Tag Archives: character

Friday Reflections: What’s in a name?

I apologize for having taken quite a long break from blogging — coursework’s kept me busy, and I’ve had some trouble with the internet connection at home. I’m back, though, and ready to start gearing up for National Poetry Month (April) / the April Poem-a-Day challenge! ūüôā

Hope everyone’s been reading, reflecting, and writing!

What’s in a name?

This Friday’s prompt — as the Bard once wrote, “What’s in a name?” — was inspired by a line of dialogue I heard from a character in a¬†video game. (Prompts really do strike you from out of anything!) The character in question had made a statement about the pride and strength she draws from her family name.

By an extension of the idea of signs (previous post), the quote immediately got me wondering about how her name, as a sign, had gained significance Рso much significance that it became not only a matter of pride for her to boast it, but also gave her a sense of purpose on the battlefield.

What, indeed, is in a name?

Shakespeare says…

Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2, Lines 38-47

“Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself

O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.”

This is the origin of the phrases “What’s in a name?”¬†and “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – the idea that¬†it is not the name¬†(or title) of a person or thing that matters so much as their essence – what they really “are“.

Indeed, should one be another’s enemy merely because of a name, in this case – a family name that one inherits (not taken on by choice)?

Of course, one could also say that a name is inextricably linked with a person/thing’s personality or essence.

The video game character who inspired this post, for instance, found purpose in her name. It gave her something to fight for. Her family name and her title are¬†very much a part of who she is essentially. She has become that kind of warrior because of her name. Would she have known this pride or strength had she been of some other name or title — or without any title at all? (Just as a note: she is based on a historical figure.)

And we understand a lot about a character’s aspirations, when he/she wishes to “make a name for¬†him/herself”.

Identity, Belonging and Other Questions

The NamesakeIt’s very interesting to wonder whether our names affect our character. In fact, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake¬†deals with this concept in a certain light. It’s also a work about diaspora¬†that deals with questions of identity and belonging, among other things. These are also important concepts where¬†names are concerned.

How much of one’s sense of identity comes from one’s name? How much of one’s sense of belonging to one’s village/city/nation comes from one’s name? What if your name and your place, where you feel you belong, don’t “match”? Would you rather it match, or rather you stand apart? Does your name, like my video game warrior’s does for her, stand as a symbol of pride and strength for you?

These are all questions we can ask for anything – whether for self-reflection or to write more complex characters in that next novel.

In Roots: The Saga of an American Family¬†by Alex Haley, it’s clear that Kunta Kinte holds tightly on to his name as though it were a matter of survival – and indeed, it becomes so, as it is carried on from one generation to the next.

Similarly, naming can be seen as a very powerful act in Native American literature. An example is in N. Scott Momaday’s¬†The Names: A Memoir, where he writes,

“Pohd-lohk affirmed the whole life of the child in a name, saying: Now you are, Tsoai-talee.”

To name

There seems to be great power in naming people or things. We do know that language communication depends heavily on the system of naming. Writers spend hours together deciding on the perfect names for their characters. Why would that be? How much do names mean to you? Do they matter right down to their consonant and vowel sounds, the shapes of the letters on the page, the multiplicity of meanings that the name could take?

Every time you name a character, you can take various aspects of the name into consideration – the visual, auditory and psychological effects it has — on him/her, the other characters, and¬†the reader.

You could even make powerful irony out of a name by having the character’s personality oppose it completely!

Here’s an interesting passage from Gary Paulsen’s¬†Woodsong¬†on imposing names on others:

“I began to understand that they are not wrong or right–they just are.
Wolves don’t know they are wolves.
That’s a name we have put on them, something we have done. I do not know how wolves think of themselves, nor does anybody …”

To name-call

An incredible, heart-rendering piece of spoken-word poetry by Shane Koyczan on this (thank you, Fahima, for pointing me to it):

Write away, folks!

Whether it’s going to be another amazing piece of poetry like Mr. Koyczan’s, or your next character’s name and personality file, spend some time thinking about what, for you, is in a name ¬†and don’t forget to write your thoughts down! ūüôā Happy writing and happy weekend, folks!

Friday Reflections: Signs

Hullo, folks! It’s been a while–and I missed posting for a few weeks, terribly sorry–January had been a rather busy month. I’m back for February, and for this Friday’s Reflections post! ūüôā

A week or two ago, we were discussing semiotics in class. Not only do I find it an extremely interesting field of study, I feel that the understanding of it could help any writer add layers to their works! And of course I found a prompt there in all that talk about signs and symbols and one thing representing another.

So many signs

I won’t be getting into the nitty-gritty of semiotics, but even without that, we can flesh a lot out of “signs”. Take a few minutes first, though, to brainstorm and jot down whatever comes to mind when you think, “Signs.”

There are so many different kinds of signs!

Image

image source: http://www.space.com

We have¬†astrological¬†and zodiacal signs. Perhaps one of your characters sets a lot of store by astrological readings; perhaps every character in your novel is bound to his/her destiny as it’s writ in the stars? Similarly, the images on Tarot cards have different meanings based on the reading.

A quick search for the actual definition tells me a sign is:¬†“An object, quality, or event whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else.” It can also be: “a gesture or action used to convey information or an instruction.” So¬†objects as well as¬†gestures can be signs. We even have¬†sign language and, of course, your¬†signature is your “sign”.

You could even say, “gimme a sign!” as when you’re asking someone to give some sort of hint or indication.

There are so many — just take your pick.

The world is replete with signs. How many have you placed in your last novel/story/poem? What do they convey and how do they convey it? Give some thought into the way a sign conveys meaning. Is it some arbitrary symbol that has come to mean something based on a cultural idea? Or does it actually resemble the thing which it represents?

