Monday, November 09, 2009

Family matters

'Everybody in here, please. I need your help.'

G and the boys obediently gathered round while I explained the dilemma.

45,000 words into my WIP, a new character has come on the scene. His existence had been referred to in passing but, as is so often the case, I had no idea why I'd written him in. To prove the point, he'd just muscled his way into the narrative.

I knew who he was, knew a fair bit about his background, his impact on the other characters ... I even knew what he looks like.

But one thing was holding me up. I didn't know his name. Until I got that, I couldn't work out his full role - though it was only just occurring to me that he had one and it might be more significant than I'd realised.
I told G and the boys I needed a nickname, not a real one.

The men in my life rose to the occasion, bless 'em, firing random words at me. As fast as they came, they were rejected, including my own contributions.

Then ...
'Switch,' First Born said.
He'd been looking round the room, calling out the names of anything he could see.
'Switch,' I murmured. 'Do you know ... I think that's it.'

Later, soaking in the bath, scene of so many writerly revelations, the metaphorical switch had literally been flicked and everything fell into place.
I could see all the way to the end of the book; knew almost exactly what was going to happen and how, could see the resolution, the narrative arc, the whole megillah.

It reminded me of when I was writing Trading Tatiana. There's a scene set in Greenwich Maritime Museum where Tatiana performs some impressive acrobatics to escape from her pursuers. We spent an entire afternoon at the Museum, checking out the scene I depicted from every angle and working out the logistics. Then we came home and re-enacted it with toys.

Writing is such a solitary pursuit, but occasionally it can be a family affair.

So ... I have some questions for you:
  • How do you come up with names for your characters?
  • Do you ever enlist other people's help to come up with names or sort out any other sticking points?
  • Do you ever find a character has muscled their way into your narrative but you have no idea why until it suddenly becomes clear much later what their function is?
  • Does that blow your mind??? (It does mine - and I love it.)


Anonymous said...

Someone who read my novel thought that one character's name begins with M because he shares several traits with me. "No," I replied. "At first, I didn't know what the two characters were called, so I called them M (male) and F (female). At some point they turned into Martin and Fiona." ~Miriam

Queenie said...

Choosing names: mostly I use baby books, or a lovely spreadsheet that a friend made of the 100 most popular girls' and boys' names per decade over the last 60 years.
Enlisting people's help: yes indeed I do!!! And from one or two other people, as well!
Characters muscling in: generally I'm far too much of a control freak to let them do something so major, but sometimes my characters say or do surprising things, and that blows my mind.

Sue Guiney said...

Yes, yes, yes. One weird way I use to choose a name is a book I bought years ago called "the Character Naming Sourcebook" -lists all sorts of names by ethnicity and country. As far as family's help: I depend on it. I especially go to my younger son for help with plot. He's full of ideas for strange intricacies that i could never come up with. Alas, he's now at Uni. What will I do?

Debi said...

Fascinating insights here. (Knew there would be. You lot are so predictable ...)

Miriam - interesting how their names came AFTER their personalities were revealed.

Queenie - a spreadsheet?! Oh, don't tempt me ...

Sue - I see you too use books. And sons. Feel free to borrow mine if you need help.

Unknown said...

Great look behind the scenes of writing, Debi, and as always, well told!

When I name characters I usually find it's a name that's popped into my head, along with a fuzzy sort of picture of them - sort of like how photographs used to look when you took them with those cheap Koadk cameras in the late 70s/early 80s - before they improved the lenses...

Debi said...

All pix are pretty fuzzy to me these days, Babs. Another symptom of art imitating life - or possibly the other way round?

Marie said...

As I write mostly historical fiction I have to make sure the names I choose for characters are right for the era I've set my novel in. I have a book of names, and I also search online.

With my current WIP a minor character made himself become a major character, one who is now central to the plot, so yes, I was quite freaked out by that. He'd been battling for some time to get a starring role. I even kicked out one lead character because of him. This character is so interesting (based on a real life historical figure) that it was silly to keep him in the background.

Debi said...

Yes, that's it, Marie. We have to go with the flow. It's so strange that we create the stories yet seem to have so little real control over the direction they take sometimes.

It's a matter of letting go and I do believe that many books sink because the writer has attempted to force the narrative and characters into a preconceived detailed synopsis.