Tuesday, November 17, 2009

character quirks

I think one of the reasons characters come to life on the page is because of their quirks. I never start a character off with any idiosyncrasies but they quickly appear. Morrow, beautiful as she is, tends to stammer terribly when under pressure. And my very virile Irishman, Colonel Cassius McLinn, brings my manuscript to a screeching halt in strategic places, not to relieve himself, but to lose his lunch! He has a weak stomach. Not an admirable trait for a Revolutionary War officer but not that uncommon either, per old letters, diaries, and other documents. War was not pretty and the sights, smells, and impressions of the frontier could try the strongest stomach.

My next novel is unfolding in my mind more slowly than I like but right on schedule. I don't ever get another novel idea till the one I'm working on is almost done. I don't know how other writers keep 3-4 books going at once. I wish I worked that way. Call me a poor multi-tasker! My research for this next one is daunting as so little has been written on this particular apprenticeship/trade and the books available are upwards of $100 or so. Thank heavens for inter-library loan!

One of my first things I think about when creating a new book is character names - guess you have to name your babies first before you begin to live with them and really know them. And I like unusual names, if you hadn't guessed, like Lael and Morrow:) Roxanna stars in The Locket and that's a pretty tame name. I like to go over historical records and peruse names but they were usually very mundane or highly undesirable - Wealthy or Cotton or Ichabod or Hepzibah, etc. Many were Biblical. I recently came across the twins, Love and Mercy Minott, born in Massachusetts in 1702. Sweet! I'm not as fond of the names Submit or Silence. And in the case of my own family, you have two hundred years of William Blantons and then a Christopher Columbus Blanton pops up in the mid-19th century.

Hmmm...writing history is never dull! Do you have an unusual name or like any unusual names? If you're a writer, what's your favorite part about beginning a book?


  1. No real unusual names here, but it's the thrill of growing a new story and experiencing the ups and downs with my characters that grabs me when I start. Just imagining how they will handle certain situations is amazing to me. Because they always seem to put their own twist on how I thought they would handle it. It's amazing how our minds work with our characters. We are creating them, yet they seem to force that creation to their own liking. Nuts, really, but there you have it. Nothing to be done about it, I guess.

  2. Every female lead in every story of mine always *starts off* with the exact same name, and then I end up changing it to suit her personality.

    I like that you do research for your names, Laura. It irks me when I read historical novels where the characters have decidedly modern names. For example, my sister-in-law and I love to laugh at romance novel covers (you know the kind!) and we found a particularly funny one where the main character was a Viking princess named "Jasmine".

    I also think it makes sense in historical novels to have peripheral characters that may have the same name on occasion. There really were a lot of women named Elizabeth and Mary and a lot of children named after their parents.

    I can't believe you're working on your fourth book! Is there some kind of medicine I can take for that same focus and drive? :-)

  3. Eileen,
    So well said! I think it would be boring if our characters did exactly as we wrote them and didn't assume a life of their own! The twists and turns they create are so wonderful and bring us back to the manuscript again and again:) Maybe that's what keeps readers reading, too.
    So good to hear from you. I need to get over to your wonderful blog and find out what you're writing. Historicals, I hope, if I remember correctly:) Or as my husband says, "hysterical fiction!"

  4. Actually, Mary, it's called insanity! And it's my 9th book! TFD was my 5th but the ones before were just practice. And I wrote the sequel to TFD but it turned out not to be Lael at all and so wouldn't have worked. There's another whole story behind that story tucked in a drawer:)

    I love the fact that you start your female leads off with the same name and then she "tells" you her name, so to speak, as the story progresses. Neat! Some names don't suit at all and your Viking Jasmine is a humorous example but oh so true!

    On the flipside, since I'm such a Last of the Mohicans fan, it took me years to get used to the names of the 2 female leads - Cora and Alice. Yet they are pure 18th-century and really do fit them. Now I really like the names, maybe because I like the characters so much.

    Keep writing! I really enjoy hearing from you, either at bellwhistlemoon or here:)

  5. I think that picking the names would be my favorite part too.
    my grandma's name was Lavona (which I always thought had a romantic, old-fashioned sound to it) and my other grandma was, Alma Lee.
    We have alot of Amanda's and Elizabeth's in my family history. Also for men, we have the name Wilson. (which happens to be one of my son's middle name).

  6. I think old-fashioned names are the best names, Lisa:) Wilson is really neat for a boy and not over used. Your female family names are really pretty and I'd be happy with any of them! We have a lot of Lindsays in our family which rings a bell with you. Also Laura and Louise. If I'd had twins like I wanted I might have been tempted to name them Love and Mercy:) So I just put them in a book instead - but I can't tell which book as that would be a spoiler and I want you to read it instead!

  7. Before I begin writing one of my inspirational historicals, I get to know my characters. I peruse old cartes de visite looking for my hero and heroine. Of course I want them to be attractive, but I look for personality. They way they hold themselves, what they're wearing, how they style their hair, what accessories, if any, they sport all tell me about them.

