I was in Dallas a couple of weeks ago discussing Trial by Fury with the Women With Pride Book Club at their brand new Resource Center. These women have rolled out the welcome mat for dozens of lesbian writers who come from all over the country (world?) to talk about their work with readers who are more than fans — they’re deeply engaged in our stories and fascinated by all the steps that go into bringing them to print. It was one of the best book sessions I’ve ever had because the questions were not only informed, but a departure from the ordinary. I really had to think about my answers; but best of all, I had the chance to listen to readers.
That’s the background for today’s blog, the subject of which is how I go about choosing character names. I was talking about the process of turning a raw manuscript into the book they were holding in their hands: the edits and revisions, the formatting and proofreading, the blurb and cover design. I casually remarked that sometimes on the final editing pass, I’ll decide to change a character’s name. There was a collective gasp — you’d have thought I’d confessed to killing off the dog. How could I create someone from whole cloth, develop her across 300 pages, and at the very end, change her most defining characteristic?!?
The answer is buried in my reply to the question I get most often: Where do you get your inspiration? If my inspiration for a story comes from something other than a character — say, a setting or a plot twist — I focus on those things when I begin to write, knowing I can revisit the details later. If instead I let myself get hung up on “Oh, I have to name my characters first,” I’d procrastinate and risk losing the inspiration. A name is too important to rush; and besides, my impressions of a character can change between Chapter 1 and The End, sometimes rendering my original choice a bad fit.
So what goes into naming a character? These are some things I consider:
Where do I find names? For surnames and secondary characters, I usually start at mongabay.com, which ranks the top 100K most popular surnames, along with 1,200 male names and 4,200 female names. For popular baby names by decade (and even state), check the Social Security site. Names are everywhere: obituaries, honor rolls, rosters of sports teams. I attended college graduation for both of my nieces many years ago (UNC-Chapel Hill) and picked up programs with thousands of names. Any time I come across something interesting, I jot it down in the notes file on my phone. Those names alone may one day provide the inspiration for a story.
So here’s a question for you: When you pick up a book, what’s in a name?
One of these days we’ll talk about book titles. I announced earlier this year that I was working on a new book I’d decided to call Moment of Weakness. As the story unfolded, another theme took over and I began referring to this work-in-progress as Shining Warrior. Then last month I sent the blurb to Bella Books and they put their cover artists to work. We quickly agreed on an image that captures the essence of the story, but with the words now pasted across the top and down the spine, I had second thoughts about the title. Or rather, first thoughts — we’re back to Moment of Weakness. I’ll be sharing the blurb and cover with you soon.