Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A T-Bone By Any Other Name

Question of the Week: What’s in a name? Do you give careful thought to the names of your characters or do you draw them out of a hat?

My Answer: Usually they come from left field, popping onto the page along with the character. Clare Vengel, the chain-smoking, motorcycle-riding heroine of my detective series, arrived with her name and her trailer park backstory fully formed.

Sometimes a name is inspired by a song. Martha Westlake, a US Senator in Death's Last Run, was inspired by the Tom Waits song “Martha.” (I picture the heroine of the song as a relatively closed person with a richer inner life than she lets on.)

T-Bone Jones in Death Plays Poker is an abbreviated version of the nickname my husband gives to any poker player he sees in a cowboy hat on TV. (The full name he gives them is T-Bone Double-down Dogday Jones.)

And sometimes, a name can inspire the plot. In Death's Last Run, Clare is undercover as a snowboarder named Lucy Lipton. No, she did not inspire any iced tea, but one day while I was driving, mulling plot questions and singing along to The Beatles' “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,” I got the idea that it might be cool to introduce an LSD subplot into the story—which ended up being the missing link the book needed to tie all the characters together.

While I don't always put a ton of thought into the creation of a name, a character would not be the same person if you called them something else.


Paul D. Marks said...

Interesting to see where others get their character names from, Robin. Songs (we've named pets after Beatle references or songs), your husband's nickname for poker players in cowboy hats, etc. And you're right on when you a character wouldn't be the same person if you called them something else. Their names are as much a part of their character as any traits they have.

Susan C Shea said...

I may need to call on your husband for naming help! That's a great one. In life, I wonder if we become our names to a degree and if, born with a name that never feels right, we pursue nicknames we prefer as a way of getting closer to the person we feel we are? Hmmm...that might be an interesting character backstory bit to include in a future story!

Meredith Cole said...

I love how this name discussion is so interesting (and inspiring)!

Sometimes names come quickly to me, and other times I sit mulling over names until one just feels right. And T-Bone Jones is the perfect name for a poker player...

Catriona McPherson said...

Love this! Your whole world is left-field, Robin.