The Nigerian banking scam is working well for me.

April 09, 2007

[Real quick – Alison Kent was nice enough to have me as her guest blogger today. Check it out.]

In my endless quest to make less work for myself, I finally found a use for the Nigerian banking scam e-mails. If you have an e-mail address, you know what these are–Floridly-worded, gorgeously flattering missives to you, the writer’s “cherished and most trusted friend.” Begging your precious indulgence, they also need your banking information so they can make a $53million deposit of their family wealth into your safekeeping, offering you a cut of several million for your troubles.

Why is this working well for me? Because I’m a fiction writer, of course. At present, I’m writing a sequence that involves minor characters from a made-up diamond-rich small nation in Africa. Sophie, the main character, needs to bankrupt the bad guys, so she creates her own version of the scam and cleans out their treasury. The whole shady procedure is outlined in my e-mail. Talk about a step-saver.

Another bonus–the names! I needed some authentic-sounding names for my African characters, and who can make up something as good as “General Sani Abacha,” or “Barrister Momoh Sanni Momoh”? That stuff is priceless. A quick scroll through my spam catcher yielded some other lovely examples: Mr. Femi Gidado (ACCOUNTANT OFFICER), Clement Okon, Mr Madu Frank, “Colonel Timi Phillips,” “Dr. Bisi Odum, Notary Public” and the adorable-sounding “Bibi Nilini,” who salutes me respectfully from her hiding place in a temporary safe house in Abuja. Inspiration!

And today, I have a little gift for the writers out there. As you get going on a novel, sometimes you notice that everyone’s name starts with the letter “M” or that you have a Harlon, a Harley and a Harry in the same story. Here’s a simple way to avoid names that look and sound too similar on the page. It’s a copy of my handy dandy character Character name chart, an idea I cribbed from the ever-resourceful and talented Debbie Macomber. When you create a character, write his or her name in the appropriate box, and you’ll quickly see if you’re overusing something. Have a great writing week.

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