Month: February 2023

Name that Character

I’ve been wrestling with my wip lately and I think I’m losing. I started the story with such enthusiasm, I thought the words would just fly onto the page. You’d think by now I would know that never happens. ūüôĀ

Part of my problem is the heroine’s name. I know, it’s just a name, get on and write the story. But names matter. If I don’t feel the name reflects the character’s personality, I can’t relate to her, even though she is my own creation. As I was struggling with my heroine’s name I came across a great article at Writer Unboxed, about the power of names. You can read the whole article here.

I had to chuckle at the writer’s aversion to certain names based on life experiences.¬† I was tormented in school by a fellow named Guy. I could never use that name for a hero in a book, although he could probably show up as a villain.¬†

Personal bias aside, I want my heroine to have a name that will resonate with readers. It needs to be unique but no so far out that no one will believe it on a fifty year old widow. I’m writing what I hope is a “seasoned” romance. This is a new genre for me and I’m still finding my way. My historical novels used lovely old-fashioned names like Emma, Louisa and Lottie. I connected with those characters immediately and their names fell upon them naturally. They fit so well with long skirts and sturdy boots, and strong-minded women.

I don’t want my heroine to sound as though she comes from another era. I don’t want her to sound too grandmotherly. I don’t want to attach too youthful a name to an older heroine. Of course, our reactions to names are purely subjective but there are guidelines. Jo Beverley used to advise using hard consonants in a hero’s name, to give the impression of strength. Jack, Devon, and Zeke are examples of strong names. Jo would also consider who the name looked on the page, choosing Karl instead of Carl, because the K had more presence.

The name needs to fit my character. When Raquel Welch died there were a number of news stories about her but the one that made me laugh was the tale of a movie mogul who thought her name too exotic and suggested she change it¬† – – – to Debbie. As Raquel told the story on late-night TV she pulled a face and said, “Do I look like a Debbie?” The answer was patently “no.” Ms Welch was marketed as a sex symbol, an exotic, someone with jungle – like appeal.Raquel suited that image perfectly.

My character is a middle-aged woman, wallowing in her widowhood, keeping the world at arm’s length. The reader must see her vulnerability beneath the “I’m fine,” mask. She is currently named Carrie. It’s a good name, popular at the time my heroine would have been born, but it sounds juvenile in my ear. Not only that, it is¬† the name Stephen King used for a very disturbed teenager! Not the association I want.

What about Karla? Or Kerry? Changing the C to K creates a whole other personality. I’ve just done a Google search and neither of those names pulls up a negative or famous connection.¬†

What do you think, dear reader. Is a fifty-year old market gardener named Kerry believable? Relatable?

Please share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to read them.

 

 

 

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Is It My Story to Tell?

¬† ¬† My to-be-read pile has reached such towering proportions I’ve had to break it into two¬† edifices. The collection includes books I’ve chosen myself, books I received as gifts at Christmas, and books chosen by my book club. Topics range from the science of climate change to a Gothic fantasy to a YA mystery. That’s the joy of reading books others have chosen. I’m not a science geek so would have passed over the climate change book, yet I find it fascinating , and actually easy to read.

     Gothic and fantasy are not my first choices, but this gift introduced me to a writer of amazing skill and imagination. It opened my eyes to a subject I have long ignored.

¬† ¬† ¬†There is a lovely gentle read from an author I love. I’ve opened that one today and consider it my reward for persevering through the tough ones.

¬† ¬† ¬†One of my book club choices¬† provoked controversy upon its release over the question of cultural appropriation. Unless you’ve been living on a desert island with no internet, the topic of cultural appropriation has crossed your consciousness. I’ve heard people get really worked up about the topic but I could not understand what all the fuss was about. Isn’t fiction supposed to show us other cultures, other ways of being, other realities? Can’t a woman write from a male point of view? or a child’s or even a cat’s? It happens all the time.

¬† ¬† ¬†The argument that you don’t have to be a murderer to write a mystery seems obvious. I write historical fiction but I am not a pioneer. I’ve never lived without running water or electricity. Yet I feel I have every right to tell those stories. My forebears were pioneers. Their story is part of my history. It is their cultural legacy to me. I research the times and places to be as accurate as possible, but I believe these are my stories to tell.

¬† ¬† ¬†Wouldn’t the same research-based approach allow me to tell a story from another culture, another race?

¬† ¬† ¬†Now that I’ve read this controversial book, I can appreciate the furore.¬† Although the protagonist of the book in question is non-white, I never really identified her as such. As I read, I felt as though she was a middle-class, white woman looking through a picture window at a story unfolding before her. The protagonist was in peril but the narrator was safe.

¬† ¬† ¬†When I read Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, I had a very different experience. I was terrified for every page of the book. If I read before bed, I’d have nightmares.¬† Hannah never lived in Nazi-occupied France, but she told an authentic story.

     Authenticity is, I believe, at the heart of the cultural appropriation debate.  For someone who has never been beset by bullies because of the colour of her skin, or her style of dress, to tell the story of someone who lives with that reality every day, is a herculean task. It may be possible, in the hands of a very skilled writer, dedicated to uncovering the nuances and subtleties of a different culture and layering them onto her characters. Such a book would be very hard to write. In the case of my book club choice, that author missed the mark.

¬† ¬† ¬†The variety in my “to-be-read” pile, is a gift. It demonstrates the wonder of books, how they stretch our minds, challenge our prejudices, and bring joy and comfort. Even when they fall short, they can teach valuable lessons.¬† The old adage of “write what you know,” I now understand can mean, “is this your story to tell?”

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