Wednesday Wanderings with ARR authors.
Kaye Dobbie explains the reasons for using the right names for characters, places and book titles
Names matter. As a writer, they matter to me. The names of my characters are a way of me getting inside their heads. I have sometimes changed a name mid book when I found it wasn’t working for me, and I’ve discovered the personality of that character has subsequently altered, too. Just like that. For instance, in my next book, due out later this year, my main character began life as . . . well, I won’t say the name out loud, just in case I upset a dozen women with that name. Suffice it to say, she was a gentle character who had difficulty standing up for herself. Let’s face it, she was a bit wishy-washy. So I changed her name and instantly she changed into someone completely different – strong, with a quick temper, cracking jokes and standing out from the crowd. This was the character I’d been looking for all along.
I wouldn’t use a name that had unpleasant connotations or memories, one that would make it difficult for me to feel any empathy for that character. A name has to be just right, and often it takes a while and a few hit and misses, to find that perfect fit.
As a reader I feel the same, although it’s different too. I’ll happily admit that if the author is able to draw me into the book, make me forget everything but the story, then I forget my dislike of the name as well.
In my latest book, Sweet Wattle Creek, the character in the 1930s is called Belle. From almost the very beginning of the book I knew she was called Belle Bartholomew. She just was. Whereas the character in the 1986 story was a bit more of a mystery. She morphed through quite a few names before I settled on Sophie Matheson, but once she was Sophie I just knew that was her. Martha, who tells her story in the early 1900s, fits her time perfectly, but it’s also a strong name I think, for a strong woman.
Something else I find important. If you’re writing a book that’s set in multiple time periods then you need to be aware that some names are more likely to be in use in different eras. For instance Alice, in my first book, Colours of Gold, was a name that wouldn’t be out of place in the mid 19th century.
Before I made my choice for other characters in that section of the book I looked up the names popular at that time in history. The fashion in names is interesting. I mean, you don’t hear of too many Hezekiahs these days. And yet there are some names we never seem to get tired of – the Johns and the Emilys. Others just don’t ring true. For instance, would the captain of a riverboat in the 1860s be called Buzz? Maybe but I don’t think I’d use it. Safer to go for something else. Unless of course he’s a space ship captain, then anything goes.
Another important factor in the story, for me at any rate, are the names I choose for the houses and towns featured in my books. Sometimes I use real names, but usually I don’t. I prefer the freedom a fictitious place name gives me. In my upcoming book I have amalgamated a number of towns into one and used a made up name. I’d like to tell you what it is, but we both have to wait a little longer! Sweet Wattle Creek was also an amalgamation of places, and went through a number of different stages before it reached its current title. Cockatoo Creek was one of the early favourites.
When a name is also the title of the book, then its importance ramps up to another level. The title has to catch the eye, it has to look and sound like something a reader of Australian Rural Romance might want to pick up and check out. And buy! Sweet Wattle Creek ticked all of those boxes. Besides which the cover designer used the idea of the wattle to create something really special. I just don’t think it would have been the same if it had been called Boggy Gate Road.
Kaye Dobbie. Rural Romance, contemporary romance and historical romance.
Read more on Meet Kaye Dobbie
Kaye also writes under the names Sara Bennett, Deborah Miles and Lilly Sommers. Visit her webpage for more information.