Today’s #CleanWIP theme and collaborative article is Character. [More info]

Image by Charnchai Saeheng

Character Dinner Date

There was much talk this week among authors who prefer the clean end of the spectrum that CleanWIP Magazine was planning to arrange an elaborate, all expenses paid, dinner for each of them and a character from a work-in-progress or a published book. They only had to answer the question “Who would you choose and why?”

Well… the bad news is this was only a rumor. On the bright side, the responses were quite fun.

Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

Lea Carter – It would have to be Lady/Doctor Cassidy, because we need to talk. Her fickle behavior is driving me crazy! If she loves that man, she needs to tell me so I can quit writing them in circles.
Don’t worry about the fancy dinner, actually. Give us the ingredients and we can prep while we talk, it’ll give us something to do with our hands, lol.

(You can meet Doctor Cassidy Clark in Heartwood, book 7 of the Silver Sagas series.)

Arthur Daigle – William Bradshaw King of the Goblins needs, nay, deserves this opportunity. He spends all his time surrounded by goblins, small, stupid, mildly crazy and exceedingly dirty goblins who set traps for fun. Getting away from them for a few hours is an act of charity whether there is food involved or not.

(Will’s most recent appearance is in William Bradshaw and Urban Problems, the fifth book in the Will Bradshaw series.)

Ruth O’Neil – The character from my WIP that I would love to have dinner with is Abby (With Every Breath). She’s turning out to be a real brat. If I met with her, we could have a good chat and maybe I’d smack her upside the head in hopes of knocking some sense into her.

Irene Onorato – I’d have to bring hubby, of course, but I’d have dinner with Brandon, the male lead in my WIP. He’s a young preacher who finds that the church for which he’d accepted a pastorate has NO congregation.
His quest to get to know the community better leads him to live (voluntarily) among the homeless in “tent city,” at a local park for two weeks. I’d like to pick his brain about his experiences.

Jessica L. Elliott – This is such a hard question because I truly love all of my characters. But, right now I’d probably want to have dinner with Craig Fitzgibbon, the male lead in my current WIP. One, any man who can dress as Gandalf in order to keep his identity secret at a high school dance is awesome, and I should apologize for his grandfather being so pushy.

Laurean Brooks –  Austin Brady, the hero in my book, “Journey To Forgiveness” set in 1938 Chicago, is a character I fell in love with. He’s a charmer and a prankster, but make no buts about it, Austin loves Jenny Largent to the moon, even though she suspects he’s stolen money from the mission fund box. He will protect Jenny no matter what. I would love to pick Austin’s brain—if I could get him to act serious long enough.

Margaret Skea – I would bring Katharina Luther – she worked so hard feeding so many other folk – apparently got up every day at 4.00am to start her daily chores that giving her a lovely meal would be a treat for her.

(You can meet Katharina Luther in Katharina: Deliverance, which is set in sixteenth century Germany.)

Character Names

We asked authors who write on the clean end of the spectrum how they come up with all those characters’ names and how they remember who’s who as they write. Here’s the inside scoop.

Charmain Zimmerman Brackett – Most of the time, they just come to me. I have looked up names every now and then, but for specific reasons. My latest series is based in my hometown of Augusta, GA so I needed some Southern sounding names. I also looked up articles on favorite double names. One way to remember everyone’s name is to keep the list of characters minimal. If the writer can’t remember them, then how is a reader supposed to remember them? Also, my “characters” are real people to me especially the main characters. I know their backstories and their favorite colors. They are people; they wake me up at night and talk to me.

Michael Lynes – I remember them because they become ‘real’ to me in some sense.

Authors are often extremely busy people so we try not to be too pushy when we can tell they’re in a hurry. Nonetheless, when we pressured Michael slightly as to whether he has tricks up his sleeves to decide which names to use, he told us the names “completely pop in. Especially their nicknames and the names they call other people.”

