One thing I’m learning in writing sequels and follow-ons to previous works is that I wasn’t careful enough with names. The lesson stings because from the time I started, my method of dealing with names was carefully thought out—and supposed to keep me out of name trouble. As a reader there are three name problems that bother me:
First, I have trouble with character names that are very similar. For instance, when there are secondary characters with names like Benton and Benteen, I end up not even trying to remember which is which and thoroughly annoyed at the author. It helps if the characters are opposite sex, but that doesn’t change my belief John and Joan should never appear in the same story unless one is just a walk on.
Second, if Chauncy Wilson is referred to as Chauncy from the time he’s introduced and then all of a sudden there’s a reference to Wilson, I often have trouble figuring out who the heck Wilson is. In Regencies where a character is referred to by his first name, family name, title, and sometimes even something else it can be even worse.
Third, names I can’t pronounce are a constant little sore spot all through a book. In spite of the fact I settle on my own pronunciation, knowing I’ve made it up and am undoubtedly wrong bothers me. I’m sure I did that to readers myself in Dancing on Coals, but I couldn’t figure a way around it other than giving Apaches Anglicized names they never had.
All in all I felt pretty proud of myself for doing better than many writers with names. I even make one chart with letters of the alphabet for first names and another for last names and do my best to make sure at least my primary characters don’t have names that even start with the same letter.
Then I started doing outlines for some of these follow-up stories and was surprised and not very happy at what I found. The novella I’m working on features Jamie Lenahan and Caroline Tindell from Into the Light. If I ever come up with a story from Without Words, Caroline Sterling will be the heroine. If you asked me if Caroline is one of my favorite female names, I’d say no because it isn’t. So how did that happen? The next novel will be Jaime Rodriguez from Sing My Name—you know, a character with a name that looks a lot like Jamie as in Lenahan, even if the Spanish pronunciation isn’t that similar.
So live and learn. I probably should have some kind of list of all the names I’ve ever used, but going back now to develop one holds no appeal. I no longer feel smug about noticing Louis L’Amour’s tendency to slap some form of Angela (Ange, Angie) on his female characters. After all, I’d never be that careless with names. Ha.
Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and is lucky enough to have Friday off and enjoy a super long weekend.
P.S. No, I didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo, but it did inspire me to do some writing, so that’s a personal win.