Lesson Learned—Names

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.

~Ellen

P.S. No, I didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo, but it did inspire me to do some writing, so that’s a personal win.

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12 Responses to Lesson Learned—Names

  1. Sharon says:

    My first response is a gleeful “Yay for Roddy’s story on the horizon!!!”. I’ve just recently read “Sing” for the fifth or sixth time!

    Next I appreciate your concern over the “name”confusion. I have read books or rather series of books where the authors have changed the names of characters and it is very frustrating.

    I need to go back and read “Into the Light” again to refresh my memory of Caroline and Jamie.

    Thank you so much for writing these great books.

  2. Rosheen says:

    Yah! I here you on all three points. I still think you have done pretty well. I easily keep the thread of who is who in your books (I’m dyslexic, so I can very easily tangle them on a good day). Thanks for sharing. Glad you got back in the writing grove. Take care

  3. Cee Adams says:

    one of the best authors i’ve read that keeps the characters names, relationships correct is Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series

  4. Jane says:

    Ellen, watching the weather tonight made me think of you! How’s it going these days?

  5. Hey, Jane,

    Well, Colorado is really getting lambasted, isn’t it? I’m thoroughly snowed in and probably will be at least until Monday. They plow the roads pretty promptly here, but I have a long driveway and taking care of it is another story. If this storm is like the recent blizzard, it will melt very quickly, at least.

    I have 3 dogs now – Victor the rescue boy, Story, and Teagan. Teagan was just spayed Wednesday and still needs to be walked on a leash. You can imagine how much fun that is in this weather. The snow is knee deep most places, but there are a few places where it’s blown enough it’s not so deep. Victor and Story go out for all of 3 minutes before they’re banging on the back door wanting back in.

    My one horse, Kate, is stuck in her stall and not happy, but not as unhappy as she was when she was out in it.

    So, everything’s fine, and maybe I’ll finish Jamie and Caroline’s story before I get out and about again. I’m probably only a couple of chapters from the end.

    Thanks for asking. Hope all is well with you and everyone who follows here.

    ~Ellen

  6. Jane says:

    We had to put our old German Shepherd down this winter. : (
    We just applied for a rescued dog. I just can’t live without a four legged friend. Also that’s something I like about your books, including dog characters. That’s something I know from my parents stories, dogs were a necessary part of life, not just as a pet but as working part of the family.
    I love to visit my aunt and listen to her tales. She is 90 and grew up in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. The family was very, very, poor but hard working. Somehow got through the Depression, the whole family worked in the cotton fields. Any who, the last visit she goes through all the uses of lye and turpentine. Apparently it was a prairie girls best friend. LOL! How Grandma raised 9 kids successfully I’ll never know!
    Well stay in and stay warm! Jane

  7. I’m so sorry about your German Shepherd. Their lives are just too short, and their impact on us so great. Adopting a rescue is a great way to, not fill the hole left, I don’t believe that can be done, although time eases. But it does distract – divert – I can’t think of exactly the right word.

    When I was fostering rescues, a good many amazed me in that they were such good dogs. I’d look at them and wonder how anyone could have done anything but kept and protected them all their lives. Of course there were always the others that made you aware of why they were given up quite quickly :-), but most of those were redeemable and often quite charming.

    My maternal grandmother was one of ten children raised on a farm in Alberta. I wish I had listened better to her stories about it and encouraged her to tell more. Sometimes she would say such funny things, like, “I know we must have smelled terrible back then, but I just don’t remember it.”

    ~Ellen

  8. Jane says:

    I forget; was Jamie and Caroline’s story a full fledged book or a novela? Hope the weather is improved in your neck of the woods!

  9. Novella. About the length of Luke’s Eyes, I think.

    Yes, the weather is better (hard for it not to be). The big snow has melted except for small drifts on the north side of hills and buildings, and I still have a small lake between my house and barn, although the runoff that made streams here and there in the yard has stopped.

    With luck that’s the last snowstorm of the season. I was snowed in in May here once, but only once in many years.

    ~Ellen

  10. Suzanne Eckert says:

    When will Jamie and Caroline s novella be released?

  11. Hi Suzanne – I’m sorry, but I’ve given up predicting when anything will be out because I’m always wrong – wrong on the too optimistic side.

    Also this novella won’t be “released” exactly. It will go out to those on my mailing list, and then I’ll publish Luke’s Eyes on Amazon. My original idea was to hold the Eyes follow-ups in abeyance until they were all done and release them together as a collection. It’s obviously going to be quite a while before they’re all done, though, so I’ve changed my mind and will release them either as they’re done or after a short time of sending them to the mailing list. Which will depend on whim I suppose.

    ~Ellen

  12. jasmine says:

    I have spent many pleasurable hours reading your books. Love the way you portrait your characters. waiting eagerly for your next book.

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