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What's in a name...

In an earlier post, I talked about where my ideas come from and explained how my stories start with a name, a picture of a character forms in my mind, and then the idea of what could happen arrives. That's how it begins - then the story starts.


But where does that name come from? And what about the names of the other characters or places?


I'm not sure about Harper. I can't remember how the name Harper Holt arrived or why her parents' names are Hugh and Helena (a bit of accidental alliteration). They just arrived and stayed that way.


Sometimes when characters show up in the story they arrive with a name - I can't explain that. Other times there's no name so I have to research for one.


I don't like stopping to do research when I'm writing a manuscript - I just like to keep going. So, if a character needs a name and none arrives, I put in some letters - for example Bbbb or Rrrr, and keep writing: 'Bbbb stopped at the gate...'


Later, usually in the evening, I go back to my computer and do some research to try to find a name to suit the character that has appeared. When I think I have it, I simply replace the four letters. Bbbb might have become Stella - 'Stella stopped at the gate...'


I keep track of whose name is in which story otherwise I would get very confused.


When I start a new story, the first page in that section of my notebook is for the names of the characters - a list forms. By the end there are lots of changes - Bbbb has been crossed out and replaced with Stella, or I needed a surname for a character and there are five different Mc names because the sixth one was the best. It can get a bit messy.


The junior series has a spreadsheet - that's how many characters there are in a fictional town! (One character is a colour expert - she can recognise the exact shade of a colour as soon as it appears. I'm not a colour expert but I soon found a great resource for names of colours - paint charts.)


There's an interesting story about how the name of the main character in Everything We Keep came about, but I 'll talk about that in a post as we get closer to publication.


I've mentioned before that I have some fabulous friends who read my drafts and give me feedback. Sometimes they appear in the book - partly as a thank you and partly, well, because I can.


In the editing process for Harper, I had to add a couple of chapters. A character appeared, without a name, so I called her Anne after one of my friends who had read the manuscript twice! Another friend, who has also read my manuscripts in first draft form, became a principal at a school. You get the idea.


We have dogs, and they have all appeared in a manuscript or two, my brother's dog made an appearance in Harper - that happened during the editing process, (which I must talk more about!)


There is one potential problem with names. Real people.


There's a character in Everything We keep, who turned up with a name. It seemed perfect until the beginning of a new school year and a student with that name arrived in one of my classes. I had to change it. It took a lot of thinking, dog walks and searching name lists to find a replacement, and eventually, reluctantly, I did.


When I read that manuscript I can't help but silently replace the current name with the old one. I really liked it - it suited the character but it had to be done. Sometimes I get attached to names, it just doesn't seem right to change it - especially when the character arrived already named.


However, just to show you how funny the whole process is, in that same book is a character who is a real person - his speech pattern and mannerisms are distinctive.


During the time of writing Everything We Keep, I'd been attending a series of conferences. When a character appeared in the story, instantly one of the presenters popped into my head and became the character. It just seemed to work. I must admit there were times when I wasn't focusing on the discussion of the conference but rather on adding more detail to the character's tone or making a note on key phrases. (Later, when editing, I asked his permission to use his name).


But it's not just character names that can be tricky - it's places too. Even though Unpacking Harper Holt and Everything We Keep are both set in Melbourne and there are references to real places, like the South Melbourne Market or Flinders Street Station, the suburbs and school names are fictional - and there's a process.


Firstly I start with the 'ideal' name for the suburb, or school, then I research it. If it's a real place, in Melbourne, then I start working with variations, and I just keep going until I find a name that I like, that doesn't already exist.


In the junior series I'm having a lot of fun creating names. There's names based on other languages, alliteration, behaviours, or jobs and it's just fun. But I plan the junior series so I research, create names and then the character to suit.


No matter where the names come from I do offer this small piece of advice - think about keeping a list of some sort. It could be specifically for what you are writing or it could be collection or names. Either way - you may find it useful.






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