Deb Linda Says a Rose by Any Other Name . . .

. . . might smell as sweet, but it still wouldn’t be a freaking rose, now would it?

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 herβ€”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), butΒ  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?

32 Replies to “Deb Linda Says a Rose by Any Other Name . . .”

  1. As you’ve figured out by now, I’m a discoverer, but (with much thanks to Molly’s post), I’m beginning to think that maybe I wouldn’t have to work so hard later if I did a bit more conscious building. Hmmm.

    And I got the license plate – that’s almost as bad as the calculator trick that spells out boobless – a popular one with my brothers when we were kids. πŸ˜‰

    1. Every time I’ve ever tried to consciously build a character I’ve failed miserably. They come out like paper dolls. It’s kind of like touch-typing–I can speed along, no problem, as long as I’m not thinking about where to put my fingers. As soon as I try to focus on the keyboard, though, my hands trip all over themselves.

      I AM getting a little bit better at plotting ahead of time, especially when I’m editing. I recognize when my “pantsing” draft needs fixing, and can do that. So I guess I’m not a total free spirit. *grin*

  2. I’m a bit of a discoverer as I write more about the character. But a name is HUGE to me. It’s like when you name your baby. THe child takes on that personality somehow. πŸ™‚

    Ok. Maybe I need more coffee. Can’t figure out the plate…

  3. I have to admit that it took me a little minute to figure out the plate, but then i snorked really loud πŸ™‚

    eh…im a devoted follower of the outliner movement, so you’d think that would make me a builder, right? BUT!! my MCs usually find me in ways like how you’re describing with Ciel…so then, I’m a discoverer, right? Maybe, I’m a discovery builder? hey, i like the sound of that

    (another comment in which i randomly capitalize somethings but not others.)

  4. *snorful* at the plate.

    I’m a mix. Sometimes the character comes from the name, sometimes the name comes from the character. I’ve read the other opinion before, too, and I think it’s awfully snooty. People’s brains make connections in different ways. I am suspect of anyone who thinks they know the “one true way.”

    Oh, and I can’t wait to see what you did with Ciel. (Is she French, or just the name?)

    1. It IS kind of snooty, isn’t it? That’s how it struck me, anyway.

      Ciel isn’t French, but I’m fairly sure one of her grandmothers is. πŸ˜‰

  5. Loved the license plate! I never would’ve gotten it if you hadn’t give the “upside-down” hint (lucky I was working on my laptop, ’cause I actually did have to turn it upside-down before I got it). Then I bellowed laughter. I want one!

    I’m a mixture of plotter and discoverer. I start off with basic information about a character, and next thing I know, they’re telling me when their birthdays are and what kind of underpants (or not) they wear.

    I’m not too hung up on choosing names, though. It doesn’t seem to matter what I name them, they do their own thing anyway. πŸ™‚

    1. Ha! I want one, too. Alas, it appears to be taken. *grin*

      A good balance between plotting and discovering is probably the best way to be. I’m really trying to stretch my plotting wings, but I’m not sure it’ll work. Might just be something you’re born with.

  6. I figured out the plate but I did have to look at it upside down πŸ™‚

    I’m a mixture of both, some characters just show up, often before I know their stories, and some I have to work on.

  7. My main character’s name — Paige Sheridan — came to me early in the process, way before I started outlining. I was just looking at some very early notes on the story last night, and the three big players — Paige, Jake Austin, and Ethan James — have kept their names since my first scribbled thoughts. Almost everyone else’s names are different. Lani became Lacey, Sadie became Nikki, Henry became Shanti, etc etc.

    When I was doing research for another project recently, I spent WAY too much time playing on the social security website, searching by date and place. “What name was most popular in Arizona in the 70s?” (

  8. Well, so far I haven’t written any characters. Based on my life, I think I am a builder. I suppose I will have to wait and see if my good step-mommy books ever come to fruition.

    BTW, love the license plate!

    1. When you do write characters, just be sure to do it the way it feels most comfortable to you. There is no right or wrong way–only what works the best to get the words on the page. πŸ™‚

  9. That license tag is too much. It’s a wonder the owner slid that one past the DMV. Another friend sent me a picture of another doozy this week: PMS247 (Think it’s a warning for possible road rage?)

    As for your question, I’m a mixed bag. Some characters seem to spring forth organically, while others I work more at developing. But like you say, I don’t think there’s any one “right way” to do it.

  10. I have to know the character’s name first, too. Answers to your questions: Both. Yes. And of course πŸ™‚

    In the manuscript I’ll begin writing in a week or two, the character’s name came to me before anything else about her, the plot, or the story. I got a glimpse of blonde hair before she vanished for a while.

  11. Love the plate.I want one. I’m a lot like you in that the charaters usually just introduce themselves to me and BOOM, I pretty much know everything about them. As for changing names, no way. Once a character has a name, I have to stick with it or I lose my mind. And with Dukes and Earls and the like to keep track of, losing my mind is fairly easy.

  12. just so you know, this post is NSFW because i just had to scoot to the edge of my chair so i could tip my head upside down to figure out the plate!

    in other news, names are very difficult for me. i think i like your process of having the name and the character arrive in your brain together. i’m going to work on becoming the next linda grimes. cool with you?

    1. LOL! Me? NSFW? Why, I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

      Re becoming the next Linda Grimes: apparently some Facebook identity hijacker has beat you to it. S/he ever stole my name, my profile picture (the cigar one), and is trying to friend my friends. Gaaah. I’ve reported it–we’ll see what the FB powers that be do about it.

  13. Once I’ve got the time period nailed down for my next writing project and a few facts about the character, I start looking at lists of names from that time period.

    I jot down ones that appeal to me, but my characters pick the names themselves. It’s like they’re looking over my shoulder, watching. And once they see the one they want, I don’t have much say in the matter.

    Hmmm … this might make a good blog post … the dialogue between me and my last set of characters as they chose their names (and in some cases, I protested long and hard).

  14. giggling at the license plate – I agree with you entirely. I read a blogpost by Anne Stuart where she casually mentioned her sister’s name, Taffy, and the main character for my wip came out of hiding in my head. I’ve been getting to know her ever since.

    1. Sometimes it takes me a while to learn a character’s middle name. Didn’t know my MC’s middle name until her mom got exasperated with her in Book 2. *grin*

  15. I’m a discoverer, 100%. I have a character who a CP suggested needed a name change, and while I saw the point, I just couldn’t do it. This character WAS and IS that name. It’s out of my control;)

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