By: Ellis Vidler
Congratulations to "Pam", the winner in Ellis's giveaway. Thank you to all who participated.
How important are characters' names to you? Do you try them out to see how they fit the way you do with a puppy? Or does the name come to you first?
For me, it's both. Sometimes a name comes and the character shows up with it, like Spontana Peigh. She's an elderly lady who lives in one of my short stories. Or Maeva Deane, Bertie Gilchrist's sister. Somehow I feel freer to give in to my eccentricities in short stories. Of course not everyone's name is unusual, and I'd keep the odd ones to a minimum in a book.
In my novels (at least to my mind), the name has to fit the personality. The most famous example I know of is Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett O'Hara. Right up till printing time, Ms. Mitchell called her Pansy. If there was ever a woman who wasn't a Pansy, it was Scarlett—a perfect name.
How do you name your characters? Do you research popular names of the period? Use friends' names? Family names? What are some that particularly appeal to you? Which ones stand out from books you've written or read?
One thing I've realized is if the name is too odd or causes people to stumble over it, it distracts them from the story. I named a woman Noel after a lovely woman I knew in my childhood. I'm from the South, land of a confusion of given and surnames, variations on words, all kinds of things. However, three friends stumbled over it and tried to correct the name to Noelle. This lady was not a Noelle. So I changed it several times till I settled on something that fit; she's now Claire, the heroine of Cold Comfort.
I'm giving away an eBook of COLD COMFORT in your choice of format, or in the US, a trade paperback.
This is the scene where Riley first sees Claire. Do you think her name fits?
Through the branches of a tree, he studied her. Wavy, nut-brown hair in a loose knot on top of her head, almost a Gibson girl style, emphasized her gentle, somewhat old-fashioned look. The knot listed to the left and a few strands hung loose. Must be a bad day—that he could understand. The woman fit the voice. If this represented Claire Spencer's life, maybe she'd magnified a common robbery into an attack by a stalker to add a little excitement. She could have done the doll too, just to jack up the stakes.
He didn't expect to like her, and he was damn sure she wouldn't like him.
Then one kid pushed another, and a shoving match began. The ladylike Miss Spencer surprised him with the no-nonsense tone of a nun. "Boys! Sit down and behave. You know the rules." She turned toward Riley and smiled. "Two strikes and you're out."
Busted. He nodded and turned away, pretending to examine the contents of a basket.
"May I help you find something?" She appeared at his elbow, wearing a solemn expression.
"Uh, yes. I'm trying to find something for my nephew." He looked down at her. Clear ivory skin with a hint of pink in her cheeks, eyes like a bright October sky. Although she wasn't classically beautiful, her coloring would have made Botticelli weep. If he were a portrait painter…
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