Tag Archives: Jane Austen

What’s in a name?

Title page from the first edition of Jane Aust...

Title page from the first edition of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

First of all, my apologies for not posting last Monday. It was the end of a long weekend – away, no  less – and I spent most of the morning throwing up. As such, social media and networking was, unfortunately, not really on my radar. Sigh. Anyway, I’m back now and hopefully won’t be having any more days of being AWOL. :(

Today I want to talk about one of the banes of my existence – titles.

I am rubbish at titles. I don’t shy from that fact. Every story I’ve ever written has either had between six and ten titles, or landed the first one I thought of (and hated from that moment onwards). My working titles are as changeable as the weather, and perhaps as reliable too. So I am in absolute awe of anyone who can seemingly pick a brilliant title out of thin air and stick with it, because as you can appreciate it’s not something I’ve ever achieved.

Some of the best stories in literature have amazing titles. Jane Austen, for example, is someone who was incredible at titling her works; the Bronte sisters likewise seemed to have a talent for it. More recently people like Jodi Picoult or Neil Gaiman have impressed me, among others. Or, really, just about anyone who has a book out there – chances are, if it’s published (via a publishing house or by yourself), then it’s got a better title than I could come up with.

Now, I know there are tricks to it. Some people use song titles or lyrics, or variations thereof. Some use lines from well known literature, such as the quote that comprises my title today. Some can just grab a phrase from the book itself that really lends itself to that purpose, like Lee Fullbright did with The Angry Woman Suite, which I reviewed on Friday. But the thing is, when it comes down to it, I can just never seem to get it right. Am I too fussy? Perhaps. Maybe I’m just a perfectionist. But it’s something I wish I could do. Because let’s face it, people judge books on their titles. Without a snappy title, many otherwise excellent books just get put aside or ignored for their flashier rivals. And without an edge to get people to check out my work in the crowded marketplace, what chance do I have?

So here I am, asking for advice. How do you choose your titles? Are you enough of a masochist to title your chapters as well as your books, or do you leave it at the main heading and just number any segments? What tricks or ideas do you use? Because really, I’m getting a bit sick of changing my working titles over and over again until I find something that I don’t necessarily like, but just hate less than the last one. To be honest, I have quite enough on my plate just at the moment, so if I can get the hang of titling, then that’s one less thing I have to think about.

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A rose by any other name …

Pondering character names

Yes, I know that’s a mis-quote, but it’s a very common one, and it gets the point across. Today I want to talk about naming your characters.

Some people go to a lot of trouble finding the perfect names for their characters. They read baby name books, check out meanings, possible different spellings, whether the number of letters in the name is auspicious, the works. Okay, I may be exaggerating here, but you know what I mean. “I chose the name Jemima because my character is quiet and a pacifist, and it means dove.”

Others go by themes. For example, JK Rowling tended to favour old-fashioned, floral or Latin names in the Harry Potter series; Suzanne Collins chose rare botanical names and unusual spellings in The Hunger Games; and Jane Austen‘s scallywags invariably had a surname starting with W. I’ve known people who take first names from their favourite bands and surnames from their favourite sporting team. It doesn’t really matter what the theme is – just having one can make some people feel more comfortable.

Still others pick names at random, without thought of meaning or motif. “Jenny? That’ll do.” Or, “I might call him Fred. I don’t think I’ve used that name before.”

Me, I’m a little from column A, a little from column C. For my WIP I did take a while to get some of the names right, but that was often because I didn’t want people in real life thinking the characters were based on them, so if the names were similar at all (including in theme) then they got changed. I had a character called Jane, for example, who my friend Anne may have thought was a reference to her. Personality-wise they have very little in common, but since they are such similar types of names I changed Jane’s name to something that didn’t resemble “Anne” in the slightest. Similarly, I realised halfway through NaNo that my hero had a similar name to my husband. He is not based on my husband at all, and I don’t think my husband himself would have seen a connection, but other people I know would have. Again, the character name was amended.

My heroine was slightly different. In early drafts I called her Emma, perhaps because I saw a similarity with Jane Austen’s character of that name. The similarity has now disappeared, and the name didn’t feel right at all. I played with different options but finally decided on amending Emma as slightly as I could, simply by adding a G to the front. “Emma” just didn’t fit properly; “Gemma” fits perfectly. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that everyone is different, and there’s no right or wrong way to name your characters. Essentially, whatever feels right for you as a writer is the way to go. I’m curious about you, though. How do you name your characters? What method works best for you? And what difficulties have you come across in the process? I’d love to hear.  :)

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