Linda Ellen – That’s a good question! Sometimes names can be hard, and now with ten books, I’m having to scramble and not use the same ones. I write historical romance, and many times I’ve found old fashioned sounding names for secondary characters on census records for that year. Sometimes if I need a last name for a character mentioned one time, I look over at my Facebook chat list and pick one from who is on, lol. First names of my main characters started out being names I loved, and then I started honoring loved ones and friends (a friend named Terry is the hero’s name for one book. Grandson Finn is the hero for another. Co-worker Mary June is heroine for another, etc.). How I keep them straight is I keep a note file open side by side with my master file as I’m writing. When I create a new character, I click over and type it into the note file.

Jessica Marie Holt – Some names just come to me, as though the character was a real person who always had that name. Most others I struggle with. I tend to want to name every older man George and every younger man Jackson, and after that my creativity sort of taps out. For my historical fictions, I googled the most popular names in the 1860s, and looked at the US census records. Then, because the series takes place here in my area of North Carolina, I have recently been looking at history books and gravestones to get ideas for future names that sound local/regional. For contemporary names, I use baby name lists, popular name lists, and I look at TV credits and street names. Some of my characters have “placeholder” names until the end of the book, because I struggle so much with the decision. Keeping the names straight once I choose them is easy, though. They’re like real people. I might occasionally mix up them up, like I would in real life, but deep down I always know who everyone is, and what their names are.

Richard Houston – I put a list of characters at the front of my books with a short description of who they are. In one book, I even drew a chart to show their relationships. I do this a much for myself as my readers.
Another question you didn’t ask, but I’ll answer is how do I keep track of time. I put the day of the seek and the date in brackets on every scene and chapter heading of my manuscript. I remove those before the book is published.
These are tricks I’ve only used in my last two books after I found I couldn’t keep track of either one in my previous books.

Arthur Daigle – Some character names are related to what they are or their occupations. For example, I have two trolls named London and Brooklyn, since in legends trolls often live under bridges. I have a goblin alchemist called Vial, after the glass container used in chemistry.
In other cases I’m trying to defy expectations. Heroic leads often have names that imply strength, such as Stone, Rock, Hawk and so on. I named my main character William Bradshaw to make him sound ordinary.
Lastly, each character has to have a name that is both pronounceable and different enough from the names of all other characters. Some fantasy authors create highly complex names that look like the alphabet got tossed in a blender. Those are hard for readers to say, and I feel that makes it harder to remember. Having character names too close together may make readers mistake one for the other.

Debbie Brown – I’m always paying attention to names, but strangely enough, I usually wait for my characters to tell me their names. I remember one time, where i was in the middle of a scene and this character walks in… I had no idea who he was or what he was doing…
Turns out, he was very helpful and definitely needed, lol. I had to wait to hear somebody say his name to know what it was.
Crazy stuff ya just can’t make up.

Laurean Brooks – I don’t have a problem remembering the first names of my characters since my books usually don’t have more than 8 or 10. I name them according to their looks and personalities. My current WIP (Western) has hero “Clint” (rugged name for a cowboy), and heroine “Emily” a pretty name. For the goofy buck-tooth dentist, who gives Emily a tough time, his name is “Wendell”, Another lady who is pursuing Wendell, is “Prudence.” This gives a visual of shy and a little homely. As for Characters’ names, I have a book published in the late 70s titled “Beyond Jennifer and Jason.” I paid 50 cents for it at a Library sale, a decade ago. It’s been worth it’s weight in gold many times over. The “baby name” book lists many popular baby names from 2 centuries ago and up to the 1980s, and their origins. It also lists names that portray personalities. Like macho names for men, pretty names for ladies. Suggestion: If you purchase this book from Amazon, get the original version. I later bought the updated “Beyond Jennifer and Jason, Madison & Montana.” It does not contain half the information and listings as “Beyond Jennifer and Jason.”

