Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Name Game

My characters are having an identity crisis. They know who they are: a husband and wife, her parents, a brother and sister, a fiancé, a best friend and her husband, some college students and a couple of clients who have families of their own. But, although most of them entered this story as fully-formed adults, they are struggling with one of the most basic parts of human identity.

Their names.

Like their living, breathing counterparts in the real world, characters who populate the page are given a name early in their existence. But things that are cute in the real world are annoying on the page. Four kids in a family can have names that begin with the same letter, but four characters in a story whose names have the same first letter can confuse readers. Consequently, writers of fiction try not to do that.

Unfortunately, my characters were well into their story when it was brought to my attention that I'd made a similar mistake. My protagonist, Kelsey, has a sister named Lindsay and a best friend named Jessy. Her husband's teaching assistant is named Allie and one of Kelsey's clients is named Tracy.

Do you see it? I didn't. But, once it was pointed out to me that all of these names have the same end sound, I couldn't unsee it.

Clearly, I couldn't change Kelsey; she's running the show. I thought I might be able to get away with sisters named Kelsey and Lindsay (that family cuteness thing), but Jessy and Kelsey have many scenes together, so Jessy needed a new name.

Or so I thought. As it turned out, Jessy didn't want a new name. She went through several new monikers before I settled on Roxanne, a name she hasn't yet rejected and that is growing on me as well. She comes when called by that name, so, for now at least, it's a keeper.

Now I'm wondering about Lindsay. I've been in search of a new name for her since I changed Allie's name to something more contemporary, only to fall into the same y-ending rut, and have to change it back again. I have a new name in mind for Lindsay, but she's a bit bride-zilla at the moment, so I'm afraid to broach the subject.

Like living, breathing humans, characters' names are a part of who they are. While most real people don't change their first names as adults, characters do have that luxury.

Or is it a liability? Ask Jessy/Roxanne, or any other character who has refused to accept a new name. This happens in subtle ways. The old name refuses to be excised by any means other than a search and destroy mission whereby all incidences are replaced simultaneously. Or, suddenly, the character's voice changes with her name and the dialogue stops working. Or, most often in my experience, the author gets confused and calls the character by her old name.

Wait a minute. Jessy Roxanne...Jessica Roxanne....That could work. Maybe if I think of my characters' new names as extensions of their old ones, I can ease myself--and them--into the change. I won't put all that on the page because it would only further confuse matters. But maybe thinking of both names as part of the same whole will help me feel as though I'm rounding out the character, rather than recasting her.

And maybe, just maybe, that will make everybody happy.

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