Monday, August 6, 2012

Naming Characters, or How Imogene Came to Be by Kaye George

Today I'm pleased to feature mystery writer Kaye George. Kaye was nominated for an Agatha award for Best Short Story in 2010 as well as for Agatha for Best First Novel of 2011. Her nominated story is in A Patchwork of Stories, which is a collection of some of her previously published stories. Her novel, CHOKE is the first in the Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas mystery series. The second book is SMOKE, published in 2012. 

Other short stories are in Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly, and Grimm Tales and in various online and print magazines. She reviews for Suspense Magazine, writes for several newsletters and blogs, and has given workshops on short story writing and promotion. Kaye lives in Texas, near Waco.

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Naming Characters, or How Imogene Came to Be by Kaye George 


I get a lot of comments about my characters' names, especially the ones I use in the Imogene Duckworthy series. Coming up with names is lots of fun for me. In fact, I can't write about a character and have that character come to life for me (and, I hope, for my readers) unless I have just the right name.

In one mystery, I once named a character Dan and another one Ann. My first readers advised me to change one of them. I decided I had to change both. Ann became Cressa Carraway, a name I fell in love with. That series isn't published yet, but I have hopes--it's submitted.

Imogene evolved over a period of several months. I decided to write a series that I would call the Inept Detective series. I knew I wanted humor, and for the sleuth to solve crimes in spite of herself. After a little thought, I also knew where I wanted to set the series. We'd just moved away from a tiny town called Holliday, twenty miles from Wichita Falls, Texas. But--what to call my sleuth?

[Aside: How could you NOT set a humorous series in Wichita Falls? After the town was named after the waterfall, a storm destroyed it. I'm thinking it wasn't much of a waterfall, but what do I know? Since they didn't want to change the name of the town, they built a fake waterfall beside the river, fake rocks and everything. Now they pump water to the top of it and let it trickle down. I think it goes into a drain at the bottom, but they have to replenish it from the river. When the river gets low and the water gets too silty, they turn the waterfall off so the pump won't get damaged. How could I NOT, right?]

Maybe, I thought, her initials should be I. D. to match Inept Detective. Imogene popped into my mind right away. I think I was recalling an old comedienne named Imogene Coca. She made me laugh when I was a little girl. Now I needed a last name, starting with D.

One night we were driving home to Taylor from Austin, and we passed through Hutto. That town's high school team is called the Hutto Hippos (another funny story). I regretted I couldn't use it somehow. Then I recalled that the Taylor team is the Taylor Ducks. That's just as funny. (I've lived in such funny places!) It elongated itself in my mind to Duckworthy. That's a good thing because I've googled all my names and don't find any Imogene Duckworthys anywhere.

[Hutto Hippos: Local legend has it that a circus was passing through on the train and a hippo escaped. After looking high and low, it was found in a ditch beside the tracks in Hutto. Of course, the high school adopted the hippo as their mascot. There are hippo statues here and there in the small town. I still mourn the demise of the Everything Hippo store. I don’t know how they let that go out of business!]

The next character to form was Imogene's mother. I wanted someone who would name a daughter Imogene, so Hortense came into being. Next, what would Immy name her own daughter? Nancy Drew Duckworthy, of course. I do like to use names for characters that their parents would choose, since that's who usually names a person. Sometimes. Other times, I just have to name people stuff like Rusty Bucket and Ophelia. When names like that occur to me, the character appears before me, fully formed. I love naming new characters!

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Yay! Another giveaway. 

Kaye is giving away a copy of her book, either print or e-book, to one lucky person leaving a comment on this post by midnight MT tomorrow (Tuesday), August 7th. I’ll pick the winner using random.org and post the announcement here on Wednesday. 

Thanks so much for joining us here today, Kaye. And thanks for adding to the fun by giving away a book..

For more information about Kaye and her mysteries, visit her website and her blogs, All Things Writing and Travels with Kaye. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

24 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You put a lot of thought into your characters' names.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love those names! I also love the way you think about the parents naming their kids. I just went through that process for a new story I'm writing - it's fun! :)

Arlee Bird said...

What a delightful post. Love those stories about Wichita Falls. Hippos? That's crazy fun.


Lee
Tossing It Out

Patricia Stoltey said...

Alex, I recently heard about the online random name generator and tried it out -- I didn't get any names as interesting as Kaye's.

Hi Jemi -- An author friend is going through the same difficult process as she tries to pick a pseudonym...it's almost like naming a child.

Lee -- A hippo as a school mascot really is a hoot. I loved that too.

Kaye George said...

I will admit that I sometimes scribble down an interesting moniker I see on TV or elsewhere. You never know when you'll need a new character. Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

Peg Brantley said...

What a fun post, Kaye!

Giving a character the right name adds dimension and impacts the quality of read someone recieves. You have chosen well!

Lynn Proctor said...

i think naming the characters are great fun too:)

Christine Hammar said...

Love naming and casting my characters!
After reading Kaye's method I started wondering, why my protagonists parents named her Alisa. Hm...

Patricia Stoltey said...

Now I'm even wondering how my parents picked my first and middle names. I guess it's time to ask Mom.

Morgan Mandel said...

I like the idea of a sleuth solving crimes in spite of herself! Fun cover!!

Morgan Mandel
http://morgansbooklinks.blogspot.com

Kathleen Kaska said...

I loved Imogene Coca, too. She was hilarious. I'm also familiar with the Hutto Hippos and the Taylor Ducks, since I live in Austin for 25 years. But, I must say, you out did yourself with Nancy Drew Duckworthy! Perfect for a small Texas town.

Helen Ginger said...

Great post!

I ponder over names. Often, I'll know the first name, but not the last name. A character may go through multiple last names before lightning hits and I know it's the one.

Terry Wright said...

I meander cemeteries,smart phone in hand,lots of mundane stuff, but a few nuggets.

Kaye George said...

I completely forgot to mention the spam folder! I get names there sometimes. I'll warn you, their watches and their medicines are no good, but sometimes their names are.

Graveyards are perfect for historical fiction.

Gale Albright said...

Excellent post, Kaye. Since I have recently moved to Hutto, I can attest to the fact that there are many hippo statues, large and small around here. I even have one myself. When in Rome...or Hutto.
I just renamed the characters in my middle-grade manuscript. Great minds think alike!

Dean K Miller said...

Some of my names come along on their own,some I have to consider the character first. And I, too have changed a couple during the course of the story.

It's always interesting to find the one that fits, and then it all seems so obvious.

Kaye George said...

I love all these comments! It's so true that the characters can't function with the wrong name, isn't it? They should show up with the right name in the first place. :)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Kaye, I totally agree. Characters assert themselves in most other ways (like trying to steal the plot), so why not tell us their correct names up front?

Medeia Sharif said...

I love the name Imogene Duckworthy. It's fascinating how people come up with character names.

Patg said...

I love the names you've used. The right name allows the character to form his or her personality more easily. Great for the writer.
Patg

Lesley Diehl said...

When I name a character, the name sticks. It was recommended I change a character's name in one of my books and I did, but I still think of her by my original name.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Kaye,
What fun, finding out how you named your characters in SMOKE and CHOKE. Naming our characters is such an important element. I find I choose names for my female protagonists that end in the letter "a." I don't do this deliberately, and have come to the conclusion it's the result of my having been a Spanish teacher. In class, my students all took Spanish names, and most of the girls' names ended in "a."

Kaye George said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, everyone. Pat has a great blog here! Thank YOU, Pat, for having me.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Kaye, thanks to you for being here. I enjoyed your post and can't wait to read the Imogene series.