Books by Melissa Bowersock

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Serving the Story: Part 2

In last week's post, I talked about how the ending — indeed, every part — must serve the story. It may not be obvious, but we writers may actually have several forces tugging at us, and they often don’t agree in either intent or methodology. We have the story, of course. The story is what drives us; it’s what inhabits us until we get it down. In most cases, I would say that the story is outside of us, even though it’s inside of us. What I mean is that it’s not ours — it doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the characters; it belongs to the theme. All we are doing is writing it down.
But then there’s another force to be reckoned with, and that is ours; it’s the ideas we come up with consciously that may or may not fit the story. As I said in my earlier post, what sparked this whole discussion was J. K. Rowling’s confession that it was her idea for Hermoine to end up with Ron instead of Harry Potter, and her feeling was that the story did not dictate that. In this particular case, her own idea was at odds with the story, and her inclusion of that idea felt out of place. (There was quite a discussion about whether or not the Hermoine-Ron pairing worked for readers, but that’s another topic.)
In that earlier post of mine, I talked about how I struggled with the ending of the book Stone’s Ghost, because I had an end in mind that I liked, yet when I got to the end of the book, my ending didn’t fit. I really tried to shoehorn it in, but after several failed attempts I finally had to give it up and let the story tell me how it should end. And it did.
Enter my latest. I was coming down to the last scene, the major climax, the final resolution. And I didn’t have a clue how it was going to end. Now like many of us, I’m a pantser, not a plotter. I have a broad idea of how things are going to go, but I let the details take care of themselves as I write. Usually, though, I have a pretty good idea of what the ending is going to be like. With this new one, I realized I was writing my way into the final scene and had no frikkin’ idea how it was going to go.
That’s a little scary.
I had three half-baked ideas about how the story could resolve itself. I had favored Ending #1 way back when I started; the closer I got, the more I leaned toward Ending #2. Ending #3 was kind of lurking in the shadows, but I’d never gotten terribly excited about that one, so it was just barely in the running. On top of that, I also had about three or four different ways in which each one of those ideas could develop toward the conclusion, so in all I had about twelve different directions I could go.
In the final scene, my Main Character #1 (MC1) is on a mission to confront Main Character #2 (MC2). Here’s where the dance begins.
MC1 asks a question. (Is she polite, solicitous, gentle? Or is she confident, expectant?)
MC2 answers. (Is he helpful, willing? Or cautious? Evasive?)
MC1 asks another question, a more leading question. (Is she still polite? Or is she getting demanding?)
MC2 hesitates, but answers. (Is he suspicious? Is he getting angry? Or just confused?)
As you can see, each statement invites a range of responses, and each one of those responses can elicit another range of responses. It’s like a tree growing, sending out branches in every direction, and each branch has its own branches that wind off here or there. There’s no end to the combinations. If you could figure it out mathematically, you’d probably have thousands of different directions you could go, depending on each character’s response to the last statement of the other. How the heck do you know which way to go?
Let the characters tell you. When I was writing this, I wrote MC1’s statement/question, then I considered all the ways MC2 might respond. I picked the one that seemed to fit best for him at that particular moment. Then, after his response, I did the same with MC1 — what possible responses might she have? Why? How was she feeling? Where was she going? I paid close attention to how the emotions were ramping up. The progression had to be logical. There’s nothing worse than having a character go from emotion A to emotion Z with no transition in between. I had to let the emotions grow throughout the exchange.
Finally after many starts and stops, much testing of the different directions, two steps forward and one step back, I realized that my progression was pointing toward Ending #1. I was a little disappointed; Ending #2 had much more drama to it, was much bigger, more exciting. But the characters demanded Ending #1. Trying to plug Ending #2 in there would have felt like taking a wrecking ball to the last chapter and punching a big hole in it. Surprised but somehow relieved — I also realized Ending #2 felt more like a popcorn movie ending — I finished up the scene.
It felt good; it felt logical. It flowed organically. It’s what the story and the characters called for.
I was done.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Serving the Story


