One Writer’s Journey

August 1, 2017

Naming Your Characters

Several months ago, I started working on a picture book set in the Himalayas.  I’m currently on my third major rewrite and my main character has already had two names.  I think the one she has now will stick.

I just checked the post-it notes where I wrote my first draft.  Yep, post it notes.  In that draft, my main character was named Gigi.

Why Gigi?  I’m sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time.  After all, it sounds perky and energetic.  My son actually works with not one but two teen girls named Gigi.  Honestly, I can’t give a solid reason other than “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

By the time I got around to draft number 2, I had decided that as names go, that one wasn’t altogether suitable.  What would a girl be named who is hiking mountain paths in the Himalayas?  I noodled it over for a while and I may well have been plodding along on the treadmill when the answer came to me — Hillary!

The name initially struck a note with me because of Sir Edmund Hilary, the New Zealand mountaineer who scaled Everest. He is well-known because of a Himalayan mountain.  My character is in the Himalayas walking mountainous paths if not actually mountain climbing.  This could work!

Then it hit me that this is a name that comes loaded with connotations.  If someone is pro-Hillary, this may lead them to pick up the book.  Maybe it will encourage them to think of this character as a leader, as someone who pushes the limits.

Of course, not everyone is a Hillary fan.  This means that some people will automatically think negative thoughts because of the name.  They may put the book down.  They may think that the character must be dishonest and put the book down.

But . . . but . . . Sir Edmund Hillary.

I’m going to keep working with her as Hillary.  Ultimately, her name may need to change.  But for now I’m writing a story about a girl named Hillary.



January 28, 2016

Naming a New Character

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
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Frankie’s sewing machine.

How much effort do you put into naming a character?  I have to admit that for me it varies.  In part because how I create a story varies from piece to piece.

Some characters come into being with a name attached.  Felicity has always been Felicity.  That said, her last name has evolved over time.

Other characters take a lot more effort.  When this is the case, I’ll know the character’s story problem and some of the steps that she takes to solve it.  I’ll be familiar with what she values in life and what she fears.  I’ll be rock solid on what she wants most of all.  Heck, I may even know her cat’s name.  And then, finally, I figure out her name.

I’m going to admit that I’m a little suspicious about my current character.  The novel is set in the Cold War.  I think it is set in 1975 but it might be as early as 1970.  She lives in the suburbs.  She doesn’t have a job.  Unless she works at Golde’s, a now defunct department store that had a talking minah bird that fascinated me.  In the appropriate season, she hunts mushrooms in the country.  She sews many of her own clothes — Jackie O being her fashion model.

As you can see, she hasn’t been entirely forthcoming with the details.  Thus my suspicion.  But I do have her name.  Franky.  Or maybe she spells it Frankie?  I know for a fact she does not spell it Franki.

I know she’s a Frankie/Franky for a variety of reasons. She’s strong and resilient and classy but a bit unconventional.  She’s a woman who knows what society expects and that’s well and good, when it suits her.  When she wants/needs to do her own thing, there you have it. She’s smart and well read but doesn’t have a college degree unless you count her MRS.  Definitely a Franky/Frankie.

But I still wanted to know when and where this name would be popular. If ever (more on that later).  Thank goodness for the Social Security Administration.  In addition to checking out the top 200 names per decade, you can chart a name’s poplarity since 1900. Frances was most popular in 1918 when it was #8 for women.  #8!  By 1940 it was #28. Frank was #693 for women in 1929.  Frankie peaked in 1933 at 246.

So Frankie was never incredibly popular but I’m okay with that.  My character’s name is Frankie (that’s the spelling I’m leaning toward), because it’s a family name.  My aunt’s name is Franky.  My Grandmother was Frank.  Neither Frank or Franky yielded a search at Social Security. My family is well known for names that aren’t exactly top 40 hits.  Modelle didn’t yield any results but, to my surprise, Beryl which was most popular in 1920, did.

Do you ever research a character’s name to see when it was most popular?


January 7, 2016

Pie for Chuck

Every now and again I come across a book and as I read it I think “I wonder.” Pie for Chuck by Pat Schories is part of Holiday House’s I Like to Read line.  They call them easy-reading picture books.  I would simply call them easy readers or beginning readers.  Tomayto.  Tomahto.

As I read this one, I wondered what the author’s inspiration was.  As several writing conferences, I’ve heard editors ask writers not to submit one particular Institute of Children’s Literature assignment.  Everyone has to work from this particular prompt and way too many of these stories are submitted to publishers.  The prompt is a bunny rabbit sitting beneath a window where a pie is cooling on the window sill.

In Pie for Chuck, we meet a woodchuck named . . . Chuck . . . who loves pie.  Chuck cannot reach the pie that is cooling on the window sill. Neither can Raccoon or Rabbit or the chipmunk or the group of mice.

See, there’s the Rabbit in the middle of the group.  What can I say?  I just wonder if this started out as an ICL story.

If so, good for Schories for creating an assigned story that found, perhaps in a slightly altered form, publication.

Whether or not this was an ICL story, I also appreciate that it successfully breaks rules.  Which rules?  The rules about cute animal names. Granted, Schories didn’t use Bobby Bunny or Walter Woodchuck but the woodchuck is Big Chuck and the chipmunk is Chip.

I suspect that this works in part because it isn’t, strictly speaking, a picture book.  As an early reader, illustrations give the new reader clues to help decipher the text.  In this case, the illustration matches the type of animal matches the name. Big Chuck and Chip actually shake things up a little bit because they aren’t named Woodchuck or Chipmunk whereas other animals are named Rabbit and Raccoon.

Yes, you can break rules but you have to do so in a way that makes your story work for your reader.


November 30, 2015

Writing Fantasy

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:05 am
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fantasyNot long ago, a post was going around Facebook and various writing and book blogs.  Apparently J.K. Rowling had finally revealed the correct pronunciation of Voldemort’s name (silent T).

I have to admit that I was a little “that’s what you get” about the whole thing.

If you write fantasy or science fiction, you spend a certain amount of time world-building.  This world-building can consist of the actual planet your character is on, the society in which he lives and even language.  When some writers play with language for their stories, they create names for the characters.  Rowling had Voldemort (silent T).  McCaffrey had F’lar and Robinton.

Done well, if you add more layers and more details the story becomes more real.  But it can also be confusing for the reader if this reality involves a lot of author-created (polite term for made up) character names, place names and nouns.  The author has to be careful introducing these elements because if you pile on too many too fast the reader has troubles keeping track of them. You also can’t have multiple names that sound too much alike — starting with the same letter, having the same number of syllables, or rhyming.  That confuses the reader too.

As Rowling, and many a writer before her, discovered, it also becomes problematic when the reader isn’t sure how to pronounce the author-created names.  You can provide a handy-dandy pronunciation guide but I have to admit that as a reader these grow tedious really, really fast.  I’ll flip over to see how to say the first two or thee names but then I don’t them.

As vital as your fantasy world is for a strong story you also have to make it truly accessible to your reader, pronunciation and all.



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