Can you come up with your own signs for a story? Or perhaps take an existing sign and make it represent something else all together? How would your characters or readers know that the sign means something other than what they’re accustomed to reading it as?

Symbols

Symbolism is a very useful literary device, and it adds to books and poetry a great deal.¬†The red rose is a symbol of passionate love, while olive branches are symbols of peace. Someone’s actions can be¬†symbolic as well – representing on a higher level, the character’s beliefs or desires, even. Animals, aspects of nature, and Inanimate objects can also become symbols.

You can pick a kind of symbol, and build a story or poem around it–like the famous red STOP sign that’s always used as an example! Or place various signs or symbols across a story. Try introducing a significant object in a story -as small as a character’s pocket-watch or even keys- and let it symbolically represent a theme or characteristic.

Symbols add very interesting layers to stories; sometimes they offer more insight into a character, based on the kinds of symbols associated with them. Commonly used symbols are flowers and birds.

Plus, symbols ask readers to make connections, to ponder a word’s connotations, instead of placing meanings right before their eyes.

Signs everywhere

Really, every word on the page is a sign presented by the writer to the reader.

With this in mind, try writing your piece. Make your work richer and more layered with symbols and metaphors — but of course, not too many!

Take a look around you and notice the signs everywhere: in the way your neighbor’s been limping, or the signboards along the road. Do you see anything unique? And even if you don’t–taking a look at the various conventional signs, consider the signs whose meanings we take for granted.

Dig deep, and happy writing folks! Wish you a productive weekend! ūüôā

Reflections: Perspective

The weekly Reflections post is back at last! I hope to be able to post on Fridays again next week onwards. But for now, here we have it:

Today’s topic:¬†Perspective.

Image

This is a familiar image, I’m sure! What do you see in it? If you see both, which did you see first – the vase or the two faces?

An exercise

What’s your perspective on perspective? Take a few minutes to brainstorm all of the ideas that come to your mind about this topic, and list your ideas.

When you have time, call on one of your friends¬†or a family member, perhaps even your neighbor. It could even be a stranger at a park, or a classmate. Ask him/her (you can, of course, ask more than one person, for more ideas) what he/she thinks of the word “perspective”. What is his/her idea of¬†perspective? What would he/she do to, say, “gain perspective”? Jot down what everyone says.

Go back to your own list at the end of the day or week (the longer the gap between the writing of and the revising, the better) to compare and contrast the various ideas. Is there anything you’d like to add? Something that’s neither in your list nor in your friends’ lists?

Looking side-a-ways

Perspective by common definition means the way one sees something. Everyone is bound to have different perspectives, even for the very idea of “perspective” – which is what the exercise was all about.

Do look up the term (which I suggest you do only after the exercise!) sometime. It could mean quite a few things.

There are drawings, paintings and sketches done in perspective. An archaic meaning of the word referred to a glass used as a telescope. It could refer to point of view. It could mean a vista. And a whole lot more.

Here’s a comment President Lincoln made, which is all about perspective:

‚ÄúWe can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē Abraham Lincoln

  • What is the first definition that came to your mind when you read “perspective”?

Why, why, why?

Looking beyond just one’s perspective, I think the¬†reason¬†behind their perspective is also very important. Especially to fiction writers!

There’s much that contributes to the way we look at the world around us, the way we perceive what’s happening, the way we understand and assimilate things.

Social conditioning¬†is a key factor. We’re brought up by our families, and the society in which we live, to see things in a very particular way. To accept certain things as they are. To not question or dare to subvert these views. Our understanding of social norms¬†is one of the results of this process of socializing. We are reared to accept and comply by these standards.

You can say that this restricts our thoughts and makes us narrow-minded Рor that it is necessary to maintain order in society. Or whatever else you can think of to reprove/justify the idea. The point is that it affects the way we think.

Language, preferences, morality – we acquire all of these as we grow up in society. It’s often not even a conscious process.

So we writers have to carefully set up the societies, histories, families, settings in our fiction Рall in such a way that our characters and their stories are valid products of these factors.

  • What else can you think of that may contribute to one’s perspective?

Through their eyes

It’s natural that fiction writers pay a lot of attention to their character’s perspective – point of view is one of the basic tools of story-writing.

What is an angry teenager likely to observe when he storms into a room? What would he notice if he were calm and collected? Our perspective leeks into the things we see. It’s the glass-half-full or glass-half-empty question. If a mug of coffee spills over, is your character more upset that her drink is wasted, or that her newspaper is ruined?

Also,¬†a character’s perspective must be¬†in keeping with his/her back-story. There should be reason behind what he or she sees and does, after all. If a character’s going to be extraordinarily different from everyone around him/her, even¬†that¬†must have a cause. And this cause must be as great as the character’s conviction is strong.

Keep your eyes wide open

When you revise what you’ve written, take a moment to ask yourself about the perspectives and stereotypes, the ideas taken for granted in the piece.

Have you restricted yourself in any way? Do you always write poems in a particular form, thinking that’s how it’s got to be written? Do you always write stories in first-person? Do you avoid reading or writing certain genres without even trying them? Are your characters stereotypical?

It’s best not to rule out anything outright. With an open mind, we leave a lot more room for creativity!

Even stereotypes aren’t all bad – they have their uses. They¬†are extremely useful, in fact, to create the effect of irony or to expose social follies.

Write on, folks!

There’s definitely a lot more to be said and written about¬†perspective, and from different perspectives. I’ll leave my fellow writers to explore them. ūüôā Happy writing, and happy weekend, everyone!