Tag Archives: naming fictional characters

Almost Done Doing Mischief

WiP Report # 19

This morning—I’m very pleased to say—I finished the current draft of Mischief in March, the third in my Calendar Mystery series featuring mystery and romance in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. January Jinx, Fatal February, Mischief in March, nine other novels and possibly some short stories to follow, tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond. (We authors must practice our elevator speeches as much as possible.) Tomorrow I’ll start the final edit.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with this book. It’s very much the favorite among the ten or so novels I’ve at least drafted so far. The characters still surprise me and make me laugh or sometimes cry.

But I did have a  thorny problem to resolve in this draft. I went way too far in naming my characters.

At this point, I must thank those who read the first half of the previous draft of MiM, as I call it, and gave me helpful feedback: Ann F, Barbara O, Denise G, Joyce B, Peg N, and Valerie B.

Special thanks to Valerie for the effort she went to in creating the charts shown here. Whew! What a lot of work for her to do for another writer’s book, but what a help these charts were to me. As the first one shows, I introduced two-dozen characters in Chapter One. That’s a lot! As the second chart shows, I used names that started with the letter M thirteen times in the first half of the book! Yikes!

Once Valerie pointed out the errors of my ways, I addressed the problem.

1) I cut a number of characters from MiM altogether including characters who appeared in previous books, but didn’t in MiM.

2) I limited the number of characters appearing in any one chapter and tried to introduce them one or two at a time instead of all at once.

3) I only named the characters when they physically appeared instead of referring to them by name earlier.

4) I didn’t name minor characters like an elevator attendant.

5) By studying Valerie’s second chart, I identified the letters of the alphabet I used too often and the ones I hadn’t used much if at all. And so, the Sullenbergers in the earlier draft now are the Quillens and the book now has a Zappa and a Ziegenhorn.

Mischief in March will be out soon. If you haven’t read January Jinx, you can buy it for $3.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4. You can also buy Fatal February for $4.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. Please note, British friends, that Fatal February will be available for only £0.99 at www.amazon.co.uk/B017081JHM from February 27, 2017, until March 4, 2017.

Best, Juliet

Fondly Remembered

Memory as a Resource for Characterization

I’ve completed the almost final draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel and it’s in the hands of my readers. (Thanks so much, Gail, Denise, and Barbara.) And I’m working on the cover. I’m not totally happy with it, but I’ll take copies of the current versions to my art class tomorrow for help.

In the meantime, I’m reflecting on some of the people from my past who have appeared with fictional disguises in the Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mysteries.

First off, a riff on naming characters, often a chore for fiction writers. Some authors run contests among their fans for the right to name characters after the fans, but right now I’m mining out my memories of the past in three ways.

1) The first two characters I’ll discuss soon are named for the people who inspired them.

2) Desperate for names for a group of four men who appear in Wings, the sequel to Walls, I recalled the last names of my mother’s brothers-in-law: Walen, Young, Johnson, and Morse. Ha! Nailed that.

3) Soon after that I realized that I have a resource of character names in the teachers I’ve had over the years. Since I have a Ph. D. and went to school for twenty-three years altogether, we’re talking lots of names. So when the cook in Wings needed a name, I called her Mrs. Swetnam after my professor in Romantic Poets at the Ohio State University.

And now to a tribute to three women important in my life:

1) After I left my husband and returned to Huntington, WV, my hometown, I found a job in the Acquisitions Department in the library of Marshall University. So I needed a babysitter for my very young daughter. And my former Sunday school teacher and longtime family friend graciously agreed to care for my child while I worked. So Jessica spent weekdays for the next eight months or so in the loving care of Vi Sullenberger and her husband Delbert, a retired clock repairman, in their little house filled with clocks. When Sophie, Cinderella’s youngest child and only daughter, needed a nanny, I gave her Nana Vi.

2) In the first Cinderella, P. I. story, written in 1996, later in “Cinderella and the Missing Queen,” Prince Charming’s mother was simply the Queen, but by time I came to write Walls, I realized she needed a name. Now, the Queen in these stories loves to dance and at one point, she taught it, too. And so I named her Frances after Frances Nestor with whom I studied the ballet and other forms of dancing for eleven years. Mrs. Nestor was my first teacher who was passionate about the subject she taught. As such, she made a wonderful role model for me as a teacher.

3) And now I’ll talk about my mother, Melicent Perkins Smith, called Middie for Midget by her family members and Susie by my dad and their friends. I was my mother’s only child and my daughter her only grandchild. But she was the stepmother of my older half-brother, Homer Dale Willman, Sr. So I got to see first-hand how a stepparent operates and how a stepmother in particular can feel that her relationship with her husband is challenged by the presence of another woman’s child in the household.

Although the relationship between Cinderella’s father and stepmother in Walls and Wings resembles my parents’ relationship before my dad’s retirement, I do want to make it clear that my own mother isn’t the direct model for Cinderella’s stepmother. There’s one very important difference between the two women: the fictional character lacks my mother’s inherent generosity. For instance, my mother went without new clothes for years, so that I could have the dance lessons with Frances Nestor that I so loved when I was young, the lessons that I still benefit from in terms of self-discipline, health and happiness early in the eighth decade of my life.

Thank you so much, ladies. You are all fondly remembered.

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Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is currently available as a Kindle eBook (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-0-4) and trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1).

Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories is also available as a Kindle eBook (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-2-8) and trade paperback (ISBN: 978-9899504-3-5).

