I had the great pleasure of attending a presentation by Elizabeth George at a New England Crime Bake conference a few years back. Ms. George is one of my favorite authors — not just one of my favorite mystery writers, but one of my all time favorite writers. Crime Bake is one of those wonderful small conferences attended by a wide variety of mystery writers, designed to teach, discuss and celebrate writing and reading mysteries. Together, it was an idyllic combination.
At her presentation, Ms. George drew from her book, Write Away, to share a few choice ideas and approaches that helped her strengthen her writing. I had of course already read her book, but it was fun to see which ideas she highlighted, to see what she considered the most important to share with a group of mystery writers and readers in a short amount of time.
She touched on a few topics, one of which was the importance of names. She’d struggled with a character in one of her books, she told us, until she realized she’d given the character the wrong name! Once the name was corrected, the character’s personality, strengths and weaknesses all fell into place. A name has meaning.
I’ve been thinking about her presentation a lot recently, because I’ve been struggling with the name of one of my characters in my work in progress. Oddly, it’s not that I have a character without a name. It’s that I have a name without a character. The theme of my book is redemption and hope, and I believe I have a character named Saul. Or perhaps Paul. My Christian upbringing is exposing itself, but whenever I think of a person making a life changing decision and seeking redemption, I think of Saint Paul (also known as Saul) as he had his epiphany on the road to Damascus.
But I just can’t get the name to fit. Maybe I’m wrong about which character is seeking redemption. Perhaps I don’t have a character named Saul or Paul at all, he’s simply hiding behind the scenes directing things. I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet.
I’m reminded of Paty Jager’s post here on Ladies of Mystery last week about moving her story back to the town in which it belongs. Once the story is brought home, it all falls into place. It’s the same with getting the right name.
Unfortunately, I’m still waiting to meet my Saul.