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!