There are so many “rules” to writing a good book. One of those rules is giving your main character a great name that is memorable and fits that person to a tee.
These are names etched in fiction. The path an author takes to establish that all-important name is never the same.
Trust me, coming up with that name is not always easy. There’s a lot of pressure to create a moniker that suits the personality of the character. If you’re planning a series of books, then you REALLY want to choose the perfect name. It’s like a brand. Kleenex. Pop Tarts. Cheerios. You don’t just throw any name on the board and hope it sticks.
Which brings me back to Protector.
I was cleaning out my file cabinet the other day and came upon a crinkled manila folder titled “Protector.” Upon opening it, I found about 25 pages of handwritten notes detailing the various characters in the book that, at that time, were still struggling for an identity. The pages were dated 2001. (Yes, that’s right. Between four drafts of the manuscript and countless rejections, it’s taken almost six years for Protector to see the light of day.)
As I read the often-faint scribbles, I kept finding references to “Kate Lincoln.” At first, I thought Kate might have been a character I’d outlined and then cut from the book. Then I realized exactly who Kate was. It was the name I’d given the main character of Protector.
Detective Kate Lincoln.
I wanted a strong name for the main character. I wanted it to be a name a reader would remember. One of my favorite actresses was Katherine Hepburn, often known as “Kate.” If anyone exemplified strength and power, it was Kate Hepburn. There was also the musical, “Kiss Me Kate” based on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” The “shrew” was named Kate. Again, a rough-and-ready, belligerent, take-no-prisoners woman. I was seeing a pattern here. Kate = resilient. Thus, I named her Kate.
Lincoln? Well, frankly, I don’t recall where that came from. I did admire President Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln had two syllables. Don’t ask me why, but I wanted the main character’s first name to be one syllable and the last name to have two syllables. To me, the cadence of that combination felt solid. And, God knows, my main character HAD to be solid.
I was days away from penning the first chapter to Protector when my aunt called me. For years, she’d been urging me to “Write that novel, dammit,” even though I had no novel figured out yet. I informed her that, indeed, I was about to embark on that endeavor. Briefly, I told her the story idea and a brief description of Detective Kate Lincoln.
“Kate Lincoln?” my aunt mused. “Hmmm.” She thought about it some more. “Sounds like she wears high heels.”
“No,” I informed her. “Kate wears cowboy boots. Rough-outs. And leather jackets. Kate’s tough.”
“Kate Lincoln shops at Nordstrom,” my aunt stated.
“No,” I said with determination. “Kate Lincoln doesn’t buy designer clothes. She shops at Eddie Bauer.”
My aunt was unmoved. “Kate Lincoln likes fine wine.”
“NO.” This was getting out of hand. “Kate Lincoln drinks beer and Jack Daniels. She’s a drunk and a chain smoker. She plays pool…”
“Kate Lincoln does NOT play pool.” There was a pause. “I think you need to re-consider the name.”
That’s just what a writer wants to hear when they’re days away from starting their first novel. Without the main character’s name firmly established…well…it’s like starting a road trip without the car.
That sinking feeling came over me. I could sit in my apartment and brood or, since we’d just had a nice heavy spring snow, I could go cross-country skiing. The brisk, biting wind and freezing temperatures always seem to jumpstart my creative juices.
But by the time I’d skied to the mid-point of the cross-country course, I was still stumped as to a name for my hard drinking, chain smoking, tough as nails detective.
I threw down my ski poles and yelled into the air, “Aunt Jane! I can’t think of a damn name!”
Solid name. No nonsense. Shops at Eddie Bauer. Someone named Jane could like beer and Jack Daniels. Might even be a chain smoker...
I picked up my far-flung ski poles and proceeded up the pass, trying to figure out Jane’s last name.
I turned to the sign that gave the distance marker. It read: “Perry Pass.” I had an Uncle Perry who I never met. And I’ve got a good friend whose last name is Perry.
By the time I’d reached the summit of Perry Pass, it was official.
Detective Jane Perry was born.
Naming villains in your book? Well, that can be fun and also dicey. More on that next time...
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