Is Writing Long a Sign of Senility?

Was James Joyce senile when he wrote Ulysses (at 265,000 words, one of the longest novels in English literature)? Was William Faulkner habitually drunk when he wrote his famously-fragrant

.             James Joyce in Dublin

prose? Probably not.

But “rambling and long-winded anecdotes could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research that suggests subtle changes in speech style occur years before the more serious mental decline takes hold.” Read the article here

“Sherman cites studies of the vocabulary in Iris Murdoch’s later works, which showed signs of Alzheimer’s years before her diagnosis, and the increasingly repetitive and vague phrasing in Agatha Christie’s final novels – although the crime writer was never diagnosed with dementia. Another study, based on White House press conference transcripts, found striking changes in Ronald Reagan’s speech over the course of his presidency, while George HW Bush, who was a similar age when president, showed no such decline.”

My fiction writing problem seems to be the opposite. More than thirty years of writing nonfiction — articles, news, even grants — has made me habitually spare. When I’m told, a few thousand times, to be as brief as possible (often more brief than possible) to meet 1800 to 2000-word magazine lengths or 250 to 500-word news reports, it’s hard to relate to writing a novel 70,000 words long.

So my stories’ rough drafts usually end up at about 50,000 to 60,000 words and must be 70,000 to meet the standard length for the type of mystery I write. It’s worse in fantasy where my final-draft 80,000-word stories fall well below the standard of 120,000.

This is not all bad, though. That 50,000-word rough draft gets better as I rewrite to add depth and color. And with each rewrite it gets longer. After ten or a dozen rewrites it’s no longer nonfiction-news telegraph style but a more rounded, colorful, pleasing story.

And I love rewriting. Someone once asked me who my favorite author was. “Me,” I said. The obvious danger is that I could rewrite and rewrite and end up ruining the story through overblown padding. I try not to do that, pad. I notice that later rewrites are less and less rearranging or adding verbiage and more and more focusing on grammar and punctuation.

This is as it should be. To continue to expand each sentence might be considered — senile.


*NOTE: WhenI wentto Wikiopedia COmmons to find a graphic to use, I typed in the search box “big books” and it asked me if I really meant “big boobs”. What have we come to?


This is just a fun post, no deep thinking being done here.

When I set out to write a series of mysteries set in a small Gulf coast Florida town I named the town Mangrove Bay. Not terribly original, I suppose but descriptive enough as a place name. I wrote two book manuscripts before I discovered I’d made a big mistake.

Once I had two manuscripts in hand, I went looking for an agent. “Why, maybe I need to have a web site to tout my books,” I said to myself. Myself answered with “Good idea. Let’s go to the internet and buy that domain name.”

Hah. No such luck. was already taken. And I wdotURLsanted a .com, not a .something else. On top of all that, the name Mangrove Bay is on a dozen or more housing developments and (I think) some sort of clothing line. Annoyed, I started playing around with the options and discovered that merely adding two vowels would get me MangroveBayou and that was available as a .com.

Now I had to go back into my two manuscripts — not yet sold to anyone — and change all Mangrove Bays to Mangrove Bayous. Thank goodness for global search-and-replace!

With Sorcet Chronicles it was easier. I’d learned a lesson: Secure the domain name first and only then name your books. Sorcet Chronicles is my (so far) four-volume fantasy series starring Sorcet, a sort of druid/sorceress.

This time I first did a web search on several variations on the theme of ‘sorcerer’. One word, Sorcet, came up entirely blank. There was no Sorcet web site, no Sorcet anything at all. Sorcet wasn’t a word in any language except Turkic where it refers to (I think) some obscure form of bread.

So I bought and then wrote the books.

Is this a backwards sort of world we live in, or what?

What’s in a (character) Name?

