Author Archive: Stanley

Naming or not a Fictional Character

There are two kinds of characters in a story. One who has a name and one who does not.*

Characters who have an impact to the plot and appear in more than one scene should be named. They are a significant part of events and move the story along. Characters who perform a function, without significantly changing how the story unfolds, should not be named.

Unnamed characters are important and could be people in a crowd, a store clerk, a bus driver, or someone sitting on a park bench. They are identified by their function and add depth and description to the story. They may or may not interact with the named characters.

Looking at it another way: characters with names are like a team. They influence each other and carry the story along. Characters without names support the team like a cheering section.

Some authors think it is cruel to leave characters nameless, so they name everyone. There are other authors who create characters just to name them. Then, there are authors who have multiple names for the same character. With so many names, I get confused trying to find out who is important and who is not. I want to enjoy the story and not have to work at remembering names.

Also, I find that too many names drag the author into using unneeded words to create unneeded characters in unneeded scenes. The story becomes more about naming characters and not about telling the story.

How many named characters should there be? There is no specific number. But keeping the number of names low helps the author focus on the story and the reader not to be confused.

* There are other types, but this fits my blog’s theme.

Asking Again for Money

I’m applying for a grant that the nonprofit received last year.* I wrote last year’s grant, too. The easy thing would be to copy and paste last year’s information into this year’s application since little has changed in the foundation’s guidelines. Also, last year’s application worked, so why change it? This is the wrong thing to do.

A year has passed and progress has been made. (If no progress, then there are other issues to be fixed before asking for more money.) Also, the foundation members are likely to be the same people from last year reading the current application. If they read the same words, they could assume no progress had been made.

Each grant application should be treated as new and not a presentation of the same information. Not only has progress been made with the project, the world has changed economically and socially.

The one item to add in the current application is how the relationship between the nonprofit and foundation has developed positively since the previous funding was provided. Hint: The nonprofit should have taken the opportunity and developed a dialogue and relationship with the foundation.

There are some things that can be repeated in the application, such as the project title. Changing the title to make it seem new is never good. Some nonprofits do this since foundations may not fund the same project again. Be honest.

Also repeat the nonprofit’s mission statement. This provides a sense of consistency and sameness, along with assurance that the nonprofit is stable.

For this grant application, I’m using last year’s only as a guide. Having made progress on the project helps.

*Note: A report on spending all of the previous funding must have already been sent to the foundation.

Keeping Track of Time

When I’m writing a story, I try to maintain a consistent timeline. Even in science fiction, time progresses in a logical direction. The story can jump around, but the orderly passing of time should be maintained.

This may seem obvious, yet I have read novels where the author confused the passage of time in the story. Some things happened too soon and other events took too long or happened out of sequence. Also, when using flashbacks, there should be one central timeline that the flashback always comes back to. In some novels, I get confused as to what is a flashback and what is current time in the story.

Even minor scenes such as eating a meal or traveling between two places, the time it takes to eat is a set amount of time. And it takes a traveler a certain amount of time to travel between two places, even in science fiction. The author needs to fill in for the passage of time consistently. If not, there is no story. Just a series of unconnected scenes.

To help keep my timeline organized while writing a novel, at the beginning of each chapter I put the day of the week, month, and season when the chapter scenes occur. Keeping track of a story’s timeline this way helps me keep the timeline straight in my head while I write the next chapter.

There are probably other methods. Whichever is used, I think it is important for an author to maintain a consistent timeline, whether the story is over a few days or many years. It is easy to overlook this important step.

The world and the universe keep track of time. An author should, too

Important Jobs in a Nonprofit

This blog post continues a recent blog post about nonprofit positions.

Nonprofit employees are categorized as operations (general overhead) or programs (specific to accomplishing the mission). I’m writing about the operations side since program people are unique to each nonprofit.

The most important employee is the executive director. However, many nonprofits have no other operations employee, which is wrong. One person cannot do everything. A nonprofit should have, at a minimum, three other employees.

  1. An office manager who oversees the day-to-day running of the office like a second in command. There are too many daily issues occurring for an executive director to manage alone.
  2. A volunteer coordinator who manages all the volunteers. There must be a person to make sure the volunteers are happy, which can be a daunting task.
  3. A grant writer who helps bring in the money. Many nonprofits fold this duty into the executive director’s job. But nonprofits who fill this job usually are better funded.

[I didn’t include a finance manager because these duties can be handled by the office manager or grant writer. With a single mission, there are software programs to help. With multiple missions, hiring a company to run the finances is easier.]

These three listed positions can be part time, but they must be paid positions. People are more invested in the nonprofit if it is their job.

Many times, these three positions are left vacant to keep operation expenses low. As a result, people from the programs side become drawn into doing operations work, worsening the problem on both sides. Even board members become involved with operations.

A nonprofit should look at itself like a business and hire those who would make it a success. Don’t pretend things are working out. They usually aren’t.