Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the co-creator of and an editor at The Poetics Project. She's also a freelance editor and writer who helps content creators polish their words before they go out into the world. She has a M.S. in writing and book publishing from Portland State University. Her favorite books are always changing. Right now, her top three are Zazen, The Poisonwood Bible, and Prep. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells and learn more about her editorial services at melnichole.com.

Characters and Their Names

I’ve always had a rough time coming up with names for characters. When I write non-fiction, it seems simpler. The people I am writing about already have a name–there is no need for me to create one. But to be honest, many of the fictional characters I write about are also based on people that I have met throughout my life, so for me, it isn’t really about whether the name is real or not but that it fits the character.

But how does a writer do that? When I think about names like Harry Potter or Huck Finn, I wonder how the authors that developed those characters knew that the names they had chosen perfectly fit the characters they were given to. Maybe a name like that is a stroke of luck, but through my own research and questioning, I have discovered a few tips to increase your chances of finding that perfect fit:

1) Research Root Meanings

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. – Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare may be right about a rose’s smell, but I beg to differ about the importance of names. Sure, names can be random. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Sylvester Stallone named their kids Apple and Sage Moonblood. And while, like any good English major, I could sit here and create some obscure way in which these names represent the people they belong to, a good writer shouldn’t have to explain that meaning (nor should they ever pick names like Apple or Sage Moonblood–unless, you know, being weird is what you’re going for).

So how do you choose a name that means something?

One way to do this is by researching the root meanings of names. As Brian A. Klems writes in his article “The 7 Rules of Choosing Names for Fictional Characters:”

It’s better to call a character Caleb, which means ‘faithful’ or ‘faithful dog,’ than to overkill it by naming him Loyal or Goodman—unless you want that for comic/ironic purposes. Some readers will know the name’s root meaning, but those who don’t might sense it.

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You’re a Writer: So What Does that Mean?

“Usually when people say they wanna be a writer they really don’t wanna do anything except, ya know, eat and masturbate.”

Credit: Huffington Post
Ray from GIRLS (Credit: Huffington Post)

Did I get your attention? The quote above comes from an episode of Lena Dunham’s TV show GIRLS. And while I may know a few writers who match Ray’s candid description, I can’t say I have really come to terms with what a real writer actually is.

When people find out I’m an English major, they usually say something like “Oh, so you’re a writer then, right?” Five years ago at community college, when I declared my major, I didn’t think of myself as a writer. Sure, I wrote a lot of essays in class. Did that mean I was a writer? And later, when I began working as a writing tutor and scrawling lines of poetry or prose on scraps of papers, I still wondered if I myself was a writer.

I knew I wanted to become a writer when I was fifteen. Before that, most of the stories I created remained inside my head. My parents were lucky; my toys consisted of kitchen pots and pans that I used, along with leaves and berries from my backyard, to make magical potions with, or my grandmother’s old jewelry, clothes, and high heels, which I paraded around my bedroom in. But at fifteen, these things no longer seemed appropriate, and instead, I started writing things down.

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The Workspaces of Famous Authors

Being able to write well takes more than just skill. In order to write well, you have to find a space that allows you to do just that. For me, my bedroom has always been the place I go to find solitude. And in that solitude, I have always found I am able to sit down and write.

Yet sometimes, my bedroom can be a trap. There are unread books on the shelf and worn books, like old friends, waiting to be cracked open again. There’s my laptop, where the Internet can suck up hours. And there’s my inviting, comfy bed. Still, it’s the best place I’ve yet to find.

To be honest, though, most of the pieces I’ve written that I’ve enjoyed the most began with one or two lines thought of while driving to work, shopping at the grocery store, or taking a walk. The only item that I generally always carry on me (besides maybe Chapstick) is my cell phone, so I usually jot these lines down as a note. I come back to them later and expand on them. Or as is sometimes the case, I delete them and try to remember what I was thinking when I decided that was worth writing down.

Still, I think the idea of having a workspace seems quaint to me. When I’m older and have finally defeated those student loans, I hope to have a room, lined with bookshelves, where I can write in my house. Below are the workspaces that allow a few famous writers to do just that:

Mark Twain
Mark Twain (Author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
E.B. White
E.B. White (Author of Charlotte’s Webb)

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Who & Whom: Does it Matter Anymore?

