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Choosing Character Names For Novels, by Paul Volponi

In my house, one of our great joys is the naming of a new pet. We have dogs, cats, and even a bearded dragon. My choices of names usually lose out to those of my wife and daughter (personally, I thought Barkley was a great name for a dog), but there is one place where I get to actually see my name choices come to fruition – in my Young Adult novels.

My inspirations for names come from a variety of places. Some come from students whom I have taught, some come from names I have seen across the back shoulders of sports jerseys, some come to me while listening to other people’s conversations in the street (it’s not that hard with everyone on cell phones these days), and some even arise from classic literature (I named a poker player Huck because the final card in Texas Hold’em is called ‘the River’). I keep a running list of names that I like and may one day want to use in a novel.

I also use a dictionary of names – and no, it’s not cheating. I enjoy hearing the meaning of names in dictionaries, sometimes matching them to a character’s qualities (in Hurricane Song, the preacher is named Culver, which means “dove”). Did you know that Shakespeare coined the name Jessica for a female? Previously, it had only been seen in the masculine form.

Are there any rules for naming characters? Well, obviously not. I do tend to stay away from very common names, such as Jim, John, Jane, and Mary. I also don’t want characters in the same book to have names that are too similar, such as Mr Johnson and Mrs Jones. Sometimes my characters, even really important ones, are simply referred to by their roles, instead of their names. For instance, in Black and White, a prominent character is referred to as Marcus’ mother, rather than by her actual name.

You should feel satisfied with the character names you choose. Don’t settle. I suppose some writers, without a concrete name in mind, can begin to write scenes, perhaps using a dummy name or ***** in its place. To me, that’s counter-productive. The names of your characters can stand for your ideas and represent them in a memorable way to the reading public. I want the main character’s name to have an intimate connection with the character’s development. For example, in Rooftop, the main protagonist is named Clay, because he will be moulded into a man in the pages to come. In Hurricane Song, the protagonist with a long journey ahead of him is named Miles. I can’t say for sure that readers in general pick up on those things. I’ve had a few teens bring those images/names up to me, wanting to discuss their origins. I do feel that they make an impact on a deeper, subconscious level.

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Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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Black and WhiteRikers HighRooftopHurricane Song     Deadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Shock PointTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
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On Joining A Writing Group Or Writing Alone, by Paul Volponi

Over the last 14 years, I’ve written 10 Young Adult novels. I wrote the first one, Rikers High (originally entitled Rikers), without even knowing I could write a novel. Before that, I’d written mostly sports articles. I attempted the novel because HBO was pondering the idea of taking a newspaper article I’d penned on teens attending high school in jail and turning into a movie. I knew they’d change things plenty, running with it in any direction they wished. So I wanted a novel to reflect my actual experiences, with my name on it.

What gave me the glimmer of hope that I could actually write a novel? Well, while I was working on Rikers Island, I was surrounded by other teachers who were aspiring novelists. They would sit in the computer room before and between classes working on their stories. I turned to one of them one day and said something like, “That’s amazing how you guys can write such big stories with all those characters and plot twists.” The guy replied, “If I can write a few good paragraphs a day, it really adds up.”

That was probably the best writing advice I’ve ever received and my only real interaction with a writers’ group. Living in New York City, I casually know several accomplished Young Adult novelists. A few of them meet regularly in a writers’ group, bouncing ideas off of each other and showing pages of their new material. Do I think being part of a similar group could help a fledgling YA novelist? I absolutely do. It’s fantastic to get feedback on your plot-lines, characters, dialogue and key scenes.

How come I don’t do that? Lone wolf syndrome, I guess. I like to work early in the morning, then re-read and rewrite in the afternoon. I work every day without fail. At night, I spend time with my wife and daughter. I prefer not to go out to meet with other writers. I do, however, have several first-readers who look at my early versions of things – usually well before my editor ever sees it. It’s a small readership of people whose opinions I respect.

Obviously, every writer is different. It may be very hard to even find good advice or a supportive group, let alone make meaningful connections with other YA novelists, but I do believe that getting feedback from somewhere can help a writer immensely and should be sought.

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Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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Rikers HighResponseThe Final FourRooftop     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerThe Night She DisappearedAugust

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Finding A Good Literary Agent For Your Novels, by Paul Volponi

Fledgling Young Adult novelists come up to me all the time and ask, “Hey, I’ve written something great. Can you hook me up with your agent?” I’ve even had a very nice librarian ask me that question, on behalf of her sister-in-law, as she was walking me to the podium to give a talk in her library.

I’m never really annoyed at this stuff. I understand that writers are looking for a way in, and think that I can help them. But there are some huge negatives in leaning on a friend or another writer to get you an agent.

What if my agent doesn’t like your work, but it’s good? What if my agent doesn’t like that particular genre (for making sales)? What if my agent is too busy and doesn’t give it the appropriate time? What if my agent doesn’t even return your email?

In my opinion, providing a single agent name as a contact is clearly a disservice to a beginning writer. Instead, I try to teach new writers techniques to canvass multiple agents. When I was in need of an agent I went to resources such as Writer’s Market and found maybe a dozen agents who represented the kind of manuscript I’d written. I emailed all of them, waiting to see who would respond in a reasonable time, or who would even reply at all. I did that over and over again, until I found an agent with whom I shared some common ground. Of course, we all know that a writer can send out 100 queries and get just a single reply, leading us to want to sign with that one agent.

I’ve had three agents in my writing career. The first two dumped me. I’m sure they found me too annoying in wanting to succeed and always keeping the pressure on them. Neither could sell my first two novels, Black and White (which eventually won a slew of IRA and ALA awards) and Rikers High (a Top 10 ALA winner inspiring non-readers to read, and even achieved a New York Times review).

Then I found the right agent through an email (she was just another name in a book to me) and then a follow up phone call. She read Black and White and said, “I’m sending it out to eight major houses tomorrow. A few of them will probably want it very badly.” She was right. Within a month, I was a professional writer with a two-book deal from Viking/Penguin.

So my best advice is to keep searching yourself for that agent. Understand how to do it. Refine your own personal techniques. It will make you more self-sufficient and ultimately more powerful as a writer. It can be a long haul until you find an agent who works as hard as you do in promoting your ideas. But it is certainly worth the journey.

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Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteRikers HighResponseThe Final Four     Code Name VerityHappyfaceIn Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's Story

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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