Minds of their own

Artistic elements by Chesterf and Jhetta | Dreamstime.com.

Artistic elements by Chesterf and Jhetta | Dreamstime.com.

I’m working on book two of my pseudonymously published romance novels, giving it a good edit in preparation for release this summer, and I was reminded of a post I wrote years ago, when I first sat down to write Water Witch. I ran this post on my old Blogger page, so I’m reposting it here, slightly edited.

Some writers talk about how their characters have minds of their own, how they step up and do things that the writers didn’t really want them to do, but they’re so stubborn that the writers can’t do anything else.

I’ve always been skeptical of this idea. Sure, the character might seem to want to do something you hadn’t originally planned, but that’s because, given the context you’ve written and the other actions you’ve had your character make, this course of action is the only logical one. The character “has to do that” because that’s what you’ve led your character to do based on everything else you’ve written.

Then, once in a while, something comes up that I really seem to have no control over. Usually it involves characters’ names.


So I’m writing this scene in my romance novel where my privateer captain heroine has been summoned by the king. She has to go see him now, which means I have to decide who my king is. For the longest time I had no idea who the king was: I didn’t know how old he was, what he looked like, what he was wearing. All I knew was that he was annoying and pretentious and his name was Irvinn the Third.

Then, while driving home from an out-of-town book festival, I suddenly had a scene fall into my head. My female captain walks into a gallery where a lot of courtiers are hanging around, gossiping and playing cards. A young guy at the table, dressed down in a shirt and breeches, with gold-colored hair that he wears loose (everyone else wears wigs), sees her and stops mid-sentence. This guy is King Irvinn’s son, he will become Irvinn the Fourth, but he goes by his middle name. What’s his middle name, I wonder. Then this, too, pops into my head. Irvinn Michal.

I should mention that my ex-husband’s name is Michael.

So I spend several miles telling myself that no, I can’t name a character Michal. This character will go on to be the love interest in the next book [the one I’m working on now -ed.] and there’s no way I’m naming a love interest after my ex. Not that the character is going to be based on him. I’ve never written any character based on a real-life person; I’ve taken elements of different people and combined them, always with a hefty portion of sheer imagination. Real people are too big and unwieldy to fit into paper, and I’m a fiction writer, not a biographer. And this character that has popped into my mind has his own face and his own personality, independent of his namesake. But still. Can’t I name him something else? Irvinn Nichol? No. Irvinn Mickle? Ugh. Irvinn Something-else? The guy with the long golden hair stamps his royal foot and says nope, I’m Irvinn Michal. [Or, as he says repeatedly in both books, “Call me Michal.” Imagine this in a purring tone with a charming grin on his face. Still doesn’t look or sound like my ex. -ed.]

Now, to make this clear, I know that the decision really isn’t out of my hands. This character did not spring to life already named by some cosmic parent. I am the parent, and I could give him a different name. But I don’t want to. This one is better.

So Irvinn Michal it is. And a few miles later his entire story falls into place. I had a few extra thoughts knocking around, just in case this romance series takes off and I write more of them. Several of these assorted ideas work right into the court of Irvinn the Third and his dissolute, casually-dressed son, and I now have a rough outline for romance novel number two.

Now I might have to write it. Dammit. [Which I did, and it turned out kind of fun! -ed.]

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