Do characters make the names? Or do names make the characters?
by Jeannie Watt, author of the upcoming Harlequin Superromance Maddie Inherits a Cowboy (February 2011)
I love names. I name everything that crosses my path, from Bert, my dieffenbachia, to Skippy, the lizard that lives in my garage. My mother once told me that the reason I pursued writing was so I could name the characters. She was oh, so right. But just because I love to name things, doesn’t mean it’s easy. When a name is wrong, it’s wrong, and when it’s right, everything about the character seems to fall into place.
This point was recently driven home when I was writing my April 2010 Superromance, Always a Temp. I cleverly named the three brothers Ethan, Nathan and Evan because, as a teacher, I frequently see trends in sibling names. Parents fall in love with a certain letter or sound and make it the signature for their family—which might be why my family has a Jamie, Jake, Jeannie and a dog named Juni.
What might be kind of cool for a family, though, can be downright confusing to a reader. (Can you imagine my family in a book? “Now who was Juni again?”) After a nudge from my editor, I changed the brothers’ names to Seth, Nathan and Garrett, and an interesting thing happened. The personalities of the brothers changed as I wrote them. Seth did things that he wouldn’t have done when he was called Ethan. Garrett became impatient and borderline cranky, whereas he’d been steadfast and just a tad boring as Evan. I began to see possibilities in both nonhero brothers that I hadn’t seen before—to the point that Seth became the hero of my free online read, Rescue Me, and Garrett’s story is forming in my head.
The moral of the story? When characters are flat or simply aren’t acting the way they should, change the name and rewrite the scenes. Sometimes the result can be gold.
Check out my website at www.jeanniewatt.com for information on all my books!