Sunday, November 6, 2011

What's in a name?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Welcome to DSD theme week #2. This week we are discussing characters - the good, the bad and the fabulously interesting - at least we hope!

I think we can all agree that characters are a driving force for us as both writers and readers. So many mysteries and thrillers are continuing series, which means the character must grow, change and still remain compelling from book to book. Readers look forward to the next Jack Reacher or Stephanie Plum book. Love of the character has readers pre-ordering the next book and reading it the week it hits shelves.

As writers, we try to make our characters relatable to the reader. We also want them to be memorable in hopes that our family isn’t the only one that wants to see the next book arrive in stores. We want our characters to be smart and have issues that everyone will understand. But before our characters can grow into the next Myron Bolitar, we have to give them a name.

Yikes! How do name a character that you hope will one day will be remembered by readers everywhere? The name has to be memorable, but not inaccessible. If you make a name too unusual, readers might find the name off-putting. That would be bad. When writing SKATING AROUND THE LAW, I specifically tried to create a name that had a musical lit to it. I wanted the syllables to trip off the tongue. To me, Rebecca Robbins had the cadence I was looking for. I thought Rebecca was a name that people could relate to.

With MURDER FOR CHOIR, my new series coming out on July 3rd from Berkley, I used my favorite method of picking a name. I trolled Facebook. To me, Facebook and social media are great name resources. I don’t tend to use anyone’s first and last names (unless I ask first!), but scrolling the names gives me a source to view names that I might not have thought of while sitting alone at my keyboard. Because MURDER FOR CHOIR is a musical series, I found myself looking at the names of people I have performed with in my past. Also, for this new series, I was more aware of the fact I’d have to live with the name I picked for 3, 6 or hopefully more books. So I worked hard to find a name that I thought fit the heroine and was something I loved enough to write over and over and over again. With that in mind, Paige Marshall was born.

I’m not sure if I’m the only one who uses Facebook as my source for name inspiration. And not all names I come up with are driven by my Facebook experience. But it is the place I go to when I’m stuck and looking for inspiration. Which makes me wonder – how do you come up with your character names? Do you borrow from your family? Do you troll phone or baby books? And more important – who are your favorite recurring characters and why do their names strike a chord with you?


David Barber said...

Great post, Joelle. You'll find some fantastic names in your email "spam" folder. I have 3 email accounts and there are hundreds of great names in there!

Have a great Sunday!

Al Tucher said...

Spam folder! I hadn't thought of that one.

I set most of my stories in New Jersey, which means I use a lot of Italian and Slavic names. The major exception is my series character Diana Andrews, but even there, Andrews is the Hungarian Andrassy anglicized by her great-grandfather.

One thing I didn't think of, though. A name ending in "s" makes possessives look awkward, and I try to avoid them with her surname.