This post is probably going to be even more ramble-y than my usual, so there’s that.
I started a story recently where I changed the name of the main character three times. That never happens to me. In a best case scenario, when I imagine a character for the first time he already has a name attached. In other, less desirable situations, I spend hours—sometimes days—going through my baby name book, name websites, and scrolling through my television menu for random actor names until I find something that fits, dammit. But something always does, even if I have to eventually make it up. The name captures the person.
Until this new guy. He started out as a Dan, then as a Ray, and currently he is Neil. At the moment I’m not entirely sure I think his name is Neil. It’s really disconcerting. I can’t even start a story unless I know who the main characters are, and here I have one and I can’t pin down his name. I feel like I’m writing about a ghost. Which I’m not.
Then come the repeats. I’m not sure what the writer etiquette is on that. I have a Michael in Michael Finally Grows Up (which was updated late last month—yeah!), but I also have a Michael you’ve never met, in a sequel that I promise I’m working on slowly but surely. In this case I don’t think it’s so bad because MFGU is a free serial and in a different category from the novel I’m working on. Separation challenge: Easy.
Things get murkier when the stories are both books. Jesse Winter is still my favorite character I’ve created, but a few days ago this new idea popped up in my head, along with a brand new character whose name was…Jesse. I figured I had to change it, but Derek—the love interest—calls him Jess and how hot is that? Keith never called his Jesse Jess. Of course, Derek is the name of this guy I’d had planned for a fairy tale down the road…
I’ve lost count of how many idea files I have on my hard drive. How many “chapter ones” I intend to spin out into fully realized tales. I also have a spreadsheet to keep track of all the names, to help keep my myriad of master plans and distinct worlds from colliding with each other. And yet I have two Michaels, two Jesses, and a dude who may or may not be a Neil.
Sometimes I wonder why I put so much effort into names, anyway. Would the content of my stories be that much different if I named half my characters Bob? Then I take Jesse from Warm Rush, and try to imagine him as, oh I don’t know, a Duke or something, and that really doesn’t seem like it could work. But Duke from G.I. Joe? What other name could he have? Also—hot.
This new Jesse? I’ve tried retro-fitting him with different names. Nothing works so far. I think about books I’ve read by authors I love and I have to admit, unless it’s the same universe, I don’t pay attention to names (or similarities, or repeats) from one series to another. But then I’m freakishly bad with names (hence the spreadsheet mentioned above to help me remember my own characters) so I’m most likely not the best sampling here.
What do you think? Is it confusing when an author has two characters with similar names, even if the story worlds never overlap? Or does the fact that I have around 250 names used (as in seen in a published/posted story) or on reserve (as in featured in one of my many “chapter ones”) in my spreadsheet make it a big enough pool that I can use a couple of them more than once?
And Neil, or whatever the hell his name'll be by the end. Still no idea what to do about him. Maybe he'd work as a Bob...
So much for master plans. >.<