I don’t use the word whom when I write. For a long time, I didn’t understand the difference between whom and who, so I stuck with what I knew. It seemed to work. None of my teachers in K-12 ever pointed out the mistake, and neither did my professors in college. In fact, it wasn’t until my senior year at CSULB that I finally felt I had a firm grasp on the two words. In English Grammar, I learned that the easiest way to remember the difference between whom and who is to replace whom with him or her and to replace who with he or she. For example:

We all know who/whom ate the last piece of cake.

Which sounds better?

We all know him/her ate the last piece of cake.

Or

We all know he/she ate the last piece of cake.

Well, the second one of course, which is how we know that who ate the last piece of cake is correct. Yet, knowing the correct word usage hasn’t made me include the word whom in my writing any more than before.

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The Curious Relationship Between Writers and Cats II

(Credit: buzzfeed.com)
(Credit: buzzfeed.com)

About a month ago, I wrote a post on William Carlos Williams and the writer’s relationship with his cats. While researching the piece, I discovered that many writers had (and still do have) cat muses. The list, in fact, is so long that I am under the impression now that in order to really call yourself a writer, you have to adopt a furry feline.

Hemingway’s house in Key West is crawling with over 50 of his six-toed, polydactyl, cats, which tourists travel from all over the world to take a close look at. The Sun Also Rises author fell in love with his first polydactyl cat, Snowball, while traveling in Cuba. Hemingway felt that cats have “absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” While Hemingway’s cats are now infamous, other writers and their cats may be less known.

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Good Literature: What is it?

Being an English major, the conversation of what good literature actually is has come up on more than one occasion.

If you look up the word literature, you’ll find many definitions, the most basic being that literature is the art of written language. Yet, you don’t find most people discussing the latest Dan Brown or Jodi Picoult novel and calling the piece literature. Now, before anyone gets offended, I don’t mean to say these novels aren’t entertaining or enjoyable, but there are many who would argue that these authors and their novels are not on the same level as, say, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Twain (and the list goes on).

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Kerouac’s Stamp Addiction and McCarthy in Drag: Literary Gossip at its Best

Did you know…

Jack Kerouac was addicted to licking stamps.

Cormac McCarthy dresses up as “sexy Betsy Ross” on Halloween every year.

The above  rumors were found on Vice.com‘s list of one hundred literary rumors. While reading them, I, of course, laughed, but I also wondered how these rumors began and whether or not there was any truth to them, because for the life of me, I can’t get the image of Kerouac, hair a mess and eyes blood shot, writing On The Road on a stamp-induced high out of my mind. Below are some more interesting, literary rumors from Vice’s list:

Gertrude Stein was on the payroll of the New York Mets.

Virginia Woolf passed the bar exam in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Maine.

J. K. Rowling lost all the money she earned from the first four books of Harry Potter due to slot-machine addiction.

Image from Collider.com
J.K. Rowling (image from Collider.com)

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That’s So Chocolate Bar: How a Book is Helping Fund Research to Cure a Rare Disease

When 6 year old Dylan Siegel wrote the book Chocolate Bar and then single handedly pushed for his parents to self-publish it, it was well received by the public, earning over $92,000 and landing him multiple book signings and interviews. So what’s the story behind Chocolate Bar‘s success?

Dylan, right, and his best friend Jonah, left
Dylan (right) and his best friend Jonah (left)

Dylan wrote the book to raise money for his 7 year old best friend, Jonah Pournazarian, who has a rare liver disease, glycogen storage disease.

“My goal is to raise a million dollars!” Dylan told TODAY.com. “Then I think I’ll make a whole series of Chocolate Bar books so I can raise money for different diseases.”

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Graffiti: Bringing Literature to the Streets

Great literature can inspire various forms of art, including the kind that paints our streets: graffiti. Graffiti is generally illegal in the United States, unless it is done in cities with walls designated for such a purpose. However, the drawings left on these walls are often painted over by other artists due to the limited space. Because it is illegal, graffiti writers often go through great lengths to leave their artwork on a public wall, often making political statements in the process.

Below are a few examples of literary graffiti around the world. Which one’s your favorite?

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince

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