    Once I find a couple I like, I study the small photographs for days or even weeks. I wait for the characters to start talking to me and telling me about themselves. I want to know their interests, goals, foibles, fears.

    A large part of the process is learning their names. I search old census records for period names until I find the ones that fit my characters.

    Once I have their names, faces and personalities, I begin to work on their stories. For me, the characters come first though.

  8. I love naming my characters. They usually are fitting to their character traits which is fun to see what suits them. A few times I've had to change the name and occasionally I just get stuck. I do keep the name true to the time period and locale.

    I keep lists of names used in previous centuries. Being an amatuer genealogist comes in handy as I grabs loads of names from family history websites that I visit and cemetery sites that have a list of the buried. Might sound creepy, but genealogists love dead people!! I visit old cemetaries sometimes for fun. Gives me lots of ideas. OK, I'm weird. Yet, I still cannot bring myself to name a beautiful heroine Gertrude of Mehitable. Those types of names get assigned to aunts and neighbors, etc. (Hope I didn't offend anyone!)

    A story that I have tucked away is entitles The Silence of Verity Crewe. The title came to me first and then the story. That was unusual for me, but it will be interesting to see how it develops. In my Precious Jewels series all the children are named after gemstones.

  9. A fun post, Laura. I also enjoying naming characters. I draw from my maternal family tree (all southern VA or northern NC people back to the 12th gen, born in England 1610), or look up old census record lists on line (the 1790 being my favorite). I pick up names in the various books I read for research too, a first name here, a surname there. I've had to make a concerted effort to hunt down names for any Native American characters, though. That's proved my biggest naming challenge thus far.

    My great-grandmother was actually named after her father, Joel. She was christened Nannie Joel, which I think is quite pretty, even though it's a boy's name. There's also a Saphronia (b. 1847) way up in the tree, and woman named Roann (b. 1832).

  10. I had to laugh this morning when I read your blog. I'm wrapping up the book I'm working on, and in the process am introducing two characters that will be a "one novel" set of main characters. I was debating first names last night. This couple will be based on my g-grandmother's brother and wife and the trials they experienced while she became one of the first female preachers in the area. In her memory, I used her father's middle name of "Green" as the ficticious couple's surname. Still working on the first names, though.

    As for unusual names, Aunt Katie Mae (the preacher/wife mentioned above)had a way with first names that none in the family can figure out. Delphia Zelona, Clotina Evadean, Jewel Yvetta, Twyla Lieta, and Lovera Fay. Aunt Katie Mae's granddaughters say she either knew people with those names or read books with those names... I'd like to know just which books! ;-)

  11. I prefer names with a history. Either biblical or historical which ever is fine. I loved picking the names for our kids, although, it was HARD work. I think if I wrote a book that would probably be my favorite part.

    We gave both of our kids family names: Bethany Ann and John Stephen. Nothing too unusual about their names, but they have special meaning to us. I love being able to share the story of their name with each of them.

  12. Of all the names I've ever heard, my favorite is the name Esmeralda McEachon. The first time I met this person and heard her name spoken aloud, I loved the lyricism and intrigue of it. But alas, I'm not sure it could be used as a fictional character's name -- it's the name of a real person! A fascinating person, actually, though as far as I know, not a person in the public eye. (We lost touch about fifteen years ago.) On the other hand, having known her, the real Esmerelda McEachon might get a kick out of seeing her name in a published book. :)

  13. Keli,
    I really like the way you go about this - very thoughtfully and carefully. I imagine you know a lot about your characters before you even pen that first word. While at ACFW Denver I took a class that advocated just this technique. It helped me fill in the holes in my own process. And hats off to census records - what treasures they provide:) I'm soaking in all these different approaches. What a gift to be able to share online this way. Thank you!

  14. Wow, Arlene, if you can wrap your lips around this one it really does have a lyrical quality:) I think it would be a great name for a title as well as a main character, or at least a secondary one! I especially like the name McEachon - anything Scottish or Irish is tops with me - and this one is unusual too. Right now I'm trying to find a last name for my Silas character. McEachon might be just the ticket!

  15. Carla,
    I meant to tell you in your interview with Keli Gwyn (http://www.romancewritersonthejourney.com, for those who need to know about this great site), that your title The Silence of Verity Crewe is amazing. It evokes all kinds of wonderful things - mystery, romance, intrigue, etc. And the name Verity is lovely and old-fashioned. Wish I'd thought of that:) Do you remember where you found her name? Even Crewe is very unique and fits Verity very well. My feeling is that your future pub won't change that title:)

    If we lived closer we'd go cemetary visitng:) I love the old graves and the names and dates and do that in Kentucky. In Maine you must have an endless source of inspiration that way.

    Can't wait to read Verity's story!

