Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Playing the Name Game

This month marks the return of Intrigue’s “Thriller” promotion with CIRCUMSTANTIAL MARRIAGE by yours truly. This is a story I started working on long before I sold it or finally finished writing it, and I'm very excited that it's finally being published and that the editors felt it was thrilling enough to be tagged as a Harlequin Intrigue Thriller.

When I started writing this story back in the year 2000 (yes, another story I started that long ago), I titled it AN HONORABLE MAN (anyone who reads the book, or even just the excerpt here on eHarlequin, will understand why I called it that). What I wrote back then was the opening scene of Chapter One, which is now being published pretty much exactly as written. A woman ventures into a seedy bar, the kind of place she never would under normal circumstances, but these are anything but normal circumstances. She's on the run from powerful forces, with no one to trust and no one to turn to but a man who's done everything he can to hide his whereabouts. She manages to track him down, but the man she finds is too haunted by the loss of his family to want anything to do with anyone else's problems.  But as he watches her walk away, he knows he can't sit back and do nothing and risk one more life on his conscience. He goes after her, and--well, you'll have to read the book to find out what happens after that. Smile

In the published book, that scene remains almost exactly as originally written all those years ago, with one big exception.  You see, the title wasn't the only name change the book underwent.  The heroine’s name was originally Piper Lowry, the hero was Cade McClain. When I picked up the story all these years later and began working on it again, one thing immediately struck me as off.  I looked at the heroine, the picture I had of her in my head and the way I'd portrayed her in the scene and thought, "No, you’re not a Piper Lowry."  The name just didn't fit this woman.  She needed a new one. 

This isn't the first time that's happened to me.  I'm a writer who spends a lot of time on the characters' names.  They're such an important part of the character's identity I have to get them right.  Sometimes I'll come up with a name and immediately know it's right.  Sometimes I'll have a name I think is right, only to discover it doesn't match the character once I've started writing.  Other times I know from the start I don't have the right name, but I start writing while trying to figure it out as I get to know the character. That's what happened with the heroine of my earlier book, TRUSTING A STRANGER, whose name was changed repeatedly over the course of the book until I finally figured it out.  

In this case, after some wrestling with different names and various combinations of first and last for the heroine, I finally hit on it.

Audrey Ellison. Perfect. 

So I tried to continue and tell the story of Cade McClain and Audrey Ellison.

I couldn't.  It felt wrong. Cade McClain and Audrey Ellison didn’t belong together. Audrey Ellison was who she was.  This was the right hero for her.  But maybe "Cade McClain" wasn't who he was...

In the meantime I started working on an idea for a thriller with a cowboy hero. As I set about naming the characters, I realized, “You know what’s a good name for a cowboy? Cade McClain.”

It wasn't right for this character anyway, so I took the name and gave it to my cowboy.  Of course, that meant my poor tortured, haunted hero needed a new name. 

This took a little longer.  I tried to continue writing using a filler name I knew I would change but would just use in the interim, but this time using a name I knew definitely was not the character's kept tripping me up.  At one point I even tried just using an "X" instead of an actual name, but writing about Audrey and "X" didn't work any better.  In order to really connect with the character, I needed to know his name. 

Finally, after far too long and much trial and error, I had it.  Jason Stone.  Yep, that was it.  

Of course that's what it was.  Who else could they be but Jason Stone and Audrey Ellison?  And I was able to write the rest of the book.

Meanwhile, when it came to Cade McClain's heroine, I immediately knew what her name should be: Piper Lowry, of course. And yes, that name is a perfect fit for that character. I can't imagine her being called anything else. 

So two people who I knew long before I knew their names, Jason Stone and Audrey Ellison, have their story told in CIRCUMSTANTIAL MARRIAGE (available now!). And two people named Cade McClain and Piper Lowry will find plenty of danger and romance themselves in their own story when HER COWBOY DEFENDER (if that name sticks) hits shelves next year.

How much do characters' names matter to you?  Any names--character or real-life--you really love? Ever bought a book because you loved the name of the character (or characters)? Ever passed on a book because one (or both) of the characters had a name you didn't like?  Or is the author's name the only one that matters to you? One commenter on eHarlequin will win a copy of STRANGER IN A SMALL TOWN (a book where, wouldn't you know it, the hero is hiding his identity by operating under a fake name. And yes, in that case, both the real name and fake name had to fit perfectly!) 

Kerry Connor