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'11 Authors Insider Tips

Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
From Inspiration to Publication
Writing the First Draft
Seduce Your Reader
Be a Real Writer
Sexy Writing Partnerships

Kill Electrons, Not Trees
by William Gaius
What Does It Mean...?
The Decision to Self-Publish
The Decision To Self-Publish, 2
Printing ... for Self-Publishers
A Copyright Primer
How to POD, free (almost) Part 1
How to POD, free (almost) Part 2

The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
Three Top Tips...
Not Writing Erotica
The Importance of Being Colin
Dream Writing
To Boldly Go
The Unforgivable Taboo
Managing Multiple Projects
Doing it in Public
Nil Bastardum Carborundum
Workshop Insights

Assorted Attractions

Meet Robert Buckley
Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister

The Write Stuff

by Ashley Lister

The Importance of Being Colin


The Write Stuff by Ashley ListerIt started with Colin the Cat. 

I was teaching creative writing.  I’d set an exercise where learners were supposed to write a short piece of fiction where the focus was on dialogue.  Ordinarily this can be an entertaining exercise and, as always, my learners produced some thoroughly entertaining scenarios. 

Except, one of the characters in one learner’s fiction included a cat named ‘Colin.’

“Colin?” I enquired.

“Colin is the cat,” the learner explained.

“Why is the cat called Colin?”

“What have you got against the name Colin?”

“I’ve got nothing against the name Colin,” I said honestly.  “But it’s not a name that anyone would give to a cat.”

Now, I appreciate that I’m about to receive a wealth of emails from people, explaining that they’ve owned litters of cats, every one of which was named Colin, but it’s not a name I’ve encountered in any of the felines I’ve met, and it’s not a name that really works for cats in fiction.  Cats in fiction should have exciting, glamorous or unusual names.  Macavity the mystery cat, Cuddles, Spindle Shanks.  But not Colin.  Colin is the name for an accountant or an office clerk.  It’s not the name for a cat.

I let Colin the Cat slide because I was in a generous mood. 

But then, the following week, we were introduced to Nigel the Ferret.

“Nigel?” I enquired.

“Nigel is the ferret,” the learner explained.

“Why is the ferret called Nigel?”

“What have you got against the name Nigel?” asked the learner.

“He has issues with naming animals,” another learner interjected.  “He got quite stroppy when I was telling him about Colin the cat.”

I raised my hands for silence. 

It was time to have the talk about the importance of character names.

Character names are, of course, incredibly important.  Perhaps the most important character in erotic literature is O, from Pauline Réage’s The Story of O.  There are few other erotic fiction characters that have merited O’s notoriety and infamy. 

But why did Réage call her central character O?  Why wasn’t it The Story of Colin? Or The Story of Nigel?  Admittedly, the gender isn’t quite right with using Colin or Nigel.  O, after all, was a female character.  But in itself O is not really a female name.  It’s only a letter of the alphabet.  And why are we looking at that particular letter?

There are lots of potential reasons for O’s name.  First of all, it’s worth bearing in mind that O is a submissive character.  I’ve spoken with several submissives in real life who insist on being addressed in correspondence with lower case for their name.  The argument has been that they are submissives and undeserving of upper case characters in their name(s).  To diminish O, from her pre-sexual submissive name to a single alphabetical character, is an extension of this linguistic reduction.  O has gone from being called whatever she was previously (Colin-ella or Nigel-ina) and her principal mode of address has been reduced to a vowel.

Also, we have to remember that a euphemism for orgasm is to call it the experience an ‘O’ of ‘The Big O’.  It’s hard to imagine a more sexually suggestive letter of the alphabet as the name for a character at the centre of an erotic novel.

And, on the subject of sexual suggestiveness, we have to look at the letter O and realise it’s the shape of an open orifice.  You can’t get much more suggestive than to give your character a name that is a euphemism for orgasm and looks like a hole. 

Or we can return to the theme of submissive labelling and remind ourselves that the alphabetical character O is indistinguishable from the alphanumeric character 0 (or zero).  In other words, O is being labelled as nothing. 

I mention all of this to show the importance of a single character name when that character’s name is only a single letter of the alphabet.  Commonplace names such as Colin or Nigel can have their names in well-rounded fiction, but they will be there as a reflection of the circumstances of their environment.

I could talk about character names for hours.  The subject fascinates me and I find it absorbing to consider the ramifications of Harry Potter instead of Harold Potter or James Bond instead of Jimmy Bond.  But, rather than go on about these things at length, it’s sufficient to say the following: don’t call your cats Colin and don’t call your ferrets Nigel.

Ashley Lister
March 2011

Contact Ashley at Ashley Lister
Find more of Ashley's Write Stuff in ERWA 2011 Archive

"The Write Stuff" © 2011 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

About the Author:  Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, Swingers: True Confessions from Today's Modern Swinging Scene (Virgin Books), a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his first title published under his own name.
Ashley’s non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica.  Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto.  He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.
Email:  Ashley Lister

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