With all due respect to Shakespeare, I agree with W. C. Fields, who said: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”
Naming characters always starts out to be fun and the first name an author gives a character usually comes easy. Finding one that sticks – one that the character herself will answer to – is much more difficult. And the difficulty grows exponentially by the number of writers involved in the process. In the case of Whispers: A Maggie Maitland Mystery Serial, there are two.
Maggie Maitland popped into Susan’s head. I loved the alliteration for the main character’s name and Maggie was a go. But dear Maggie was the only character in the entire series whose name hasn’t caused, at the very least, a protracted conversation.
Here’s a snippet of conversation during a naming session for Whispers:
Susan: “Roxanne is perfect. Really fits her. That’s one down.”
Me: “My cousin’s name is Roxanne. No Roxanne. How about Abby?”
Susan: “Hello? Main character of my Silver series? How about Kelly?”
Me: “She doesn’t look like a Kelly.”
Susan: “What do all the Kellys in the world like like? Never mind, how about Cindy?”
Me: “I work with a Cindy, how about…”
One character was easily named early on, but every time one of us wrote a scene about her, we’d spell her name differently, or couldn’t remember it or thought it ‘looked funny’. Well, if your creators don’t like you, you’ve got problems. The name went. The next name was worse. The character flat out refused to fit either name. We picked a third and then we really were in trouble.
Me: “What’s Asher’s wife’s name now?”
Susan: “I thought you were keeping the name list.”
The name list is one of the high-tech tools that savvy authors use to avoid a main cast named Adam, Alicia, Ariel and Alex. Here is our secret: Take a clean, undoodled-upon piece of notebook paper and list the alphabet down the left side of the page. Write each character’s first and last name with the appropriate letter in alphabetical order.
Notice that most of your names, either first or last, are bunched up around a couple of letters. Get a glass of wine. Start slogging through the mess and rename the people.
Obviously, it’s better to do this before you start writing the story. It’s imperative that you do this before publication starts. Too bad we didn’t think of it until a month ago.
Now we play Name Bingo.
Susan: “What letters are open?”
Me: “I thought you were keeping the name list.”
Sometimes characters refused to be named. You think you know who they are and what they will do, but they don’t fully reveal themselves until they appear on paper. Whispers Detective Sergeant H. C. Drummond has so far refused to accept a conventional name. We assume his mother didn’t christen him with initials. And that’s part of the fun of writing a weekly serial, we are as surprised as the readers when a character acts in an unexpected way and the story takes a twist we hadn’t contemplated.
Susan says I have the name list around here somewhere. Wonder who has jumped on or off since we last checked it? Check in each Tuesday to find out.
The Whispers Mystery Serial appears weekly at www.Attractionmag.com. There is a comment-and-question box at the end of each episode. Please leave a note and tell us what you think… along with your name!
Cheril Thomas, co-author of Whispers, lives and writes on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Her non-fiction work has appeared in Municipal Maryland. Her short fiction has been published by Wordpool Press and featured in Digital Papercut Literary Journal, as well as Wild Violet Literary Magazine. New fiction is forthcoming in Blinders Literary Journal. Her new novel, Adverse Possession, will be released in 2016.