Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Character By Any Other Name.....

Writing about the title tug-a-war the other day got me thinking about the character name game. In chatting with book clubs I've found that most readers think authors just bestow names arbitrarily - pulling from hats or from baby books.....or just out of thick air. In actuality, the name game varies from author to author.

For me, the names of the main characters are absolutely crucial. I have to feel that the name fits that person's personality, and gels with their pulse in the story. If not....well, I'll give you an example with something that happened when I wrote THE GREAT PRETENDER.

Olivia Brooks, Reginald Brooks' 21-year-old daughter, started out as the meek and mild-mannered Avery Brooks. I actually wrote a good quarter of the story calling her Avery---but then something happened. I started losing interest in the character. So much so that I began to have trouble moving the plot along. Bad rut to be in. Trust me.

I couldn't understand what the problem was. Should I make her a boy - a son instead of a daughter? Should I say she's away on a pilgrimage to Tibet and pull her out of the main plot completely? Should I just ax her character altogether and make Valerie an only child? What was the problem? Avery was no longer inspiring me, and quite frankly, she was beginning to feel like dead weight.

Finally, one night while I was in the shower - and for the umpteenth time trying to figure out what the heck to do about Avery - I had an illumination....

It's her name!

See - to me, the name "Avery" represents what I mentioned before, a meek and mild-mannered person - which was the characterization this daughter started out with. The story began to dictate otherwise, however, and my energies shifted. She was no longer an "Avery-type". She was becoming far more integral to the plot in ways I hadn't seen coming. Alas, her name wasn't gelling with her pulse, and I lost her. Does that make sense? I hope so, because once I changed her name to Olivia - poof! - the muse was back with a vengeance.

What's in a name? A whole helluva lot if you ask me!


  1. I think names are important. I wonder sometimes what I would have been like if I had been named Samantha... I insisted on being called Sam or Samatha when I was 10 years old. No one listened. (sigh)

  2. Never mind, Cynthia. I'll call you Samantha if you'd like.

    OK, Sam? ;-)

  3. Interesting, Millenia! I usually stick with a name throughout, but I do have a lot of angst at the beginning when I try to find the right name. Somehow I just know it isn't going to work. I wrote the first three chapters with a Kate, but I just couldn't get behind the idea. Then I made her a Lauren. Liked that even less. Finally, she became Stephanie, which seemed right and I finished the book.

    For my current WIP, the heroine was always Evangeline. When I was a kid, I hated my name. The only other Lynn in my school was a boy. :( I wanted to be a Lisa, Diane, or Jennifer. LOL, now I like being Lynn. :)

  4. Why thank you MB... You can call me Cyn for cynsational... LOL... I might have a different names for different days and moods. ;-)

  5. Oh... I forgot.. I linked you to my page for my daily reads. :-)

  6. I'm guilty, Mil. I'm one that thought writers just consulted baby books and chose names they thought were different, or just at random so the characters had names. :0) Shows how much I know.

  7. As a young girl I wished to be a Sarah, Melissa, Jamie, anything normal. I begged my Mom to change my name. I hated being named Shilo. I changed the spelling to Shailo at one point, then Shylow; nothing made me like my name better. I recently found out that I was going to be named Mandy, but my aunt begged my Mom to find a different name. (My cousin was born 2 months later and is Mandi.) Now that I'm older I'm SO grateful to be named Shilo. It suits me. I can't imagine having a different name.

  8. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Cyn - just added a reciprocal link. Thanks!

  9. I have several baby name books in my desk and I use the phone book or internet to find good surnames. Names mean a lot for me, too. I hear what you're saying about the characters' name having to "gel", otherwise I can't develop as good a character as I should if they name doesn't feel right.


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