March 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Steve in Fantasy | Fiction | Mystery - (0 Comments)

Interesting discussion on about English surnames:

There Are 7 Types of English Surnames — Which One Is Yours?
Many of us have surnames passed down to us from ancestors in England. Last names weren’t widely used until after the Norman conquest in 1066, but as the country’s population grew, people found it necessary to be more specific when they were talking about somebody else. Thus arose descriptions like Thomas the Baker, Norman son of Richard, Henry the Whitehead, Elizabeth of the Field, and Joan of York that, ultimately, led to many of our current surnames… (more)

Long post:

What to name your character in your novel? Several factors come into play:

Of what country/nation/tribe/whatever is this person a member.
English names (see the link above) are easy for Americans. Other racial/ethnic background names, not so much. A current trend in the African/American community is to give kids names more African-sounding. Seems reasonable, given that Asian/Americans have used Asian names forever. (It’s harder to have last names Africanized, as that requires a court order. So we end up with our young woman named Shasmecka Williams — combining a Nigerian given name (“princess”) with an American “slave” name. This is not bad — I don’t consider any name as bad — but it is an interesting historical comment in a way.

But if your character is from (or the story set in) an Asian country, or a Spanish-speaking South American country, then what? I ran up against this issue when I worked for Reuters many moons ago and had to track down Spanish-heritage people in the U.S. court system or elsewhere. Mr. Raul Herrara Gonzalez would likely call himself Raul Herrara to his U.S. friends but the government would list him as Raul Gonzalez because the U.S. government seemed to have no concept of patrilineal/matrilineal nomenclature. Confusing.

African names? Well, what’s ‘Africa’? Egypt? Nigeria? Tanzania? South Africa with English and Dutch influence? It’s not a country, it’s a continent. Choose names wisely.

In what time period is the story set?
As any expectant mother who has pored over lists of baby names knows, names have periods of popularity. I don’t know what’s ‘in’ or not; I have never named a baby. I mean, I called my Savannah-breed cat Spots and even his predecessor was Spots. Not terribly original.

I once knew an author who said he got his character names from cemetary tombstones and obituaries. “Those people don’t need their names any more,” he explained. Amusement aside, he was inadvertently naming his current-era characters with names that had been all the rage seventy years or more ago.

How old is your character? How old is your anticipated reader?
You’re writing your book today, but your character was born fifty years ago. Your average-age reader of fifty is surrounded by people with fifty-year-old names too. What to do?

Do you wish the name to do more than just identify the character?
Charles Dickens was famous for choosing names that conveyed some personality-aspect of his characters. Seems like a lot of thought-work to me but if the result is not too tortured, I suppose it would work today. Your track-and-field heroine could be named Francine Pettijane or Jane Armstrong. Which sounds more athletic to you?

And Lynda Schab has a good discussion of this at How 2 Choose Character Names:

So, what’s the big deal about naming your character? I mean, a name is a name, right? Everybody has one. Some are long (think, Winnifred Patricia Hinkleberry), some short (Ty Cook), some rhyme (Larry Berry), some even have the same first and last name (Jeff Jeffries). In real life, you may chuckle at the names you hear but probably don’t give names much thought. Why should you take the time to choose a great name for your character?  . . . (more).

All right. Now, I admit to laziness here. I sort of scramble around when I need a character name and the more important the character the more I pay attention. But I also tend to grab up scraps of paper off my desk — bills, notices, ads for the local grocery store, whatever — and sort of transmogrify some word there into a name. My private investigator character, Cord Macintosh, is named for (a) Cordwainer Smith, a penname for Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger, who wrote science fiction that I read when I was a teen and (b) my computer. I was casting about for a name and there it was, right in front of me. If I ever name someone ‘Logitech’ you’ll know I was looking at my keyboard.

My police chief of the Mangrove Bayou books, Adam Troy, is a case where his name is relevant. Adam was named for the first man in the Bible by the director of an orphanage in Troy New York. He’s constantly having to correct people who think his last name is Adam or who tell him his names aren’t terribly original. Well, duhhh.

For my Sorcet Chronicles fantasy series, I knew I wanted a web site to promote the books. Web site names are hard to come by. I looked for something vaguely similar to ‘sorceress’ and came up with Sorcet. It’s not anyone else’s name. It’s not even a word in any language but Turkic, where — I think — it’s some kind of bread. Anyway, Sorcet it is and the website URL was available. (The narrator of those stories, incidentally, is Tachi Green Fujiwara, so back to our ethnic names.)

Speaking of Mangrove Bayou, the first two books called it Mangrove Bay. But, surprise, surprise, that name was taken for a web site URL. So I added two vowels and bought the URL of Then I did a global-search-and-replace to change the name in the book manuscripts which I had not yet sold. (But I have now; first book is due out in May, second at the end of 2015.)