Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Girl named Charley

I think it was Ed’s idea during one of our Writers Corner meetings (Palm Springs Writers Guild) this spring. We were all bantering back and forth about the importance of names to create an image for our fictional characters. I mentioned that the names of female protagonists was especially important for me to create an identity for the characters I like to write about.

Ed was the first person to suggest another name for one of my female protagonists. I was surprised at first but resolved to listen carefully to what the others had to say. The other writers chimed in with their own renditions of ‘Name that Character.’ For whatever reason, Ed’s suggestion stuck and I quickly jotted it down for future reference.

Naming characters in a novel is one of the more critical and challenging aspects in the formulation of an engaging storyline. For me, it is one of the most important initial actions I can take. The names of characters present images in the reader’s mind. They can often define their personalities better than physical descriptions. A memorable name can accentuate their dialogue and meld seamlessly into their backstory.

Because of my propensity to ‘fall in love’ with my characters, I need a name I can attach myself to and generate feelings for these fictional folks. I need to feel their pain, their happiness, their joy and their fear. But most importantly, I need to understand their motivation for whatever actions they take and the emotions they feel.

Ed’s comments got my creative juices flowing. Less than half-way home from our meeting, it struck me where I might use the name Ed suggested and which character it might describe.

The story, if written, would be a murder-mystery or a suspense thriller. The background setting would be the publishing industry in either San Francisco or Los Angeles, present day. It would have a cast of characters, some of which might be clich├ęs but hopefully others would be quite unique. The common denominator here is that most of them are not what they seem. And first appearances are often the most misleading.

There would be both a male and a female protagonist (no surprise here considering my other writings.) The lead female character (always the most fun to develop) started to grow in my minds-eye between Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs. I saw her face, her slim figure, her commanding presence and heard her sharp tongue. She is probably in her mid-thirties.

In addition to this intriguing woman, the story will include the woman’s sixteen-year-old daughter who is giving her all kinds of teen-age grief, a father who is suffering from dementia but holds the knowledge that could save her life and a mysterious figure-who might be the father of her daughter. The woman has a sharp wit and even sharper mind. She has skin tougher than leather and no need for a man in her life. Yet there is this guy who keeps bumping into her at the most inappropriate times, purposely or by accident-she isn’t sure which.

My protagonist would just as smart as Katherine, the lead female character in “Follow the Cobbler” but with a lot more issues.

A woman as complex as that can’t have a normal name like Mary or Jane or whatever. She has to have a name that is memorable and easily identifiable with her unique and sometimes quirky personality. Charlene might be her given name but a name like Charley would hit her image right on the nose. So Charley it was.

All that for a storyline that was just starting to germinate in treatment form and was still many months or years away from even a first draft.

I’ve gain a new appreciation and interest in female names now that it’s become a major part of my creative story-telling.

Maya, Samantha (Sam) and Charlotte are the next generation born into my extended family.  Remarkably, (I sound like a grandparent here, I know!) each is a unique and very individualistic person in their own right. I first realized that in Constant Charlotte.

But before the grand daughters, there came many others…not all girlfriends or just friends who were female. These were women with whom I had crossed paths, shared experiences, worked with, argued with, fell in with love with, had my heart broken by and ultimately chalked it all up to that grab bag called life experiences.

There was the one in high school who was always looking for something more. High school was just a way-stop for her. A brief distraction until college. She married a doctor and got what she wanted.
The one in college who was an enigma back then and still remains one today.  I never could figure her out. Communication was a handicap on both sides of the fence. It was like Dancing with Blindfolds On.

The other one in college whose personality burnt like a bright star ever so briefly. Ironically, she
moved to Colorado, a state I’ve come to love.

I’ve written about Susan in Looking for Susan’s House.

A woman named Chris reinforced the fact that I wasn’t the smoothest dude on the planet. I dropped out of her life for three months to travel Europe and was surprised when she wouldn’t take me back afterwards.

Then I met Sharon whose life I’ve chronicled in The Girl with Seven Suede Jackets.

Each name congers up fragmented and fading images based on past experiences. In turn, each of those brings with it a treasure chest of emotions. It’s a wonderful memory basket I can dig through every so often as I think about ‘what would my female protagonist do?’

In fiction writing, at least for me, the female protagonist’s name must be reflective of the character I’ve envisioned. It’s far from an exact science but rather one built and supported by emotional interludes with memories of my past, exaggeration imaginations of ‘what if’ and simply trying to craft an interesting storyline.

What is most amazing to me is the solid connection between the name created for a character and the image that fictional person holds in my mind. I tried to breakdown that connection with my female protagonists in Undressing my avatar. But it also holds true for my many treatments (future books or screenplays) and the female characters I’ve chosen for each of them.

Medbh (pronounced: Meave) in Trans Con
Recovering from surgery, her life is at a crisis point and has ended as she knows it. The answer seems logical enough. She will take a cross country bicycle ride to discover America and find herself.

Brook in Polar Opposites.
Uber-wealthy high society woman who has sworn off of men after several betrayals. She only trusts gay men then finds herself falling for one.

Brianna in Northern Crescent
She is a kick-ass millennial who is caught up in a web of murder, mystery and foreign espionage that stretches from Duluth, Minnesota to Los Cabos, Mexico.

Amber in Phnom Penh
Beautiful, talented, addicted actress who is desperate for a normal life and real love.  A photo shoot in Cambodia forces her to face real dangers from terrorists and enemies within her group and all around her.
Rose in Siloso
Born into pre-World War Two British high Society, she is married to man she doesn’t love. She finds herself falling for a brash, young Australian officer in Singapore just before the outbreak of the war.

Rachel in Georgia Howl
Survivor of the Civil War, she is on a journey back home, facing dangers from both Union and fellow Confederate soldiers alike. She finds herself falling in love with a married man and facing an uncertain future in a war-torn country.

There are a lot more female characters still lingering on in my field tape recordings, paper scratches piled high in a folder and numerous file folders floating around in cyber-space inside my computers. They’re unique, interesting and I’m more than anxious to draw them out of hiding and into some story that has yet to be thought out and formulated.

All I need to do is find a suitable name for them. And with that moniker, we can both begin our fictional journey together.

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