Posts Tagged ‘naming characters’

As I’ve been creating mystery #3, taking place in mid-December New England, I discovered I was mixing up Colonial timelines and character names with the later Victorian architecture.

I had to make a decision so I could write the opening scene in the appropriate location.

Victorian period would allow the story to unfold in a beautifully appointed bed & breakfast, converted from a generations-old family home.

Colonial architecture would age the bed & breakfast, allowing centuries-old family history to filter into the story.

Earlier this week, my husband and I visited the Daniel Webster Estate in Marshfield, MA, to help narrow my choice. And yesterday, I stopped by the Society of Mayflower Descendants in Plymouth, MA, for a nice chat with the two women behind the desk and a man sitting at a research table.

In the end, because my fictional Harbor Falls series is located on the coast of Massachusetts, I settled on a Colonial backstory. Connections to the Mayflower pilgrims, a sad eighteenth century ghost, and parallels to current times will round out the main mystery plot with ghostly connections to my amateur sleuth’s personal subplot.

Such fun!

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If you have never visited the Blackstone Public Library in Blackstone, MA, come on over the evening of Thursday, March 30, and listen while I share my writing journey as I developed the characters, setting, and story that became ‘The Uninvited Guest’. Autographed copies of my book will be available.

This event is free, but requires registration by calling 508-883-1931.

Hope to see you there!


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Hollihock headerNext weekend, I’ll be attending the second annual Hollihock Writers Conference in New Bedford, MA. They are offering multitudes of classes, panels, and speakers throughout the 3-days.

This is a new conference as you can tell by the title. I found out about it this past spring at a Writers Retreat on Cape Cod. One of the other writers… Diana Grady from Buzzards Bay Writing Project… mentioned this conference because she thought I’d be interested. Diana will be leading one of the workshops.

Learning new tips and tricks about the process of creating fiction is not only a pleasure, but keeps my retired brain active and alert. There is always something to be gleaned from every class, every speaker, every panel participant.

If you live in southern New England, and haven’t yet signed up, the ‘REGISTER HERE’ button on their website still appears to be active, so what are you waiting for?





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hands on laptopAt this point, my editor and I have exchanged the master manuscript several times. In the last round, she pointed out a major discrepancy concerning last names. I had to rethink my characters and their relationships to find a way to make it logical in the narrative.

Another comment involved a walk-on character. My editor’s suggestion?…either eliminate the woman entirely, or make sure she shows up again in the story. I chose door #2 and added this wacky character into two future scenes, liking the effect immensely.

And let’s not forget a few grammar lessons! I love to use ellipses, and sprinkled them liberally throughout my story to indicate an aside remark, which is not it’s proper use. However, since I couldn’t locate even one online article to back me up, I had to replace them all with either an em-dash or a comma, depending on the sentence structure.

In an effort to strengthen word choice, I found the following website of 297 flabby words that rob writing of its power:  http://boostblogtraffic.com/weak-writing/. The list not only indicates the words to be avoided, but provided samples of alternate ways to write around them. I was astonished to see the number of times I used to word ‘so’.  Only a chosen few remain.

However, a word of warning. When you find a dastardly weak word lurking within your story, you’ll sometimes find yourself rewriting the entire paragraph that surrounds it! But have no fear… it will become a better read.

DAMN. There’s another ellipsis!

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Picking names for my characters was one of the first things I tackled…and the most fun. After I decided what characters would be necessary to populate the plotline, there were several ways I went about finding the perfect name.

1. Instinctive name… don’t know why, but in my mind, my protagonist for The Uninvited Guest was always named Gwen. Not sure, but I think I named her after the 40’s actress and dancer Gwen Verdon. When I named “Hal”, I was recalling the face of the ultimate gentleman Hal Holbrook. Most of the other names were a struggle, and went through several revisions before the name felt right for the character.

2. No one I know… as I was searching, I was careful NOT to use names of anyone I know personally. I didn’t want any misunderstanding among my friends and relatives that a character was based on them in any way.

3. Mongobay website… this was a fantastic resource based on the U.S. Census to search the most popular names by year of birth.  http://names.mongabay.com/most_common_surnames.htm

4. Baby Naming Website… the source for most of the first names. They can be searched by originating country and sex.

5. Name Meaning website…  explains the origin of the name… quite interesting if you’re trying to go deeper.  http://surnames.behindthename.com/php/search.php?terms=English&title=English+Names&usage=yes

6. Numerology Text… names are assigned a numerical equivalent along with an in-depth analysis of the person who carries the name, but don’t use the name based on this.

7. Say the Name Out Loud… pretend you’re a narrator of books on tape to hear how the name rolls off your tongue. It also needs to feel like the character you’ve created. I changed a few names several times before they sounded like a good fit.

8. Other Naming Tips… in various texts about the craft of writing, I’ve found these additional tips: begin all names with different letters of the alphabet; use single-double-triple syllable names; don’t end the first name with the same first letter of the last name; don’t use a name that ends in ‘s’.

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…I said to myself, “Why can’t I write a book like this?” Unfortunately, I have no idea which mystery novel I had just finished, cuz I would share it if I could remember the title. Anyway, that’s why I started writing my first novel I sat down at my desktop and opened up a word document. All I needed to begin was my main character, the place where she would live, and a problem to mess up her life.

In my sleepy New England college town, there’s an old village library on the edge of the common, abandoned since the 1990’s when a larger, more modern library was built. I’ve always thought that old library would be the neatest place to live, and so that’s where my story began. Not a large building, it was built with huge brownstones and bricks. How much fun would it be to imagine the conversion into a home!  I was not able to gain entrance into the interior to get a good feel for the space and size, but my imagination has taken care of that for me. In my fictional world, I have walked through the open floor plan every day as I work on the novel. If I managed to get that tour now, it might be disappointing when compared to the home I’ve created in my mind.

I decided my main character would be named Gwen, a retired music professor at the local college in her 60’s, and widowed over two years ago by a freak accident that killed her architect husband on the golf course. This would provide her with vulnerability, plus a potential romance sub-plot. Her problem ended up to be the return of her old nemesis Henrietta, and Gwen is blackmailed by Jack at the music shop to hostess the woman until the music competition ten days away.

After I’m published, you’ll have to read the novel to find out what happens!

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