On February 2, 2014 The Guardian ran a story about J. K. Rowling admitting she erred when she had Hermoine end up with Ron rather than Harry Potter. In the article, she is quoted as saying, “I wrote the Hermione-Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.”
I imagine a ton of Harry Potter fans were extremely angry over this pairing, and to my mind, they were absolutely right. I don’t think betrayal would be too strong a word to use here. The chemistry between Hermoine and Ron was never of the type or the depth as that between her and Harry, so to toss in a curve ball like that is just dead wrong.
And I understand entirely why she did it.
In one of my latest books, Stone’s Ghost, I had the ending and the last line written before I had the first chapter done. The last line was a one-word text from the main character to his girlfriend, and it brought the story full circle and ended on an upbeat note. I really, really liked this ending.
Then I finished the rest of the book, guiding it down to those last few paragraphs, only to find that my ending didn’t fit.
But I liked that ending. I tried to shoehorn it in. I rewrote the last page over and over, changing the build-up, trying to twist the story to fit my image of the end. It was like trying to fit a piece of two-by-four into a long, elegant section of crown molding.
It just didn’t work.
I finally had to admit defeat. I finally had to own up to the fact that my ending was not right for the story. It ended the story on a cheap shot, a sharp left turn from nowhere, and it brought with it no sense of satisfaction, of completion, of resolution.
I knew I had to throw it out.
But it wasn’t easy. I let the book lie untouched for a couple of days, let the chatter in my head die down as I slowly got used to the idea of not using my prize ending. Then I went back, deleted the last two pages and started in again.
Only this time, I let the story dictate the ending.
I’ve blogged before about how writing is like building a wall, each sentence building on the one that came before, each sentence providing the foundation for the one to come. This time when I wrote, I let that happen. The direction of the story, the tone, the tilt, the emotion, all guided me to the ending that it needed to have. It was not something I would have envisioned before, but this time, when I wrote the end, it worked. I knew as soon as I typed the last period that this ending was it — the best, the only, the perfect fulfillment of a great story.
*Happy dance*
And of course at this point, I was perfectly happy to leave my original ending in the waste basket now that I had the one the story needed, but it was tough for a while. It’s funny how we can get so attached to one idea that it’s almost painful letting it go, but at some point we writers have to realize that we aren’t writing for ourselves. We’re writing for the story. That’s our lord and master, and our egos have to take a back seat to that. To do anything less is cheating the story, cheating the characters — and, ultimately, cheating our readers, as Rowling found out.
The only place for wishful thinking like that is in our private journals, written by flashlight in the dead of night, never to see the light of day.
Everything else must serve the story.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Pesky Punctuation!

In my reading, I often see questionable usage of a few related punctuation marks. I know (1) that grammar is not every writer’s strong suit and (2) the rules for grammar are more often gray rather than black and white, with lots of room for subjective variation, but a short primer on a few of the more confusing marks might be in order.
Many writers today seem to either hate or distrust the semi-colon, and that could be because they are not clear on the usage (and I won’t even go into the discussion about the spelling, with or without a space and/or dash). Cathy Speight did an IU piece on this persnickety punctuation mark a while back, but I want to talk about it along with some other marks that are sometimes confused, so I’ll recap the semi-colon here as well. Interestingly enough, in the mid-19th century there was an organization of writers in Cincinnati, Ohio called the Semi-Colon Club. Members included Harriet Beecher Stowe and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon P. Chase, among others. I would guess from their choice of name for their group that they were not afraid to use the much-maligned mark.
The semi-colon has two primary uses:
a)      Between two closely related but independent clauses, usually complete sentences in and of themselves. The two clauses may also be contradictory.
John chose the yellow kitten; Samantha picked up the calico.
I thought the drizzly rain was uncomfortably chilly; my daughter found it to be invigorating.
b)      In a series or list that includes other, internal punctuation that would make the use of commas confusing.
I’m going to have a sandwich of ham, which I got at Trader Joe’s; jalapenos, which came from my own garden; and bell peppers, which were given to me by my neighbor.
I’ve seen colons and semi-colons used interchangeably, but they are very different and denote different things. The main difference between the two is that the semi-colon is used to link two independent clauses, while a colon is used to introduce an explanation.
The colon has four main uses:
a)      Before a list.
Hank packed everything he could think of: shirts, shoes, pants, socks, underwear, books, and his laptop.
b)      Before a description.
She loved the look of the vase: its translucent glass caught the light and the yellow color seemed to glow.
c)       Before a definition.
He said I was audacious: recklessly bold and extremely original.
d)      Before an explanation.
Crossing the Atlantic was hell: the wind howled the entire time and the waves rolled ceaselessly beneath the ship.
There are two dashes, the en dash and the em dash. The en dash is a single, short dash (-) while the em dash is a longer dash or two en dashes put together (– or —). The en dash is primarily used to hyphenate words, like space-time. The em dash, however, can be used in much the same way as a colon or a set of parentheses as shown in the following four ways:
a)      To denote an abrupt change of thought or feeling.
I was going to say—but, no, I don’t think I will now.
b)      To set off a clause.
He was wearing the scarf I knitted for him—the purple one with the green spots—and I realized he was trying to please me.
c)       To indicate an interruption, especially in dialog.
“But how do you—”
“Wait! Let me explain.”
d)      As the inverse of a colon, i.e. after a list or description.
Black, red and yellow—these colors on insects often denote poisonous species.
There, is that all clear as mud? Just remember that we’re trying to get our ideas across to our readers in as clear a manner as possible, so giving them the right visual clues to follow our line of thought is essential. Happy punctuating!

