What’s in a Name?

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Character names are a bugbear for me. When a character pops up in my mind I usually get to see (roughly) what they look like and can even hear their voice when they speak. Unfortunately, they never tell me their name. It’s me that has to decide on that.
Rather than interrupt the flow of my writing, I tend to give this little thought. Jim is a favourite name of mine. Most male characters start up being Jim or John or Tim or Toby. This, however has to be sorted out otherwise the reader can become very confused. Then they get irritated, then they throw my book in the bin.

Of course, in real life we meet lots of people with the same name. That doesn’t work in fiction. Even names beginning with the same letter should be avoided in order to reduce the possibility of confusing the reader. On the page, words with similar lengths starting with the same letter often get confused. It’s because of our brains always looking for shorthand ways of doing things. There’s lots of examples, here’s one:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

That’s why I can have lots of friends called Peter and never get them confused but can’t have similar character names in my novels or the reader will.

So, if I’ve got a Jim, I have to avoid John and James and Jacob and Jack and Joshua.

This is a pain in the backside for me. And I could do without any more pain in that region, believe me.

I like short names. Like Jenny and Kat. Like Toby and Alex. Like Mac and Mick. Oh dear. Mac and Mick. They’re both in Limited Liability! I suppose there has to be an exception to every rule.

Don’t let this put you off buying Limited Liability when it comes out next month. I don’t think you’ll mistake one of these guys for the other. Let me know if you do get confused, though, and I’ll have a word with my editor.

photo credit: *Nom & Malc via photopin cc

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Fings ain’t wot they used to be

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Things change. The world doesn’t stand still. It might move slowly, especially when you’re sitting in the middle and can’t easily see the rotation, but it keeps on going.

As a writer, change provides an interesting problem. If I write about the present day (which I generally do) by the time a novel is ready for publishing it’s at least two years on. Not long, you might think, but then consider the fact that a reader might not pick it up for several more years. So, a novel is a thing of its own time, regardless of whether it is purposefully historical or not. It has to have the clues within in that establish the setting and time otherwise it may not work for the reader.

Let me give you an example.
Phones.
For many years, the telephone was a tethered device that required the close proximity of the recipient in order to function. Mobile phones changed things fundamentally, making everyone acessible all the time regardless of location. This began to happen in 1985. The old tethered phone had been standard from the 1870’s, it’s had a long and honourable innings.

Communication is fundamental to our lives and particularly important when it comes to plotting crime thrillers. Before 1985, it wasn’t possible to talk to someone unless they standing next to a telephone. If you were out and about, urgent calls had to be made using a phone box. Imagine! A box with a phone in it used to be the only game in town. If you were going to be late for your tea, you had to find one, stop the car, get out, fumble for coins, dial the number, push your coins in when you heard the pips and explain yourself. Most people, understandably, just turned up late.

A fundamental shift started in 1985. Plotting crime thrillers after that became different. Everything began to move more quickly.

In Proceeds of Crime, the second Jenny Parker novel, Jenny escapes from a brothel by fighting her way out. Then she hurtles down countless flights of stairs, away from her pursuer. Nothing, it seems, can prevent her getaway, she’s much too quick. Wrong. The brothel keeper has phoned his mates who are waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. Oh dear. In the modern world, post 1985, running away isn’t as simple as it once was.

photo credit: Helena Nilsdotter via photopin cc