Jessica L. Elliott – Depends on the project. One name came to me because I have a snarky author friend who recommended it in jest. Turns out Allisatravondarestra was just the right name for my character, who incidentally much prefers to go by Allie. My readers prefer that too! Haha.
But it’s a toss up. Some characters come into my head fully-formed with a name already attached. Others, I spend days searching my worn-out baby name book for just the right name. I really relate to the scene in The Man Who Invented Christmas where Dickens is trying to discover the right name for his protagonist. Just as Scrooge appeared to him, once I’ve got the name, the character comes to life.
As far as keeping track of them, I’ve got a spreadsheet I try to remember to fill out.

Katherine Karrol – I have an easy time keeping track of characters because not only are they as real to me as people in the world outside my head, but they pop up in multiple books in the series.
Most of the names are ones that just jumped into my head as fitting a particular character. I was having a hard time coming up with the name that felt right for one of my leading men, so I started thinking through my favorite NFL teams. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but his name ended up being a combo of two players on my favorite team. The irony is that he wasn’t the athlete in his family or a very alpha guy.
I have a list of names that has grown to include first and last for males and females, towns, businesses, and places around the fictitious county my series is set in. I’m incorporating more names of town fathers from the area my county is modeled after, too.
I try not to use names of people I know, but I have used some of my ancestors’ surnames. I made an exception once and named a lighthouse after my grandmother. I figured no one would know that Marvel was an actual person’s name!

Rachel John – I put a list of the characters at the bottom of the document until I have them memorized, but I do struggle with not using the same ones from book to book. I seem to have a problem with wanting to use Jasmine as the bad girl/ex-girlfriend character. And I just realized I had Lottie twice in the same series and had to do a find/replace on my current WIP. Find/replace can get tricky if you have a name like Dan because of words like dance. Also, I have it in my editing checklist to search for the name I started with because my brain will want to keep using it after I’ve changed it.

Lea Carter – I got the names for my Coddiwomple series from the Basque language, Euskara. I didn’t always use whole words, but that allowed me to choose names with meaning that wouldn’t be recognized as everyday words. It would sound silly to name an older woman in the village ‘mother,’ for example, but naming her ‘Ama’ sounds fine!
I’ve also learned to keep a separate document called “Who’s Who” for each setting.

Margaret Skea – All but my main family in my Scottish series were real people – the problem that posed was that they weren’t very imaginative re Christian names in the 16th century – so keeping track for me was hard never mind for readers. I have lists pinned up with ages etc to keep me on track and supply a character list at the front of the books. Ironically, when I had a free choice, I couldn’t decide on a Christian name for the main character until the very end of the second book, so he survived two whole books on just his surname!

Ruth O’Neil – In my current WIP I had to come up with seven names for main characters and they all had to have meaning. Some were easier than others, but then I came to that one that just wouldn’t come out. But then, after one last ditch effort to name this character, I found exactly what I had not been looking for. I found a name, but I also found a whole background for her to write about. Zena became a Greek with a history that no one knew about.

We’re working closely with a growing number of authors who lean toward the clean end of the spectrum to bring you similar collaborative articles and behind the scenes glimpses. If you enjoyed this, and we hope you did, please consider sharing it.

Peculiar Characters

People are peculiar. Characters should be too. Vanilla ice cream is arguably wonderful, but you won’t find many readers willing to argue that books need more vanilla—as in plain—characters.

We asked many authors who write on the clean end of the spectrum to tell us about a peculiarity of one of their characters, either in a current work-in-progress or a published work. Since we realize authors are often extremely busy people, we’re especially appreciative of those who were able to—and did—respond.

(Click an author’s name or book link for more.)

Jessica Marie Holt – Oh, goodness, all of my characters are peculiar. But Dottie Dixon from Sunlight and Shadows is one of my very favorites. The story is set in 1871. Dottie is a sturdy, no-nonsense, buxom kind of woman, but she has an absolute weakness for fashion and decorating—the more lavish and ridiculous, the better. She reads the fashion and home décor mags of the day, and she goes around in fancy brocade dresses with huge bustles and a thousand buttons. The best thing about her is her hats—she wears these elaborate hats with tall, trailing feathers, and you always know when she’s upset because the feathers start trembling. She’s also a woman of few words, and she has an intriguing and sometimes shady past that only reveals itself in tidbits. In a way, I feel like she represents the dichotomy of the Victorian era; austere and no-nonsense, but also opulent and hopelessly over-the-top.

Jessica L. Elliott – My favorite part of writing is discovering all of my characters’ peculiarities. In my published book Operation: Romance, Stacie is a teenager who always writes texts out with proper spelling and punctuation. She can’t stand text-speak, which can drive her crazy since that’s all the handsome football player she’s working with uses. This part of her personality just cracks me up because most teens have no problem with texting shorthand. But, Stacie is not your average teen.

Ruth O’Neil – I actually keep a notebook in my purse as weird/quirky/strange characters seem to be drawn to me. I’ll be out in public and someone feels it necessary to tell me their life’s story—everything I never wanted to know. Little do they know I’m taking mental notes and will record things ASAP. I think one of the favorite characters I “created” was Professor Yates in Come Eat at My Table. She is a conglomerate of several people I know personally. She is the epitome of the absent-minded professor. Her outfits are eccentric, complete with huge, coordinating hats. She might wobble on the sane/insane line, but her heart is true. She loves my MC like no one else but her father did.

Linda Ellen – In my book A Bride for Finn, one of my side characters is an incessant talker. I named her Elvira. She’s based on one of my sister-in-laws, lol. She talks non-stop, you can’t get a word in edge-wise, and her thoughts bounce from one subject to another. Her scenes are hilarious.

Lea Carter – Fairies live for several thousand years. It’s typical to find great-great-grandparents playing sports with their descendants, taking adventure vacations, and just generally living life to the fullest.
Princess Arabella, on the other hand, views life through a lens colored by early tragedy. Her younger sister died doing something quite mundane, heightening Arabella’s awareness of how fragile fairies truly are. While other parents are pushing their 40 year old children to learn to fly, she’s finding whatever excuse she can to keep her children close to home. Where it’s safe.
She fights her fears daily, with the staunch support of her husband and family, but cringes each time life puts those she loves in danger.
[Though she’s not the main character, Arabella has a supporting role in Silver Majesty and Silver Verity.]

Arthur Daigle – Mr. Niff the goblin is convinced he’s a hero, and is the first person to run into danger. It doesn’t matter if there’s no way to win the fight, or if there’s even a real threat, he’s going in with without regard to his own safety. His bravery has resulted in several spectacular acts of heroism, and a nearly endless stream of lawsuits from outraged property owners, insurance salesmen, and totally innocent passersby.
[Mr. Niff and his heroic acts are in William Bradshaw, King of the Goblins.]

Laurean Brooks – Aunt Em is a quirky older lady, (my hero’s aunt), in my Western mail order bride story, Not What He Ordered. She speaks her mind and is devious in a helpful way. Hero (Josh) does not know the ad he placed for Aunt Em was not for house help, but for a bride for him. Then when Aunt Em swears the prospective bride (heroine Carrie) to secrecy, Carrie is caught between a rock and a hard place. To tell or not to tell. But Carrie has secrets of her own.

‘We’ even asked the editor.

Earl Chinnici – Not counting that one peculiar character in my debut nearly-a-memoir I wrote as I quit smoking, I suppose my most peculiar character so far is Rita, a boisterous woman of Peurto Rican heritage in one of my current works-in-progress. She speaks and drives very fast. I believe she might be one of Atlanta, Georgia’s worst drivers. Rita comes across as borderline obnoxious at first but she’s really just having a rough time navigating life. That pretty well sums up what I know about her personality so far. Soon after we met, we each faced our own traumatic events so our relationship has been on hold a while. Maybe we’ll get a chance to reconnect someday soon.