Saturday Writing Quote — on naming

IMGP2011 “Names generate meaning in a short amount of space—they provoke thoughts, questions. That’s something I like doing. Of course, you have to be careful. Sometimes it can alienate the reader, it can be another level of mediation, to make a character carry the great burden of a metaphoric name. The character can be a device before he or she becomes a person, and that can be a bad thing for a writer who wants to offer up a kind of emotional proximity in the work. It’s a constant struggle, the desire to be playful and the desire to communicate on some very stark emotional level.”

—Joshua Ferris, American novelist, heard on NPR, 5/20/14

Saturday Writing Quote — on naming

IMGP2188I’m working on a new novel, and discovering the characters’ names is always interesting. Our names shape us, and many of us have love-hate relationships with them. Some of us change names during our lives, changing how we view ourselves. More than once, I’ve written an entire draft, then changed a character’s name, for various reasons, and seen that character suddenly come alive when given the right handle. So, for April, a few quotes on naming.

“From time immemorial men have thought that there is some mysterious essential connection between a thing and the spoken name for it. You could use the name of your enemy, not only to designate him either passionately or dispassionately, but also to exercise a baleful influence over him. . . . Not only people, but plants, animals, forces of nature, gods, demons, in fact all creatures could be affected for good or ill by solemn pronunciation of their names in the proper context.”
— Margaret Schlauch, The Gift of Tongues (1943; repr. 1960)

(Quote via Bryan Garner’s occasional blog on usage.)

Saturday Writing Quote — on empathy

IMGP2198“I think that the job of imagining how it feels to be other than oneself is a useful vocation. By trying to understand and narrate the lives of others, artists hope to bring about the small leaps of empathy that allow societies to bridge divides of heritage.”

— Chris Cleave, author of Everyone Brave Is Forgiven

(hat tip to PJ Coldren)

(And what says empathy better than a live cat kissing a stone one?)

Saturday Writing Quote — on empathy


“Story is all about how someone’s worldview changes. …

What this means is that you must begin with empathy for every single character you create, even characters who do things you’d never ever do. After all, what people do isn’t what gives us empathy for them. Why they do it is where empathy comes from.

In fact that’s what empathy is. To wit: empathy is the ability to feel what other people feel about a situation for the same reason they feel it. In other words, empathy is giving dignity and weight to their feelings, even if you disagree with the conclusion they’ve drawn.”
Lisa Cron, Writer Unboxed, 12/8/16

Saturday Writing Quote — on empathy

IMGP2339I adore Meryl Streep, and I loved two things she said in her speech accepting a lifetime achievement award from the Golden Globes.

“An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like. …

As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art.”

What she said about the role of empathy is equally true of writers. In fact, I believe we could make a good case that practicing empathy should be a primary goal of us as humans, and that the world would be a better place as a result. And when we practice art, we grow our empathic souls. (And so, empathy in the arts is my theme for March quotes.)

Here’s a link to the full text of Meryl’s speech, from the New York Times.

(Photo by Leslie; Avalanche Creek, Glacier National Park)




Saturday Writing Quote — on fear

01_Barn_Pastel_WEB[I tell beginning writers to be] “stubborn. Be tenacious. Commit yourself to the inevitability of failure. Sentences are going to fail, chapters … whole books … [P]ay close attention to [your] own life. Don’t avoid your own passions and fears. There’s a tendency, I think, to sublimate it all, or to become so oblique as to avoid entirely that which has hurt you or that which has jerked you awake at night. I know of no rule that commands a writer to be subtle at all costs. At times, I believe, it doesn’t hurt to be blunt.”

– Tim O’Brien, American novelist, b. 1946, in The Writer (July 2010)

(painting by Leslie, pastel on garnet paper)