Susan Tepper tagged me in a recent merry-blog-go-round about writing process, but having been tagged by someone else I decided to come up with new questions and I thought it would be interesting to ask writers about their characters. This came out of a discussion at FFC’s New and Emerging Writers Group which focuses on the art and craft of writing. The discussion question, posed by Jim Harrington, FFC’s Managing Editor, was, “How do you select character names?” I want to expand on that, so here are some new questions for writers who want to play along. I’ll start with my own answers.
1). What surprises you about your characters? And why?
I’m always surprised that they show up because I rarely begin a story with a character in mind. Usually I begin with a situation and then just GO. I suppose this means they come out similar to me, especially if I start with a first person narrative and that makes sense because the situation—if told from the “I” viewpoint usually resembles something I’ve been through. The third person pops up if the situation isn’t that close to home. I’m surprised I just admitted that.
2). What do you draw upon to create your characters?
Of course as with most writers, I pull my characters from myself, from people I know, and from people I observe, but rarely have I ever consciously created a character from a single person. I remember one case where the character is exactly like real life but the details are changed. Other than that, most of the time my characters spring from what I know—or think I know—then evolve with the story as I make decisions—or I’m led toward decisions. This is where it gets a little loopy, the chicken and the egg syndrome.
3). Out of all of the characters you’ve created, who is your favorite and why? Please name the story and supply a link if that’s possible.
Right now it’s Abbie Palmer who is the main character of my suspense novel, What Came Before. She is a lot like me in so many ways, but certainly she has been molded to fit the story. There is a reason why I don’t do memoir because my own life has been extremely ordinary and satisfying. This is not what good drama is made of. Another favorite who is alive now in Pure Slush’s 2014-A Year in Stories anthologies is Sybil. She a landlady who has managed her life fairly well but there’s something in her past that she’s dealing with, and her ability to be everyone’s go-to person is slipping away.
4) Are there any characters you are not quite done with yet? What other challenges do you want to give him or her?
I have two published short-stories about Nikki Hyland, Slacker Detective. I would like to write a few more shorts or even a novel continuing to challenge her to get her you-know-what together. Her first story can be found in LandMarked for Murder along with several other stories from members of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters-in-Crime.
5). How do you select character names?
Sometimes names just pop into my mind and sometimes I research, looking for subtly suggestive, as in the case of Sybil, the landlady I mentioned before. I wanted her to have an old fashioned name to suggest her age and her wisdom. I haven’t quite used this allusion to its fullest yet and I may not. I don’t ever want names to be obvious, but rather to hint at something deeper. This though doesn’t always happen. Sometimes a name is just a name.