Monday, April 21, 2014

Character Naming by Melinda Curtis

I've found that naming characters is just as hard as naming your children.

I bet you're thinking, "Duh."

Naming a character shouldn't be that hard.  You're creating them in your head. There's no significant other to argue with about it. Trust me on this.  I've fought with Mr. Curtis through the naming of three children (luckily, he has no interest in naming pets, otherwise, they might never be named).

But back to me, my head, and character naming.  Back when I first pitched Harmony Valley to Heartwarming, I needed to come up with three names for my heroes.  Easy-peasy? Na-uh. Here's the mumbling conversation I had with myself (when you work alone from home you're allowed to talk out loud):

"Peter, Pete, Sam, Samuel, Fred, Mark, Josh...Those all suck." (apologies to anyone with dear ones of those names)
And then, "William (there'd just been a royal wedding), Farley, Stu...ah, Will works."
Followed by the idea to have someone with a Scottish or Irish descent. "Mac, Flynn..." Googling of names ensued.  "Just go with Flynn."
And for the final hero.  "Sam.  Sam fits a small town."
I dutifully scribbled down ideas and darned if "Sam" didn't stop me.  "I'm not Sam.  I'm Slade."
"Dude, no way. Slade is not small town.  Slade is New York City, upper east side." Serious visions of a head-shaking, dark-haired man with cuff links and a tie - designer by the way. Totally disapproving.
"Okay, okay.  You can be Slade." Sly smile on my part. "At least until Victoria calls me on it."

Well, Victoria didn't call me on it.  Slade became the third musketeer/financier of the trio of heroes that launched Harmony Valley. He surprised me in other ways (Why won't he take off that tie? Why does he hate Harmony Valley so much?). His story is Season of Change, releasing on May 1.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from others about their challenges naming their "babies" - whether it was your children or a character in a book.  One lucky reader will win an autographed copy of Season of Change (just as soon as I receive my print copies - lol).

26 comments:

  1. TOTALLY agree with you on the "name game", Mel! It's not right until it's right--and darned of those characters let you know when you're WRONG! I have one character whose name I LOVE, but because it's based on an actual character on a TV show (and I just changed the spelling), I changed it in a recent version of the story (he's secondary--getting his own book soon)...and darned if every time I see the "new name" it just irks me. I'll probably switch it back, cause he is not happy. The amount of hours I've spent flipping through the "Character Naming Sourcebook" is embarrassing--especially since I"m on my second copy now! LOVED Slade's story--definitely the right name for the right guy. :)

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    1. I don't know anyone who changes character names more than you do, Anna! Best of luck with it

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  2. I have a Meredith in my November release. Meredith? I don't know any Merediths, never taught one even. Yet, she came complete and with attitude. I also do the name game, but have to fight letting last names that begin with S take over.

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    1. What is it about "S", "T", and "J"? At least for me. Just once, I'd like to name a character something with a G - Gertrude, George, Gilly...Oh, I like Gilly!

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  3. I can relate, Mel. I once had a character named Betsy for three chapters, who simply wouldn't talk to me, wouldn't tell me what was on her mind or what she would do next. I thought I was having a plotting problem and went back to the beginning where hero and heroine meet. I'm sure you've all experienced this phenomenon. You're typing, but what comes out on the screen is not from your brain, it's from your character's. She extended her hand and said, "Hi, I'm Destiny." And she was. His destiny. I hate Hollywoodie names, but it turned out to be perfect for her. Like your Slade, she had her own identity in mind.

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    1. Muriel, what a great story! I love how you stay away from glitzy names, but she was determined. Sigh...I'm ready for an easy-going character today.

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  4. Mel, great post. For my age I own more baby name books than probably anyone. I love names and have to name my characters before I plot a story. With each book I write I'm finding it more difficult. I think I've used all the names I love. And having worked in pediatrics and in the schools there are names I really dislike based on the not-so-charming kids who had those names. But I've found that there are some names I try that must strike my editor's dislike list. Then it is really hard for me to switch because by then the person in my mind has that name. By the way, the Heartwarming I'm writing now the hero is Flynn. So you beat me to it, but mine won't come out for a while as it is only half finished.

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    1. Roz, you may carry on the Flynn legacy with my blessing. I think I wrote a character called Jackson after Ken did for Supers. They didn't make me change his name, but I couldn't use his name in the title.

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    2. Oh yes, Jackson's Girls. That was one of the books in a trilogy Ken, Eve and I wrote for Supers. Well, there are only so many names and we all have names that "speak" to us I'm sure. Have a great day.

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  5. I've often wondered if authors just pick names out of hats or how that's done. The names always seem to fit the characters so well in your stories.

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    1. Generally, it's madness. But we do have our methods.

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  6. Mel, your post and all of these comments from more-experienced writers make me feel so much better! In the final stages of my first book, my editor noticed that I had a lot names ending in "y." I had to go in and change some names and it was so difficult--it felt like trying to change the name of one my sisters or my best friend. That's how real these characters felt to me...lol! One of my secondary characters turned out to be very popular with readers and whenever someone mentions her I still think of her as "Sally."

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    1. I keep a list of names - both first and last - in a spreadsheet. The letters of the alphabet go down the left-hand side. One column for first names, one for last names. But the last letters...haven't come up with a solution for those.

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  7. Sounds like a hard job naming characters and then you have to come up with a last name as well! I loved the first two books in the Harmony Valley series and cannot wait to get my hands on the new one, Season of Change and find out about Slade's story. It kinda fascinates we he is always wear a tie!

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    1. And it has to be a name you like if you're writing a series!

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  8. I'm so happy to read these comments! I have the worst time with names and I get stuck in ruts! For A Minute on the Lips, I was through I don't know how many rounds of edits before the light clicked on how everyone had an "ends in y" name. I obviously like certain names, especially last names, and want to use the ALL THE TIME. I keep telling myself to make a list of names to NEVER USE AGAIN.

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  9. It really is as hard as naming a child! I tend to have favorite beginning letters and have to change names so that they don't get confusing :).

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  10. Picking names is SO HARD!! Plus, I work in a school. That makes it even harder because I pretty much know someone with every name that has ever existed. Except Flynn and Slade. You got me there! Can't wait to read the new Harmony Valley story :)

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    1. Oh, Amy, I know what you mean. Kyle will never be a hero for me. And all the Brittney's have morphed into one person because there's so many.

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  11. Names are difficult and I always try to put them together to hear how they'd be introduced like: Oh, hey- there's Eli and Christie or something like that. But a name definitely influence the way the character comes across to the reader and influences the writer's choices in developing character.

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    1. Karen, do you have a different process for young adult compared to Heartwarmings?

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  12. Eleanor Jones April 22nd 2014
    At the moment, and I know this sounds ridiculous, I'm naming chickens. So far I have The partridge twins, Money Penny, Cuckoo and one I've named after my brother, Will, who picked it up on his travels. It's called Willemina and it's driving me crazy, jumping in the fridge, going upstairs and generally making a nuisance of its self every time the door gets left open.

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  13. My biggest annoyance is with name ‘trends’ in romances. Cindy Gerard had a romantic suspense hero named Ethan back in 2005, and I loved it, but the book was successful and suddenly *everyone* had romantic suspense heroes named Ethan! If you look at popular name lists from the year(s) the heroes are supposed to be born, it wasn’t even a common name (though it is now)!

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  14. Great post! I love the names you chose! Can't wait to read Season of Change!

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