Originally published by Indies Unlimited on June 17, 2014 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Coming Soon: Sonnets for Heidi

I've just finished the first draft of my latest book, Sonnets for Heidi. Here's the first cut of the book description:

When her mother died, Trish Munroe inherited the care of her elderly Aunt Heidi, who suffers from Alzheimer's. But after Heidi's own death, Trish uncovers a forbidden family secret that takes her on a journey of the heart she never imagined.

This story is quite a departure from anything else I've written. It's at once tragic yet heartwarming. And this is one of those books that led me on quite a journey, as well, taking me places I never planned to go and becoming so much more than I had first thought. By the time I got to the end of the book, my heart was breaking and I was crying my eyes out. Always a good sign, even if I am a mess by the time I'm done.

The book is now in the "cooling off" phase as I await feedback from my beta-readers. It's really hard not to go back in and noodle it, but I want to have fresh eyes when I go back to it. And the noodling process is so much more mechanical than the writing process; I'm not sure my brain is ready for that yet. I'm still basking in the afterglow. 

Stay tuned for more info about the book's progress and the upcoming release date. I'm guessing it'll be after New Year's. Can't hurry art. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Veteran's Day Special

Once again for Veteran's Day (and maybe some early Christmas shopping?), I'm putting my non-fiction book, Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan on sale for just 99 cents. This is the award-winning true story of a courageous Army nurse and prisoner-of-war who just happens to be my aunt. 

This book was truly a labor of love. I had always heard growing up that my aunt was a prisoner of the Japanese during WWII, but not much more beyond that. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Wisconsin Historical Society had in their archives two scrapbooks that were created by my grandmother during my aunt's time in service, filled with letters, photos, news clippings, telegrams and every other bit of information from that agonizing time. I knew the story needed to be told, and I knew if I didn't do it, no one would. 

I've been hugely gratified by the way this book has touched others. It has garnered several awards and was featured in a TV documentary Our Wisconsin: The Military History of America's Dairyland. Here's a sample of some of the very nice reviews the book has received:

Nurse Gates' amazing valor and her mother's drive reminds us to never forget the human dimension of combat. A reminder indeed that loved ones suffer as much at home as those on the battlefields. Inspirational. 

Her spirit came alive on the pages of this factual account of her Japanese captivity.

Enjoyed this book from cover to cover.

If you like history, true stories, stories of dedication and commitment and humble bravery, you might enjoy this book. During this time of remembering and honoring our veterans, I believe it's important to keep their stories alive. I hope you will join me in honoring all the men and women who have served our country.

Watch the book trailer here

The Kindle version is on sale this week, through November 15, 2015.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Serious Research

