During the edit stage of my novel The Kill Chain, I was asked to change the names of several of the characters. This was a surprise, even a bit of a shock. I tend to come up with a name and stick with it so being asked to change their names after having spent a considerable amount of time with them was something that initially didn’t sit well with me.
Character names may have resonance, sometimes obvious to the reader, at other times more obscure and personal to the author. Being asked to change them can be tough. An editor will not advise doing so without good reason and in the case of The Kill Chain, I had too many characters names beginning with the same letter of the alphabet.
I have read Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and I’m currently in the middle of Dr. Zhivago by Pasternak, so I know the challenges character names can present to the reader. These three books take names to another level, and it can be quite confusing at times. I’m nowhere near these authors when it comes to names in my writing, but I did have to change some names in order to be quite clear who was who in my story.
I’m drafting a sequel to The Kill Chain, called The Kill Switch and this has a character referred to by their surname of Hughes. Having the letter ‘s’ at the end of a name can cause difficulties when writing and reading due to having to use an apostrophe ‘s’ at times. It can become clumsy and distracting, and even if grammatically correct, it can take the reader out of the story, highlighting the fact that the story they are hopefully immersed in, is in fact a page with words written by a writer who probably had to ask their editor on the use of the apostrophe. Anything that takes the writer out of the world you have created is a bad thing. The advice is, unless you are writing about a genuine historical figure, avoid names ending with the letter ‘s’. It’s a pity, as I like the name Hughes. It feels right. However, the middle of draft three is no place to be sentimental and I have until the end of the month to decide on a new name for him.
I’m also drafting a science fiction fantasy series called The Clockmaker Conspiracy, with book one due out this year. I’ve lived with the characters for several years now and this month I’m facing up to having to change some of their names. It’s no longer a case of not wanting to, or not being happy about it. It has to be done for the good of the novel. The advice underpinning why I have to do so is tried and tested. My job as the writer is to get on with it and make the appropriate changes. Search and replace becomes my friend at this point, as I do not want any rogue references to the previous character name lurking in the odd chapter or two.
No matter how attached I become to names, I write to be read, and if that means taking on board this advice, then I’m on it. Looking back it would have been easier if I had known this before the first round of edits for The Kill Chain, but it’s all a learning experience and I’m glad to say it worked out in the end.