Saturday, July 26, 2008

Character Names

I've been reading the ARC of When Danger Calls. It's a different kind of reading, and requires a totally different mindset. It's not the same kind of editing I do with my critique groups, because at this point, it's strictly a 'typo or glaring error' read. It's hard not to want to make it better. I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with any of my books. There's always something I think could be improved. Finding minutiae is tedious. I keep reading the 'story' and have to stop, go back, and read the 'words'.

The first error I caught also reinforced my character-naming approach. Coming up with appropriate names is always a challenge. And, as one professor pointed out in a workshop, it should sound like the character's parents named them, not the author. At a conference, a speaker warned everyone to watch out for too many characters with similar sounding names, or names starting with the same initials. He also said that the initials of your protagonists should be the only characters with those letters. After I wrote a paragraph with Langley and Laughlin talking about Lalone, I realized I needed to keep better track. I created a spreadsheet with two columns of the alphabet, one for first names and one for last names. As I named a character, I'd put the names in the appropriate slots. This let me see if I was fixating on a particular letter. If it was a major character, I used a colored font as a warning to avoid using that letter for anyone else with a 'speaking' role.

As a reader, I tend to "see" the entire name based on the beginning. So when I read a book where there was a Mike, a Mack, and a Mick, I was easily confused. For me, I can differentiate more easily between Jack and Mack than Mike and Mick. But having all the characters with one syllable, 4 letter names isn't easy for the reader. Do others read the way I do? See only the beginning of words? Apparently so.

I created a make-believe high-end security firm with a secret covert-ops side that can go where Uncle Sam can't. (Let's me avoid dealing with military regulations, the government, etc.). The company is called Blackthorne, Inc. The head guy is Horace Blackthorne. Before the ARCs are printed, the manuscript has been through at least 4 sets of edits with at least two editors. So, when I start reading my ARC (which is a cool thrill because it's a bound book), what do I see? The first time we meet the boss, he's Horace Blackstone. I went back and checked all my edited versions of the manuscript. It was there from the first round. Nobody caught it. My hypothesis is that they read names the way I do—and if it started with "Black" they didn't see the rest.

At least I caught it before the book goes to print. Otherwise, I'd probably be chasing down the books in stores and libraries and penciling in the right name.

I'm off to San Francisco at the crack of dawn Monday. Back to packing!

1 comment:

mimi said...

Just for funzies, I've been collecting up those spam names that land in my inbox. They make great names for secondary characters!