A while back, I wrote about my experience with JustAnswer, a service to hook up a researcher with an expert in order to get good information on a myriad of subjects. I found it to be a good resource for quick questions and answers. But what happens when you need more?
Last year I started on a new book that’s based on the archaeology of 1,000-year-old Indian ruin sites near my home in north-central Arizona. I’ve found out that the Verde Valley of Arizona is virtually pocked with Indian ruins; the estimation is that there’s a ruin roughly every 1.8 miles. It’s no surprise that the Indians farmed this bountiful valley, and apparently they built their small community units with enough surrounding space to farm, but close enough to visit back and forth without too much travel. Seems like an idyllic existence. Unfortunately, as much physical evidence as we have of their activities, we don’t have a lot of cultural evidence for their family organization, spiritual beliefs or ritual processes. The Sinagua (named by the Spanish, Latin meaning “without water”) left no written record. The closest we can get to their cultural life is by looking at the Hopi (the Sinagua’s suspected descendents) and extrapolating backward a bit.
Luckily our modern archaeological processes are quite a bit easier to research. Sometimes. I thought getting this kind of information would be easy; just get interviews with the folks at the local archaeology organization, find out what their processes are, how they survey a site, how they report their findings. Pretty straight-forward. But in my first interview with a veteran surveyor, many of my questions brought forth the response of, “I can’t tell you that.”
Come to find out that there are SO many ruins in this area, primarily on National Forest land, and so few resources to survey, restore, protect and interpret them, that most of them just lie hidden in the brush. And because of that, the archaeology community is very careful about disclosing any information that could lead pot-hunters to the sites.
Wow, who knew? I go looking for data and I get intrigue.
But I totally understand. It’s an amazing thing to find a ruin and see a 1,000-year-old tiny corn cob (maize) lying on the ground, or to hold a piece of pottery and wonder who made it all those years ago, and what did they use it for? Matter of fact, it was these very experiences that hatched the idea of the new book in my brain, ergo the research.
Which has now become a two-pronged issue. The main one for any writer is to write authentically. It would be irresponsible to write about archaeologists bulldozing a site and grabbing artifacts off the ground. It would also be completely unbelievable. I want my book to be as real as possible, so I continue gathering research, wending my way around the “I can’t tell you that” details. As I’ve told the folks whose brains I am picking, it’s not really about disclosing in the book all the information I’m collecting. It’s more about not including erroneous information. If they can’t tell me exactly how they go about their process, I need at least to know how not to do it, so I don’t inadvertently weaken the authenticity of my story.
The second issue, the new one, is to not reveal any information that could expose a site. At first I was going to use an actual site for the location of my book, but now that’s changed. In order not to reveal any sensitive information, I’m creating an entirely fictitious site. This opens up all sorts of new possibilities, as I can configure my site any way I want: pit houses, dancing grounds, calendar stones, artifacts. None of it will be real, and yet it will be as real as I can possibly make it.
If I told you any more than that, I’d have to kill you.
Originally posted on Indies Unlimited on June 10, 2014.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Happy Halloween! BOO!

In honor of Halloween, I thought it appropriate to put my two ghost stories on sale. Now these are not your usual scary, creepy ghost stories. These are good stories. You'll find tension and mystery, yes, but also love and growth and redemption. Good stories.

And for the week of October 26-31, they are both only 99 cents each for Kindle. What better way to celebrate the season than with friendly ghosts?

Matthew Stone doesn't believe in ghosts … until he meets one. He owns a successful business in Lake Havasu, Arizona, home to the famed London Bridge that was brought over stone by stone and rebuilt over the Colorado River. He has a gorgeous girlfriend, a doting mother, and more money than he needs, but no time for stories about the ghosts who were transplanted from England with the famed bridge. When a chance encounter with a female ghost leads to unexpected friendship, Matt and the ghost are forced to rely on each other as they confront the pasts that haunt them.

When Jennifer and Robert Stinson buy a beautifully restored Victorian house, the last thing they expect is to share their home with a ghost ― especially one with a penchant for setting fires. Unfortunately the ghostly arson only creates more tension in their already strained marriage. Jen launches her own investigation into the history of her house and discovers a surprising ally in a sympathetic fire captain. But can she unravel the mystery of the fires before they consume her home, her marriage … and her life?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fun in Lake Havasu

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to meet with a book club in Lake Havasu. The book club is called Spicy Viewpoints and was the brainchild of Teresa Noval, owner of Jersey's Grill in Lake Havasu. It's a great bunch of ladies who love books, wine and enthusiastic discussions. I was happy to accept their invitation as they were reading my book, Stone's Ghost, for their October meeting, and I knew it would be fun to discuss the book.

Little did I know that the club was really pulling out all the stops. Not only did they book me a room at the Nautical Inn on the lake, but they also arranged for a boat cruise around the lake for our meeting. What fun! They all brought lots of good finger food and wine, and we had a terrific time seeing the sites and getting to know each other. 

It was really fun and interesting to hear their questions about the book and their thoughts on where the story might have gone. They brought up some scenarios I had never imagined, although I could see where those possibilities came from. And, like my husband, they all wanted a sequel. Hm... What was really awesome in a goosebumpy way was the fact that when we cruised underneath the London Bridge, the ladies all waved to Janie, the ghost in my book. We could almost see her standing up there.

We finished off the evening with gratitude on my part, and I held two raffles and gave away some freebies to everyone. It was definitely a win/win celebration of reading for me and for the ladies in the club.

