Character Names

Have you ever read a novel where some of the character names really bothered you? Or maybe you found the name to be a perfect fit for the character? Have you ever kept forgetting who characters were? Confusing multiple characters with one another? I’ve been thinking a lot about my character names recently, and whether they really work for my book or not.

It’s a hard thing to realize that a name is just not working. As writers, we spend so long on developing our characters, and a name is part of that development. Sometimes we fall in love with a name so deeply that the idea of changing it would alter the entire story.

A few of the characters in my third novel, This Never Happened, have gone through name changes. Sometimes it’s other characters in the story who appear to fit a certain name better that precipitates a name swap. Sometimes they fall victim to the “same letter syndrome”, when two character (especially main characters) names begin with the same letter and causes confusion for the reader. As a writer you need to eliminate as much unnecessary confusion as possible.

Cepik “Epic” Small is the novel’s protagonist and obviously has a very unique name. Initially I wanted to simply name him Epic but this was slightly too unusual for a given name so I did some research into similar-sounding names that could use Epic as a nickname. I discovered the Polish Cepik (pronounced Seh-pick) and from there gave him a bit of family history that was not entirely necessary for the story but helped flesh him out a bit more. The name Epic originally tied into the first working title of the book: it was going to be called Epoch (as in an important event in history) and Epic sounded similar enough in pronunciation that there would be a common thread there. After much consideration this proved to be a little too far outside the box so some simplification was needed. The surname Small came to me via one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally. There is a character with the line: “I’m Ben Small. From the Coney Island Smalls.” My book takes place in Coney Island and I just couldn’t shake the line out of my head, so it’s kind of an homage. Also, I like the juxtaposition between the words “epic” and “small.”

Below are some of the other characters you will meet in This Never Happened who have unusual – but hopefully memorable – names:

  • Abigail “Abi” Ayr: discovers an unexplained connection between herself and Epic. Abigail is a pathological liar and may even have some rudimentary psychic abilities. Or maybe she doesn’t. It’s all part of the mystery. She loves video games and referencing games such as Minesweeper and World of Warcraft.
  • Gideon Flat: Epic’s new therapist, after his previous one (Doctor Griffin) dies.
  • Armand Bester: Epic’s friend, co-worker and would-be writer/playwright. His play – called The Duality of Three – is eerily similar to events in The Third (a fictional novel that Epic is reading).
  • Zoltan Lintzel: An odd scientist who is somehow connected to a MMORPG and is also strangely familiar with Epic’s past. He claims to be from Switzerland. Zoltan is Hungarian, Lintzel is German. I liked the idea of not really knowing the man’s origins.
  • Margaret “Margo” Asus: An actress from The Duality of Three; played the dead girl. Was the name of the waitress at the UnDiner until I felt it was a better fit here. Her name holds a connection to the mythological pegasus, with “Peggy” or “Peg” being a nickname for Margaret (therefore Margo Asus = PegAsus). This all sounds strange, but plays a big part near the end of the book.
  • Doctor Griffin: Epic’s former therapist, recently committed suicide. Just like the Margo character, the good doctor also holds a connection to a mythological creature (Griffin = lion/eagle hybird).
  • Lobstero: Abi’s father. His hands are deformed and have the appearance of lobster claws. Lobstero is a performer at the Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore.
  • Wilma Dradtstl-Small: Epic’s mother, left them when Epic was only five years old. Practically the only thing Epic remembers of his mother is her oftentimes telling him he was “born ten thousand years too late.” But what did she mean by this? Read the book!
  • Dorothy: Waitress at The UnDiner, the Coney Island coffee shop frequented by Epic. Was originally Margaret Asus, then was momentarily known as Lorna before becoming Dorothy.

THIS NEVER HAPPENED from Endever Publishing Studios is scheduled for a Spring 2017 release.

Novels Within Novels

In my new novel (“THIS NEVER HAPPENED“), I’m exploring the novel-within-a-novel concept. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. It’s true, I already did this in my second book (“THE FALLING“). In The Falling, my main character (Tommy) is a novelist whose debut work (“BLANC“) was essentially a detective story set in 1940’s New York. Tommy based the detective character on himself while modelling the amnesiac serial killer he was chasing after an old friend (Patrick) who Tommy had been harboring negative feelings for. When Tommy gets it into his head that Patrick has returned after ten years in a grand act of revenge, he also decides that Patrick is using the scenes in Blanc as inspiration. I used three “excerpts” from Blanc and placed them sporadically within The Falling, at points in the story where Tommy’s feelings might be justified by the reader. But these were also scenes that intended to help readers better define the true nature of Tommy’s and Patrick’s close relationship.

But where the fictional novel within The Falling served the story as non-linear character development, my new story utilizes the concept in a very different way.

The FallingThis Never Happened COVERIn This Never Happened, the protagonist (Epic Small) is riding the F-Train through Brooklyn when he finds a tattered copy of a book on the seat beside him. Below is an excerpt from Chapter Four of my book:

“The novel is entitled The Third. The cover is a painting of two identical left forearms, with their wrists facing out. Somebody has defaced the cover with a bright green marker, having drawn juvenile slits along the wrists with blood streaming out. Like they are bleeding pesto or possibly belong to some sort of space creature who has assumed the form of a man. Checking the front matter, I discover this is an English translation of a French novel by the author Jean Trepanier, first published in the Seventies. This translation was published a few years after that. The back cover offers no synopsis, no indication of what the reader might be in for.”

Epic begins reading the novel right there on the subway, and realizes without a doubt that this is going to be a confusing tale. It is a story about twins, though the two men (Tristan and Luca) share no relation and don’t really look alike. The fictional author (Jean Trepanier) continues to describe Luca’s physical features differently; he’s Chinese, he’s an Eskimo, he’s a little girl, or he’s morbidly obese. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why the descriptions change but the reader and Tristan and all the secondary characters are meant to simply assume they are identical twins. Luca proposes that the two men switch lives, and without much of an argument from Tristan the two swap jobs, apartments and girlfriends.

The Third is written in a way and perceived by Epic to be something that is worth questioning. Is this a real book? Was it intentionally planted on that subway for Epic (and him specifically) to discover? And in another twist, when Epic discusses the strangeness of this book with his therapist (Gideon), it turns out that Gideon has read it too. But Gideon’s version of The Third is a little different: there is a whole other character in his version, one that does not exist in Epic’s: a third twin (er, triplet, I suppose) plays a key role in this alternate version, and his name is simply The Third. Why the divergences in the two books? Who holds the “correct” version? These are all questions that I’m hoping readers will ask, but ultimately, the two copies of The Third play a key role in the bigger picture of This Never Happened. They serve as clues towards the secret within the entire story.

Still transitioning from the outline-to-writing stage, my goal is to have This Never Happened completed at the end of 2014.