  16. Lori, I was hoping to hear from you here:) I've heard of Saphronia and really like it but Roann is really, really pretty and I've never heard that before. Nannie Joel is unusual and very southern to me. I forget that you and I have the same roots - NC and VA. Mighty fine, I think:)

    I understand the hardship with Native Americans. Naming Captain Jack was difficult but the Shawnee had so many "Captains" in their tribe I decided to keep his white name and tack that on for authenticity. I love Lakota/Sioux names and have studied them extensively. I borrowed 2 Lakota names for this next book and love both of them. But no spoilers allowed:)

  17. Dana,
    I think you get the blue ribbon for unusual names today - you and Arlene! What an interesting woman she must have been to have created such intriguing names! And I had to reread your comments twice to get that she was a preacher to boot! And your WIP you're talking about sounds so good.
    Please keep me posted!

  18. Stacey,
    I think you are doing something very important by giving your children family names - that speaks to your love of history and also honors those family members whose names they carry. I bet your kids really like their names because they have special significance.

    I wish now that I'd used the family names Lindsay and Jack for my boys, either first or middle. Maybe my grandkids:)

  19. Correction:)
    Keli's wonderful blog is http://romancewritersonthejourney.wordpress.com
    Her link is also in the sidebar of my blog and the link will take you there.

  20. From the first time I heard the name Verity I knew there was a story there. I believe it may have been from a census. Forgot to include that, as Lori did. Excellent source for names, especially the 1790 one as she said. When I started thinking of titles her last name just popped in. I truly don't know where the whole thing came from, except of course from the Lord, but it will be interesting to see her story told. I'm very excited about it!

    Thanks for mentioning my interview on Keli's site. Romance Writers on a Journey is a wonderful site and so much fun to follow new and upcoming authors.

    BTW, my son was named from a book. I named him Justin after Justin Morgan Had a Horse. I did a report on Morgan horses in 7th grade and had picked out my first son's name all that time. Who'd have ever know that by the time I had a kid it would be a popular name.

  21. Carla, Isn't it funny how we just "knew" some things even as 7th grade kids?! We have a Justin in our family and it's a really strong, masculine name. But the name Verity....ah!

    Now I'm off to visit 1790 census records. You and Lori must be onto something:)

  22. I like to take old names and put a little twist on them. My youngest daughter's name is Adylee. I liked the old (Welsh, I believe) name Adelaide. I just twisted it a little and made up my own...reading some of the older names, I think some of the people way back when did the same thing. =)

    My WIP heroine's name is Dacey Callaghan (bet you can't guess where she's from. ;) lol ) There are two male leads...who is the hero??? You have to wait until the end... anyhoo, their names are Everett Wheatley and Arden Broderick.

    I hope after this semester is over that I will be able to work more on it... (Oh, yeah...I almost named my youngest Cora! I love that name!!!)

  23. Ashli,
    All 3 of your kids have such unique names - old-fashioned yet with a modern day twist, for sure:) Fun to hear about your WIP - I've been wondering what characters lurk in that creative mind of yours! And I've been hoping (and praying) that the new job is going well - and that you find time to write on top of it all:)

  24. Character naming is a blast. My favorite place to look for names? The cemetary. I love to visit old ones in the area. It's easy to pick first names from one and last names from another that fit regionally and the time period. Also, some names just "fit" characters better than others.

    I do love your character's names, Laura. And the quirks that come just speak of how real your characters become with your pen in hand.

  25. I think it's wonderful that you can constantly think of wonderful charaters and stories! I love reading about the process you go through in the making of your wonderful work! blessings,Kathleen

  26. Lorna,
    I bet you have some inspiring old pioneer cemetaries where you are:) I think of all that rolling prairie although that might not be your part of Iowa? I'm glad you like my characters names - their quirks are kind of endearing now that I think about it. And I think what you've said is so true - they really do become real, warts and all. I'm sure you can say the same.

    I must admit I keep thinking of your cover and can't wait till I see it on Amazon or your blog:) Hats off to Revell's art team!! And I love the title they came up with - Making Waves. Sounds fun and sassy and intriguing all at once. One I can't wait to read!

  27. Kathleen,
    Bless you for liking the writing process - I hope I don't bore folks to tears:) I feel the same reading about your creative life down south on your patch of paradise. As I've said before, if I could embroider (sp?)like you I'd really be happy to let go of writing!

  28. My current male character is Ambrose Porter. And in my next book, I'm probably going to use Inez Ramsey for my female and Balsam Shults for the male. I have my reasons. I love the names you have chosen. Morrow is wonderful!

  29. Britt, I love the old-fashioned names like the ones you're using. Ambrose is such a great name and so rarely heard today. Inez is lovely and Balsam very strong-sounding. Good that character names have special significance to us as we live with them for quite a while. Kind of like naming our babies:) So glad you like Morrow's name. I borrowed it from one of Billy Graham's granddaughters. And it fits my character to a T:)