COMING SOON: Wings, A Cinderella, P. I Novel, second of two novels featuring Cinderella, twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball; and two more fairy tale mystery short story collections featuring Cinderella, P. I.: Cinderella Around the World and Cinderella and the Holy Grail.

The Hunger Name Games

Naming Characters Can Be Hard

When I joined an online fiction writers group some time ago, the current topic of discussion was naming characters. I identified with this since I had a terrible time naming a set of characters in Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel. I won’t say who they are precisely but here’s a hint: there are seven of them and they’re all extremely short. Initially I gave them names that alluded to these characters as presented in the first Disney full-length animated feature. But I worried through several drafts that the Disney lawyers would not consider this fair use and would sue me up side and down the other for copyright infringement. So I finally decided I had to revise the names and also the characters of my little seven.

But how?

Suzanne Collins supplied the answer to my question in the thoughtful, systematic, evocative way she named the places and characters of The Hunger Games. Character names also suggest things about the nature of the characters and often hint at the roles they’ll take in the plot.

Effie Trinket, who escorts Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark to the Capitol for the games, has a downright satirical name that reminds this English major of Mr. Thwackum and Squire Allworthy of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. She could hardly be more aptly named. Doll-like, superficial, and artificial with her pink wig and heavy make-up, she counts for very little in the overall world of the Hunger Games.

Overall, the names of girls and women in The Hunger Games resonate with meaning and portent. And often they arise from nature. In our world the plant katniss doesn’t exist, but in the world of the Hunger Games, it’s a healing herb. The last name Everdeen reminds us of evergreen, a kind of tree that’s always alive and green. What better name than Katniss Everdeen for the savior of her world? Katniss’s little sister Prim’s name evokes that character’s innocence. Her full name of Primrose evokes her sweetness. The tribute from District 11 is named Rue, which is a healing herb in our world, but the character’s name also evokes her rueful end.

The names for men are evocative, too, especially that of Katniss’s fellow tribute from District 12: Peeta Mellark. Presumably Peeta is derived from Peter, but it’s pronounced “pita” as in the Greek bread. Peeta is the son of a baker who earlier saved Katniss’s life by letting her have some bread when she and her family almost starved.

Katniss and Peeta’s mentor, the drunken Haymitch Abernathy, doesn’t have an out and out symbolic name. Yet his name evokes the strong Scots stock that populated Appalachia in the 18th century. And as a West Virginian born and bred, I must remind you of my home state’s motto: “Montani semper liberi.” Mountaineers are always free. Take that, you decadent Capitol citizens.

Many of the men from the Capitol have names that allude to ancient Romans, for example, Seneca Crane, the game designer, and Caesar Flickerman, the television host. (His last name perfectly evokes the flickering screen images that Panem citizens watch during the games.) These names make us recall ancient Romans with their cruel and bloody gladiatorial games. At least Roman gladiators were grown-ups trained to fight instead of children aged 12 through 18 chosen by lottery without consideration of their abilities to defend themselves and survive.

Speaking of Panem, I’ll do a little riff on place names. “Pan-” as a prefix means “all,” suitable for a nation’s name, but in The Hunger Games series, Panem is a country in which the individual identities of its states and regions have been replaced by nondescript Districts and numbers, from the rather privileged District 1, source of luxury goods, through the ill-fated District 13, destroyed many years earlier. Panem also alludes to “panem et circenses” or the bread and circuses with which the leaders of ancient Rome soothed the populace.

Coriolanus Snow, President of Panem, is very aptly named for the ancient Roman leader accused of robbing the populace of their bread. And while his last name comes from nature, Snow is a cold, mindless, harsh force.

You probably thought I’d forgotten Gale Hawthorne, Katniss Everdeen’s fellow hunter and confidant. But really his name provides an excellent example of Suzanne Collins’s systematic and thoughtful naming of the characters in The Hunger Games. His last name evokes one of America’s greatest writers, but also the sweet-smelling flowering shrub hawthorn, that has lots of thorns. Furthermore, his first name Gale evokes another mindless, powerful force. As you read Catching Fire and Mockingjay, you’ll be wise to keep an eye on Gale Hawthorne.

And so, with Suzanne Collins’ excellent examples in mind, I finally resolved my difficulties naming my short characters in Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel.

Seven? I asked myself. What else has seven? I wondered. Well, duh, the days of the week. And for that–oh joy! We have a popular nursery rhyme. And so my little people became members of the same family, got names or nicknames and at least one character trait apiece. The oldest is Moon, “fair of face” in spite of being extremely overweight. Next comes Toot, “full of grace,” especially with his hands. Wednesday’s child, “full of woe,” is Mopey, an epic poet always moaning and groaning about his work. (As a writer, I really identify with Mopey.) Thursday’s child is Thor, who has “far to go” because he’s completely deaf. His twin sister Frieda, the tiniest of the seven, is “loving and giving.” Saturday’s child Whip “works hard for a living.” As the mining company foreman he makes sure the others work hard, too. And finally Sunny, born on the Sabbath Day, is “bonny and blithe and good and gay,” that is, he has a really sunny, upbeat personality.

You can get to know these characters even better by reading Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel now available through Amazon.com as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) or a trade paperback (ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1).

And I’m very pleased to announce that Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories is now available as a Kindle eBook featuring Cinderella, P. I. in SIX NEW STORIES, twelve stories altogether, “twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball.” Buy it for only $2.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI.