Thursday, February 28, 2008

Naming names

One of the (many) tricky things about writing a book is finding names.

It's not easy to pick a name that suits a character and it's very much a trial-and-error process. Sometimes I come up with a random name for a hero or heroine - any old combination of first and second, and try it on for size.

Imagine being able to pick your own name. Think one up, work with it for a few months and then, before you have to make a final decision, you either embrace it, wholeheartedly, or bin it. That's what happens with my characters.

Of course, it's not all down to me. My editors (official and unofficial) will have their two cents' worth - "you've got too many Pauls," for example, or "too many Christian names beginning with an 's'" and I'll have to change one or two.

And there are other factors to consider, not least of which being if the name has already been over-used. In an early attempt at a manuscript I got halfway through a book before realising that Michael Jackson was, in fact, the name of an African American singer, as well as my leading man.

Then there are the real people who want their names used - vis-a-vis the infamous Michelle Parker, who was the heroine of 'Safari'. Now safely married with a new identity, the former Miss Parker started her literary life as reasonably chaste (for one of my books - it being quite difficult to write smut about a very nice young co-worker), but ended up as something of a raunch bucket after the editing process.

Who knows what is in store for my friend Jane, who is the leading lady in the current draft of the so-far-unnamed Book 6?

Complete strangers have also ended up having their names used in my books. For example, there was the tyre fitter, Vincent, from somewhere in the freestate who did such a good, quick job of fixing a blowout on the Land Rover, that I made him (with his blessing), a detective in Far Horizon.

I've also taken a leaf from other writers' books (and used a very clunky literary analogy there) and offered up names for sale. Rest assured, though, that this was done for charitable purposes and not to line my own pockets (although the thought has crossed my mind).

Two names of minor characters in Safari were auctioned off to raise money for a child care centre and pre-school attended by the offspring of friends of mine. From memory, the princely sum, in total, was a couple of hundred bucks.

But a new record was set recently, when I was asked to be guest speaker at the SAVE Foundation's (NSW) fundraising dinner. Some big money changed hands at the Hunters Hill Sailing Club, including a substantial amount (close to four figures) for two character names in my sixth book.

First to go was a woman's name and when the MC and auctioneer hinted that the lucky bidder of the man's name might get to have (fictional) sex with the female character (something I had actually vowed would not happen), the bidding for the gentleman character intensified. In the name of chivalry (and, perhaps, in keeping with the overall spirit of drunken abandon that characterised the bidding on the night), the lady's husband stepped in an paid to be the male character.

Here and there I've doled out favours to friends and friends' children. There was the German spy in African Sky (not the main man, the one who gets ignominiously consigned to the gallows early on) who shares his name with the son of friends, and the smart-mouthed cameraman in Safari who bears a more than passing similarity to a smart-mouthed buddy of mine.

Of course, it's always good if someone has an interesting - thought not too interesting - name to offer up. I mean, we can't be having too many John Smiths, for the same reason that Orelia Lipschitz is unlikely to ever appear in a lead role. I need acceptable, though slightly colourful, and preferably evocative handles.

So, if you have a less-than-bland, though not too out-there name, and an inclination to contribute money to some worthy cause, I'll always be happy to hear from you.

Be warned, though, that I may not be able to squeeze you in (sometimes it just doesn't sound right) or, of perhaps greater concern, you might just end up killing someone, being killed, or having sex with another real-life person who you may or may not know.

Without revealing too much of the detail of Book 6 (which has not even been accepted yet by my very good friends at Pan Macmillan) I can hint that the subject matter concerns something that (so far) seems guaranteed to set the hearts of my female readers a-flutter. Several have already volunteered to be extras in this book.

Fortunately, all the volunteers so far have very acceptable names. The only problem is that once I start writing I cannot be held responisble for what these characters get up to (I don't plot my books - I just make them up as I go along).

So, the good news, D and S, is that while you are both stunning women in the book (as you are in real life), you're both so attractive that you... um... can't.... err... resist each other's charms.


ali g said...

Ali G.. an elderly but kind and considerate lover has a nice ring to it...or then
Ali G..the international terrorist, driven to acts of wanton terrorism through no fault of his own but due solely to his name which metamorphised through his multiple grandchildren... i.e. Grandpa > Grahamepa > Unca G > Ali G.
Practice my terrorism by yelling at the geese to stop crapping on the veranda.
Kind and considerate loving is practiced by falling asleep in front of the TV.
Credentials are all there but suppose the original Ali G's [aka Borat] existence [as per Michael Jackson] doesn't give me much chance of being a character in a TP book.

Crookedpaw said...

I'd be willing to put up $50 for a Wildlife Fund of your choice, if you could find some use for Crookedpaw - perhaps as the local nickname for a wild creature?

Live long and prosper.


Java said...

Great ideas to auction it or ask for donations to wild life funds.
My son is still eager to get his name in a book, he want to know how much he needs to donate from his pocket money? He probably would want to be some army expert working with guns and stuff, please just don't kill him or let him get killed! He still tells me he want to join the army one day.
BTW his name is Jac [Yaak] pronounce.
The Afrikaans for Jacques.