friendlier, especially in things like e-mails which can feel a little sterile otherwise. (It depends, of course, on the content of the e-mail, but “Thanks!” usually sounds friendlier and more enthusiastic in its gratitude than “Thanks.” does. Don’t you agree?)

 

But what about in fiction? I admit, using it too much is off-putting, and using it in narrative rather than dialogue  is just plain annoying. But then again, in dialogue the rules change – apparently up to six per 100,000 words is considered acceptable. A quick scan of my novel (thank you, find function) had somewhat more than that, so clearly I need to do some work on this aspect of my writing, but sometimes I wonder how much weight that old rule still has.

 

I’m not alone in my appreciation of exclaiming. After all, people do exclaim and that should be recognised. But even I (along with like-minded thinkers) understand that there needs to be a limit. I’m just not sure that six per 100,000 words (in dialogue only) is it.

 

 

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Book review: The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

This is a review of the book The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright, a novel spanning three generations and a host of characters in early-to-mid twentieth century America.

The story is about the family of Francis Grayson, a free-thinking famous and successful band leader in the 1940s whose career disappears with the advent of rock’n’roll. However, his career is almost supplementary to the story, which is really about the mysteries (and history) surrounding his mother, aunts and grandmother.

I’m the first to admit that in a lot of stories, it’s the tale of a previous generation that intrigues me more than the tale being told. Perhaps it’s because it’s something that is only hinted at, without being spelt out, but I have noticed it about myself. The Harry Potter books, for example, or the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, I find myself thinking more about what came before the events of the novels, than the novels themselves. (Okay, those are fantasy books, and this is historical fiction/mystery, but the point stands.) And, reading this book, I thought the same thing was going to happen again.

The novel starts in first person from the point of view of five year old Elyse, who is soon to become Francis’ step-daughter (and, later, adopted daughter), and her interpretation of what is going on around her. The next chapter, also in first person, tells Francis’ perspective on a number of the same events – much of which is at odds with the way Elyse told it. Even after reading the book twice, I’m still not sure whose is the accurate portrayal, or whether it was in fact a combination of the two. We later see the POV of Aiden Madsen, who had been Francis’ school master and mentor, as the story weaves between the early 1900s to the post-war era, telling bits and pieces of the Grayson family history as it goes.

However, my concern about not seeing the story that intrigued me the most was misplaced, as the story of Francis’ mother, and all the baggage that came with that story, was revealed as the novel progressed. In fact, the title of the book refers to Francis’ mother (albeit in a roundabout way), so I needn’t have worried. I suspect it was the fact that the book opened with Elyse that threw me, thinking that much of the story would be set in the 1950s rather than delving back into the past like it did.

This is, in truth, an awe-inspiring debut novel. It ticks all the boxes: engaging narrative, excellent characterisation, fascinating story, with even a couple of celebrity murders thrown in for good measure. Everything is linked by Francis’ seemingly unshakeable need to “fix” them all – the house, the women who raised him, and his relationship with Elyse, her mother and her sister – yet it is only when he accepts his own limitations that he finds peace. My only significant critique is that the voices all sound similar: the first person narratives of Elyse, Francis and Aiden, three very different people of different generations, didn’t sound particularly different to me as I was reading them. Several times I even had to go back a few pages in order to remember whose story I was being told. I completely understand how difficult it can be to change voices enough to differentiate them on the page to the reader, so I’m not suggesting any lack of skill on Fullbright’s part, but perhaps it might have been better to use third person in a case like this. (She may have tried this, of course, and it didn’t work for her, but that’s just my thought on the matter.)

Overall, though, it is hard to find anything bad to say about this book. If you like mystery, intrigue and a bit of romance, then The Angry Woman Suite is well worth picking up.

 

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The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright
Published by Telemachus Press
382 pages (paperback)
Available in paperback and ebook from Amazon

 

 

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A rose by any other name …

Pondering character names

Yes, I know that’s a mis-quote, but it’s a very common one, and it gets the point across. Today I want to talk about naming your characters.

Some people go to a lot of trouble finding the perfect names for their characters. They read baby name books, check out meanings, possible different spellings, whether the number of letters in the name is auspicious, the works. Okay, I may be exaggerating here, but you know what I mean. “I chose the name Jemima because my character is quiet and a pacifist, and it means dove.”

Others go by themes. For example, JK Rowling tended to favour old-fashioned, floral or Latin names in the Harry Potter series; Suzanne Collins chose rare botanical names and unusual spellings in The Hunger Games; and Jane Austen‘s scallywags invariably had a surname starting with W. I’ve known people who take first names from their favourite bands and surnames from their favourite sporting team. It doesn’t really matter what the theme is – just having one can make some people feel more comfortable.

Still others pick names at random, without thought of meaning or motif. “Jenny? That’ll do.” Or, “I might call him Fred. I don’t think I’ve used that name before.”

Me, I’m a little from column A, a little from column C. For my WIP I did take a while to get some of the names right, but that was often because I didn’t want people in real life thinking the characters were based on them, so if the names were similar at all (including in theme) then they got changed. I had a character called Jane, for example, who my friend Anne may have thought was a reference to her. Personality-wise they have very little in common, but since they are such similar types of names I changed Jane’s name to something that didn’t resemble “Anne” in the slightest. Similarly, I realised halfway through NaNo that my hero had a similar name to my husband. He is not based on my husband at all, and I don’t think my husband himself would have seen a connection, but other people I know would have. Again, the character name was amended.

My heroine was slightly different. In early drafts I called her Emma, perhaps because I saw a similarity with Jane Austen’s character of that name. The similarity has now disappeared, and the name didn’t feel right at all. I played with different options but finally decided on amending Emma as slightly as I could, simply by adding a G to the front. “Emma” just didn’t fit properly; “Gemma” fits perfectly. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that everyone is different, and there’s no right or wrong way to name your characters. Essentially, whatever feels right for you as a writer is the way to go. I’m curious about you, though. How do you name your characters? What method works best for you? And what difficulties have you come across in the process? I’d love to hear.  :)

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