My next stop the following day was at the Book Exchange, a lovely used book store in town. Ryan Lowe took care of all the preparations for my book signing and had a place all set up for me when I arrived. Not only that, there were readers there waiting for me! It was wonderful to have so many people stop by to buy a book, to chat, to get to know each other, even if only for a short time. I found everyone in Lake Havasu to be warm, welcoming and enjoyable. 

Before the end of my allotted time, Brandon Messick of the Lake Havasu News-Herald showed up to take some pictures for an article in the paper. We did a brief interview where he asked some insightful questions and again, I was impressed by everyone's interest and openness, and their love of this book that celebrates their city and their bridge. Embracing this book as their own has given me opportunities I would not otherwise have, and I do believe there's a strong mutual affection between me and the readers of Lake Havasu City. Great town, great bridge, great stories! 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards

Just got some most excellent news. My book, Stone's Ghost, is a finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards, sponsored by the New Mexico Book Co-op. It's one of four finalists in the eBook Fiction category. The winners will be announced at a banquet on November 20, so please keep your fingers crossed! You can see the list of all the finalists here.

Matthew Stone doesn't believe in ghosts … until he meets one. He owns a successful business in Lake Havasu, Arizona, home to the famed London Bridge that was brought over stone by stone and rebuilt over the Colorado River. He has a gorgeous girlfriend, a doting mother, and more money than he needs, but no time for stories about the ghosts who were transplanted from England with the famed bridge. When a chance encounter with a female ghost leads to unexpected friendship, Matt and the ghost are forced to rely on each other as they confront the pasts that haunt them.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Birthday Specials!

During my birthday month, I love giving gifts to my readers. This year I decided that birthdays evoke thoughts of where we started, where we've been and where we're going, and not just in this lifetime. Those of you who know me or read me frequently know that I believe in reincarnation. As a hypnotherapist, I've had plenty of experiences with past lives, both my own and my many clients', and I find the concept to be fascinating. So fascinating, in fact, that I've used it in two of my books. So for a few days, September 21-25, those two books are on sale for just 99 cents each. 

Queen's Gold

Hal Thompson is a pretty ordinary guy. A widower who owns his own small business, he’s doing his best to raise his two nearly adult children alone. When they convince him to undergo a hypnotic past-life regression, he is unimpressed that his “memories” reveal the hiding place of ancient Aztec gold. Other people, however, take it very seriously and when his family is threatened, he is forced to plunge into the jungles of Mexico, battling treacherous terrain, lethal wildlife and the haunting feeling of a love that spans centuries. Can he find the gold before it claims more lives? Or will he lose the love of his life … again?

Check out a recent review of Queen's Gold here.


Julia Martin, newly-divorced but still reeling from her husband’s infidelity, takes a much needed vacation to visit old college friends in Germany. While touring a little-known concentration camp and museum, she spontaneously experiences a violent past life memory of being murdered in this very camp during the Holocaust. Efforts to understand her memories only lead to more questions, the largest being: is her killer still alive? Supported by her friends and comforted in the arms of a handsome doctor, Julia attempts to uncover the mysteries of her past life and find justice for the person she used to be.

And see a recent review of Fleischerhaus here.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Coming Soon!

September and October are busy months, with lots of appearances and events packed in. Here's what's coming up in the Verde Valley and the state of Arizona:

Cottonwood Authors' Forum: Saturday, September 26 11:00a - 1:00p
Over 30 local authors are scheduled to participate in the 2015 Authors' Forum. Meet the authors. Hear the stories behind their stories. Buy new books (take it from us, you can never have too many books). 

The event will be in the Cottonwood Recreation Center. It kicks off with Keynote speakers, Bill Armstrong and Allen C. McKinzie, and continues with plenty of opportunities to network with some of the published writers living among us. 

I will be appearing and will have all of my books with me. I hope to see you there!

OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) workshops on
self-publishing. Offered for the first time in
Camp Verde, Arizona.

I will be conducting two workshops in October on self-publishing, one for paperbacks and one for e-books. If you've got a book you've written (or plan to write), I hope you'll join me for one (or both!) of these informative workshops, packed full of information and leading you step-by-step through the publishing process.

Self-Publishing with Amazon: Paperbacks – October 6, 2015 (V-870-15)
 This nuts-and-bolts workshop will show how to publish your book using Amazon’s self-publishing company, CreateSpace. If you have written or dream of writing a novel, memoir, non-fiction, cookbook, book of poetry, children’s book, art book—any kind of book—you can self-publish for as little as about $10. Limited to 12 participants. Location: Rm 310 in Camp Verde, 9am to 12pm.

