Monday, January 25, 2010

the importance of character names (and a gorgeous painting)

Current work: Medical
Listening to: Crowded House
Reading: Mistress to the Merciless Millionaire, Abby Green (enjoyed – had this vision of the hero as Pierce Brosnan all the way through…)

Last week was not a nice week for my book. I was stuck (and grumpy, and I caved in to chocolate, and I'm even more grumpy about it this morning because it wiped out the diet - sigh, need to have a good week, this week, and make sensible choices on lunches out).

The first time I was really, really stuck on a Medical romance, my wonderful agent told me to change the hero’s name. Hmm, I thought, how’s that going to help? But she was right. Names make a big difference. They change the character completely. Think about it (with apologies to the Victorias I know) – slightly posh Victoria becomes fluffy Vicky or no-nonsense Vic or meeja girl Tory. Or the arty/amdram Vikki, or the very posh Pony Club stalwart Plum (think about it…), or difficult great-aunt Queenie.

I’ve used that trick a few times. Jack, in ‘Sold to the Highest Bidder’, was originally Hugh – and he just wasn’t a Hugh because he wasn’t posh. (Yes, I was thinking Grant, but it applies equally to Laurie and Dennis, both of whom I also find rather cute.) As soon as I changed his name to Jack, he sprang to life on the page. Allegra, in whatever the title will be for French Duo 1 (ha, twitchy about not knowing? Moi?) was originally Sally – again, it didn’t work, but ‘Allie’ (short for Allegra) did.

But I do like the name Sally, so I decided to recycle it for my nurse practitioner heroine.

Big mistake. She’s not a Sally. Turns out she’s Louisa. And her surname was wrong, too (though that took me a bit longer to work out). So was her brother’s name – and her nephew’s. (I know they’re secondaries, but they’re important. The nephew changed first.)

The hero, luckily, wasn’t such a problem. Possibly because he already has two names – Dominic, when he’s a doctor, and something else, when he’s – oh, wait, you already know he does jousting and dresses up as a knight as a fundraising thing. Anyway, in his knightly role, he’s Sir Hugo – named after one of his ancestors. And I had something very specific in mind for when the heroine first sees him.

Let me explain: there’s this painting by Waterhouse called Lamia. This is the 1905 version – the earlier one – where she’s with the knight rather than on her own by the pool. Apologies for the rubbish repro, but it’s the best available (and it’s under a multimedia commons licence, btw, because I’m fussy about copyright – I don’t like people abusing mine, so I use my own pics or those under a commons licence).

Even though the original (fictional) Sir Hugo is from the Tudor period, I’m very fond of the Victorian version of medieval England. (Which means I love the PRB – always have, even back in the early 80s before they became ‘trendy’ again. Oh, to be a billionaire. I’d have a decent PRB collection - especially Burne-Jones, my fave - and I’d have my own gallery, which would give everyone free access to such beautiful art. But I digress.) So this was what was in my head when I thought of Dominic (though obviously he was on his horse rather than seated on a rock with her on her knees – but there’s the same kind of perspective, with her looking up at the knight).

Obviously, since I don’t write paranormals (or haven’t done so for years, since the books I wrote for NEL in the early 1990s), my heroine isn’t actually a Lamia. Who, in the original myth, was a beautiful queen of Libya who became a child-eating monster – portrayed by Keats as being half-serpent, but ‘lamia’ in Greek is a shark. And since then ‘lamia’ has widened to include vampires and succubi. Though I’d love to write a Lamia book – I’ve always had a yen do to a quest book, and in some versions of the Lamia legend she has information crucial to the hero’s quest, and a daughter who falls in love with him and helps him. Dear, lovely ed… Oh, wait. She’s running away, screaming. Better put Kate Nerdy back in her box, then…

Are there any paintings you can’t get out of your head and/or have inspired stories? I’d love to hear about them.


Rachel said...

The Fall of Phaethon by Rubens.

I stumbled upon it while researching lots of Greek stuff and it made such an impression on me that it's made its mark on my current WIP. It frightens the children a bit though!

One day I'll get to the National Gallery and see the real thing I hope.

Lots of love,


Sharon said...

Ooh, spooky - I've asked a similar question about sculpture over on MY blog!
A single painting? Impossible....but I love anything romantic and Waterhouse's Lady Of Shallot gets me every time. That haunted look. The wan realisation that she ain't going to get him. The creaking boat and the hand reaching out:
"She loosed the chains and down she lay,
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady Of Shallot."

Incidentally, I so agree about names. And sometimes the reverse rule is true. I recently wrote a book and the heroine was Shelley because....well, because she WAS Shelley. Trouble is that she married a King and Queen Shelley sounded like the name of a pub! So I changed it.

Jan Jones said...

Flaming June by Frederick, Lord Leighton.

Love it to bits. She is the heroine of my (unsold) bohemian-vicarage-relationship-type-novel. Needs work, but I'll find someone mad enough to publish it one of these days.

Olivia Ryan said...

I did enjoy reading about your characters' names, Kate - and it's so true! Sometimes when I've found it difficult to progress with a story, or a novel plot, I've eventually realised the same thing - a name's just wrong. It makes a huge difference! I've been known to change the characters' names halfway through a novel because they suddenly didn't seem right any more.
Love the painting, but I'm completely ignorant about art - despite the fact that my mum was a successful painter; her sister (my aunt) taught art at my school; and one of my daughter is very artistic. It skipped my generation!

Kate Hardy said...

Rach - what a glorious painting, and thanks so much for sharing because I hadn't come across that one :) Good luck with the WIP!

Kate Hardy said...

Shazza, you are a Very Bad Influence. (I'm getting a sculpture for my birthday. Very small one. Will have to tidy my desk - hmm, maybe you're not a VBI, then *g*)

I know that painting, and you're soooo right. Love the quote (have revised my "I loathe Tennyson" stance from uni days).

Kate Hardy said...

Jan - oh, yes, that's a beauty. And I like the sound of the book. (PS book rec, if you haven't read her - Catherine Fox. Fantastic. Johnny Whittaker is a fabulous hero.)

Kate Hardy said...

Olivia - doesn't it just? And how impressive that your mum, aunt and daughter are so artistic. I can't draw a straight line with a ruler and just love watching people catpure a scene with just a few pen strokes. One of my fave bits of my old ratrace job was going over to the art department and getting them to do me visuals for an ad :)

Jan Jones said...

Have read all the Catherine Fox novels. The Benefits of Passion is my favourite. For me, JW goes off a bit in the one after that.