Thursday, November 13, 2008

Names, forced words, reluctant characters

I can relate to Rick's experience with his characters, and hope I have the same kind of breakthrough. How satisfying! I'm working on a stand-alone thriller. (Storm Kayama is relaxing after her last adventure, which comes out this February and is called Pleasing the Dead.) This new story is fun, but I'm struggling with the characters' names. The protagonist is part Samoan, and his last name is Laufa'a, with which he's comfortable. But the first name, good grief!

He started out as Rodney. So-so, I thought. Too ordinary for the kind of conflict he's going to have to face. Even Rod, I thought, might not be tough enough, or have enough zing. He is, after all, six-four, two hundred thirty pounds, and was once an offensive lineman for U Washington. He also was an army medic in Kuwait (thanks, Charles! Remember those discussions about putting characters in places the author had never visited?). So I changed his name to Baldwin. His friends called him Bald, which was like calling a big guy Tiny. Bald has a headful of frizzy dark hair. But Bald Rod didn't like that name. It wasn't serious enough for him. So I asked people here in the islands about good Samoan first names. Some suggestions were Itula, Siitupe, Mau, Tiaina, Joseph, or Junior. I didn't want readers to get bogged down with pronunciation, and Junior was too diminutive.

So for a few pages, Bald turned into Joseph, or Joe. But Joe started to wear glasses and wanted to go back to school and get a PhD in political science. Meanwhile, Bald-Joe-Rodney needs to track down the killer of his best friend, which is related to his service in Kuwait, when billions were being spent on the UN's Oil for Food Programme.

And Rodney told me to get out of his way. My judgmental fixation was messing up the action. Like Rick, I had to do what the character knew was best. Now that I'm not breathing down his neck, Rod is hot on the trail of a corrupt colonel from ten years before. And I'm just doing the typing.


Rick Blechta said...

Hi Debby!

You know what? Don't agonize over the name and don't force it. If you just call the character X for the moment, that's enough. By not forcing or choosing now, you'll be leaving your mind open and the name will magically appear somewhere along the way. I guarantee it.

Don't ask me how this works. It's a mystery.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

I believe you. And I think I'll do just that. Thanks, Rick