Monday, March 21, 2016

Barbara Ankrum: Naming Characters

As an author, I get a lot of questions about process. How do I start? What’s the first thing I come up with? Plot? Conflict? Characters?


That’s my answer. All of the above. Because all of those things are so interconnected, I usually have all three in my head as I’m thinking up a new book. Characters and character arcs factor in heavily, because I have to know where these two people are going and what they’re going to learn along the way. What’s in the way of that journey is the conflict.

But before I can start the actual writing, I need the H & H’s names. How characters look is often secondary. Names are essential to me to get a handle on character.  Sometimes, I just know them immediately. Other times, I go through lists. After I pick a name, I will scroll through photos and Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB—a movie geek site) for faces until I find the right look (that fits the name.) Mind you, this might seem like surface stuff, but it’s not. It’s all connected to character and conflict and back story and how I feel about the character.

This rule, however, can backfire on me. In a recent book I was forced to change the names of both characters three times, which—not coincidentally—also entailed rewriting the entire beginning as many times, because the name can essentially change how I think about a character and a character’s voice. And the characters (and story) were just not working for me. Oy!

Then there was the time, a couple of books ago, (I won’t divulge which one…) when I was about three-quarters of the way through, merrily typing away, and I looked at my hero’s name (as one does) and suddenly felt my heart sink. I’d been writing his name for a few months and never once did I recall that I’d actually used his name once before for another hero. (Wha—??) It was an old book, written a long time ago, granted, but still.  Two heroes with the same name would be…wrong.
For a whole day, I froze, horrified at the prospect that this guy I’d been writing all along would need a new name and the thought of changing it mid-stream is just…just…I can’t even. It was like giving my heroine a whole new guy! Not only that, I felt it might essentially change the tone of the story I was telling if I changed it then. Go on, you can think I’m crazy. I don’t mind.

I knew it would be easier for my readers to accept a different name for my hero (from the start) than it would for me to change it, mid-stream, so I decided to finish the book using the original name rather than try to change it as I was just getting to the black moment. That would allow me to continue with him emotionally without disruption. So when I finished the book, I did a soul search for a name I could fall for and after a long day of rejecting possibilities, I found one. I did a global search and replaced his name.

Moral of the story: everyone loved his name. No one thought he was weird or wrong. I even loved his name in the end and felt it added something unique to him. But I was glad I didn’t mess with him in the telling of the story. Who knows what might have happened?

But that just goes to show how delicate the process of creation is. Or the craziness of the creators! (Eh-hem…speaking only for myself, of course.)

I can still remember the names some of my favorite heroes and heroines from books I read years ago. My keepers. What are some of your all time faves?

Barbara Ankrum’s brand new historical romance, THE RUINATION OF ESSIE SPARKS—Book #2 of her Wild Western Rogues Series—hits the stands April 2, 2016!

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