Yeah, you could say names are important to me. I can’t really get to know one of my characters until I know her (or his) name. Once I know it, the rest seems to flow into place.
Names usually come to me first. My process tends to go something like this:
Name –> Character (personality and appearance) –> Plot seed –> Wild seat-of-my-pants ride –> First draft done.
Now, I’m not saying things don’t change with the rewrites, because they do. But if the name of a major character is one of the things I change, then a whole lot of other changes to the character go with it. They become, fundamentally, a different person to me. I changed the name of a minor character in In a Fix at the suggestion of my editor (because she had a point I happened to agree with), and the only way I managed it was to do a blanket search and replace to the finished book. Took me forever to come up with an acceptable name that didn’t warp the whole character out of shape for me. If I’d had to change the name of a major character . . . well, it would have wound up being a different book entirely.
(BTW, my name weirdness doesn’t apply only to my characters. When our son was born, TG and I took one look at him, talked to him a little bit, and both decided he was not the name we had picked out for him. So we decided on a new one, right there in the delivery room. One that fit him. He seems happy with it.)
The main character of In a Fix is Ciel Halligan. The name definitely came first for her—I saw it on a license plate while I was riding down the Fairfax County Parkway. (Vanity plates are popular in northern Virginia.) As soon as I saw that plate, I knew who she was. She was there, in my head, as if she’d been there all along, waiting in the wings for her cue to step on stage.
Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t see this license plate instead:
[If that’s a bit obscure, try looking at it upside down. *grin*]
Ciel’s story came to me in a first person POV, but it never felt like it was “me” talking. She has always been herself, sharing her story with me gradually as we went along.
Have you ever met someone in real life who you, from the get-go, felt like you’d known forever? Maybe not all the details (unless you’re psychic), but in your gut knew who they were? That’s how it was for me when Ciel popped into my head. I liked her at once, and knew I had to listen to her. Eventually, Ciel told me about some of her friends (and her not-so-friends). They all came equipped with names, which I didn’t learn until Ciel mentioned them.
Yeah, yeah. I know that sounds like a woo-woo load of bullshite. Trust me, I really do. And I’m not even into crystals or astrology, or anything else remotely woo-woo, either. That’s just the way my subconscious works.
I guess this rambling post is by way of saying I don’t really build characters, at least not consciously. They just are. And, when I’m lucky, I discover them.*
Okay, admit it. You think I’m crazy. It’s okay, I can take it.
*I read a blog post once (sorry, can’t remember which blog, because I never went back to it) where the writer went off on a rant about how writers who “claim” to use what is basically the method I describe above are doing a huge disservice to writers in general by making it seem like we’re “touched by the muse,” and not really working. That “real” writers plan, and plot, and outline, and figure out every tiny detail, and (near as I can tell) impose their will on the paper people they use to hold their stories together.
Naturally, I don’t agree–just because it feels, to me, like I’m discovering characters instead of building them doesn’t mean I’m not working damn hard at what I do. I don’t claim it’s the only way, or even the best way, to write characters. Only that it’s my way.
So, are you a builder or a discoverer? Or maybe a mixture of both?
Have you had any woo-woo moments in real life?
Finally, did you figure out the license plate?
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