Self-Publishing With Amazon: E-Books – October 20, 2015 (V-871-15)
 This nuts-and-bolts workshop will show how to publish your book using Amazon’s digital format, Kindle Digital Publishing. If you have written or dream of writing a novel, memoir, non-fiction, cookbook, book of poetry, children’s book, art book—any kind of book—you can publish it as an e-book for free.  Limited to 12 participants. Location: Rm 310 in Camp Verde, 9am – 12pm.

On October 13, I will be in Lake Havasu, meeting with a book club and talking about my book Stone's Ghost, which concerns a ghost who haunts the famous London Bridge. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Rose is a Rose: What's in a Name?

Phone Book photo by Melissa Bowersock phonebk2I’ve just started writing a new book. I’ve had the main idea swimming around in my brain for a month or two, but just in the past couple weeks have I put together some research that is vital to the story, plus some ideas of who the main characters are and what the arc of their story will be. So far I’ve got a couple thousand words down, and within that short period of time, I’ve changed several characters names two or three times.
I love this phase of writing. I love naming my characters. At this point, I will happily, almost giddily, watch the news, a golf tournament, any sports channel with a crawler just so I can peruse the names that flow by. I could very literally sit down and read a phone book for a couple hours and be happy as a clam. For a woman who’s never been pregnant, I have an obscene number of baby name books.
Mahan, Riggs, Spieth, Charleston, Wertzel, Howland, Grogan. I love playing with the names. I test out several for each character, some monosyllabic, some polysyllabic. Why does the number of syllables matter? Let’s play a game. What sounds better?
Rhett Smith
Rhett Butler
Rhett Farthington
Of course we’re all going to recognize Rhett Butler and most likely that sounds the best to us primarily because that’s the name we know. But note how the various full names roll off the tongue, how we emphasize one syllable over another and how it all works together — or not. A couple books ago, I had a character named Lasta (long story, but it’s in the book). For her last name, I wanted something short and rather harsh to match her difficult life. I finally settled on Beck. Lasta Beck. I liked the punch of the last syllable, the hard edge to it. Lasta Purcell would have softened her name and would not have worked near as well for what I wanted, which leads to another consideration.
The sound of the consonants in the name is important. The name of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series gives us clues about his personality before we ever see him. The sibilance of the name and the similarity of Snape to snake all work to suggest someone evil, menacing, and manipulative. The shortness of Snape gives it a brittle quality (like snap), as if he might lash out at any time. And of course finding out later that Snape is not the untrustworthy snake-in-the-grass he was made out to be provides tension and revelation later in the series.
Which leads to another point. Do we want the name to reveal something about our character? Or do we want to set up something of a smoke screen? If my main character is a private detective named Rip Bolger or Clash Callahan, we get a certain idea from those tough, manly names. But what if I name him Alfonse Dardanelle? Or Willis Altamonte? It all depends on whether I want to lead the reader toward the real person behind the name or not. If I don’t want to give anything away, I might name him something rather bland — John Carpenter — and let his character develop organically from the story.
Another consideration is if the character’s nationality or heritage is important to the story. If I give my character a last name of O’Neill, Weiss, Gunther, Xi, or Chopra, that might be enough to quickly give a suggestion of the character’s physical or emotional make-up. Again, as above, it could be a clue to the character’s personality — or not. Mixing nationalities — Padraig Nguyen — could actually point up a conflict in the character’s background, or an interesting story about his beginnings. That’s the fun thing about names. They can add a huge amount of depth to our characters and really make them memorable.
I’d love to have you tell me some of the best (and worst) names you’ve used or seen. And in the meantime I’ll leave you with a little game of what might have been in an alternate universe.
So what’s in a name? You tell me.
Famous TitlesFamous NamesFamous Lines
The Great GillenhamReggie ButlerCall me Rupert.
The Picture of Dorian GerberCindy O’HaraSonia! Hey, Sonia!
Leonard, King of the ApesCaptain ApplebyElementary, my dear Winkleman.
Monica of the d’UrbervillesAtticus PheasantOpen the pod bay doors, Alvin.
Susie’s ChoiceFrank ChristianToughy, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
The Mystery of Edwin DoobyHester PiffelBond. Freddie Bond.
Dickie CopperfieldShelby HolmesMrs. Dingle said she would buy the flowers herself.
This article was originally published on Indies Unlimited on June 3, 2014