Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Anatomy of a Book – Choosing Character Names

Continuing with the nitty-gritty of how I put a book together:
One of the first things I do when creating a new story is name the characters. Names are destiny for fictional people as well as real ones; as you think about the characters they tend to grow into the names you’ve given them. Beyond that, names in contemporary romance novels can be pretty arbitrary. Practically anything goes—except when it doesn't.

For me, the name for a hero needs to be:
  • Strong
  • Appealing when spoken aloud
  • Indicative of his background but not so unusual it puts readers off
  • Uncomplicated so easy to type
In the early days of my long career, I made a habit of choosing hero first names that started with an “R.” It began as a private joke: my husband’s name is Jerry Ronald, and my two sons are Ron and Rick. The practice was actually a good move as it turned out; a majority of people in the U.S. like “R” names and feel they are attractive and authoritative. When those books made the best seller lists, however,  I became a bit superstitious. It seemed I had to have a hero with an “R” name or the book might flop.
Andrea Bocelli and his fiancée Veronica Berti
After so long a time, it became too much of a strain to find good "R" monikers, and I didn’t much care for the addictive nature of it. I bit the bullet and began to use names that started with other letters. Even today, though, I feel better if there is an “R” in the name somewhere, even if in the surname!

The heroes for the first two books in my Italian Billionaires series are Nico and Luca. No "Rs" there. So what will the hero for book #3 be called? He'll be Andrea, mainly because I enjoy the music and general persona of the great Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.
For a last name, I’m using Tonello. Why? I came across it on a book I was reading last month, “Bringing Home the Birkin” by Michael Tonello, http://www.amazon.com/Bringing-Home-Birkin-Pursuit-Coveted/dp/0061473340. It just seemed right. As simple as that.

Andrea Tonello. Now doesn’t he just sound like a handsome Italian billionaire?
For my heroine, a name should be:
  • Attractive when spoken aloud
  • Indicative of her personality and background
  • Not so unusual as to be cringe-worthy
  • Easy to type
Do you get the idea I don’t care for unusual names? They’re fine in some genres, such as fantasy, sci-fi or steam punk, but I’ve never much liked them in romance. How can the reader believe in real love if the heroine's name is super-unrealistic? Besides, anything that could make the  reader pause to wonder “Why on earth?” is automatically bad. Nothing should stop the reader. Ever.

You may also question why I added “Easy to type” to both my lists. I’ll be using these names hundreds of times while writing the book. Having to slow down and type a special name with care is distracting; I hate having to deal with mechanics while in creative mode. Besides, I once named a heroine Félicitè. This was in the days before computers with their Find/Replace and macro functions. Not only was the name a pain to type, but every single accent mark had to be added, laboriously and by hand, to each use of the name in the manuscript. A lesson learned!
So the first name I’ve chosen for my heroine this time around is Dana. It seems slightly androgynous to me so useful for a woman cop, but it isn’t aggressively masculine. It gives me the cool, calm and collected impression I have in mind for the personality of my female protagonist. To go with it as a surname, I’ve chosen Marsden. Why? I haven’t a clue. I was driving down the road a few days ago and it popped into my head. The two names,Dana Marsden, go well together, don’t they? Good enough, as I don’t second-guess gifts from my muse.

Other secondary characters will be included in the book, and assigned names as I go along. The main thing I have to remember about them is to refrain from calling them something that starts with the same first letters as my main characters names.
But there is one other name required. An extremely spoiled and hair-raisingly vocal male cat, a long-haired Siamese seal point, will have a large part in the story. If someone doesn’t come up with something better, his name is going to be Trouble!

Want to take a crack at naming him? Just leave your suggestion as a comment below.


Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.

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