Posted in Guest Post

No, It’s Not YOU! A Guest Post by Thomas Enger #OrendaMonth @OrendaBooks @EngerThomas

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A tag once asked me whether I preferred character-driven stories or plot-driven books. My answer was: a mix of both. You can have a mind-blowing plot ruined by bland characters as much as you can get the most amazing characters let down by the weak storyline. Still, there is one thing I need to truly enjoy a book: one character. One Chosen One. To hate or to love, to root for or to push under the train just when it comes in. It got me to thinking about the creation of those characters. I often wonder about their birth, and name-choosing is an inevitable step in the process, at least for 99% of the books we read.

Thomas Enger, whose latest book Cursed is a success, has something to say about names in stories!


 

No, it’s not YOU 

by Thomas Enger

When you’ve written a novel, or maybe even a few of them, you have created a certain amount of characters. I haven’t done the actual count, but in my Henning Juul series I guess I have created well over a hundred characters. All of them aren’t full bodied characters, of course, but characters nonetheless. People with names. Quite a few of them with full CV’s and quite down to the minor characteristics and personalities, too.

This can, for many reasons, be a problem, because it’s hard to keep track of them all, and to come up with new characters all the time that aren’t mirrors of previously created ones. Also, you have to name them. Give the surnames and last names, sometimes even middle names, if that suits the character. It’s actually a lot more work than what you might think. And you have to be a little bit careful with what you name them.

Let me explain what I mean.

When I first started to think about what kind of characters Henning Juul should be surrounded with at work, it was natural for me to think of people I knew from my time as a journalist. I have met with and worked with hundreds of people in the media, so I picked a few characteristics here and there, and I moulded all of them into new characters. It could be eyes from one person, hairstyle from another, teeth (yes, actually) from a third and ordinary demeanour from a fourth. Maybe even fashion style from a fifth. All of a sudden I had a new character. And then I named her Heidi, for instance.

For those of you who have read the first Henning Juul novels, you know that Heidi isn’t a very nice person. She is somewhat harsh to the people around her, very bossy. She’s a “my way or the highway” kind of woman, and a lot of people dislike her very much.

That’s not a problem in itself. The problem, for me as a writer, is that I know or have known maybe ten Heidi’s in my days. Real ones that aren’t anywhere near the Heidi from the book, as Heidi is quite a common name in Norway. And I know for a fact that quite a few of those acquaintances thought I was writing about them…

What made matters worse, was that I had worked together with a Heidi in my newspaper, and right after Burned was released, the first novel in the Henning Juul series, she was made editor of domestic news, like Heidi Kjus is in my novel. So A LOT of people thought I was writing about my former colleague, which I wasn’t. Not in the slightest.

This isn’t a problem just for the Heidi’s.

I know quite a few people who have Henning as their first name (my father, for instance). I know a few who are called Iver (a friend of mine has a son aged ten or something now, and for some reason she thought I was writing about him, even though Iver is in his mid 30’s…). When I write about a doctor, for instance, some doctor friends of mine think that I’ve used them as models for the characters.

Sometimes I do use things in my close proximity. Whenever I write about a family of four, for instance, I may be prone to use stuff I know from my own personal experience. But it really is funny, and a bit of a nuisance, too, how people I know tend to read themselves into the characters I create. I very rarely do. But I’ve learned from experience to be a bit careful about these things.

So what about Heidi, you might ask? How did I resolve that situation?

Well, I e-mailed her afterwards and explained what had happened, and that I in no way think that she is a bad person. She thankfully accepted it with no hard feelings.

The other Heidi’s … well, I guess I have to e-mail them as well. Maybe a bit late now, perhaps. It’s been almost seven years…


I am lucky to be friends with an author who actually used my name in a book (yes, I am talking about you!) and it is quite fun. I admit of being proud and happy about the gesture but would I still be happy if said character was a real pain in the bottom with every flaw you can think of? Maybe not!

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I understand how tricky it must be for authors to find inspiration all around them or to draw it from memories and experiences to create characters when it may lead to the kind of awkward situations Thomas Enger describes. Still, it is bound to happen, unless you are a hermit who comes up with names no one has ever heard before? But then, how would you know, because you wouldn’t have friends to check if the names were available?! And with all those “creative” parents, good luck finding brand new names!

Sometimes, it’s good to remember it’s fiction, and a name is just a name! (unless you’re told that the character is your double!) I like to think that writers dissect everything and take bits and pieces to create something new, so nothing comes from the same place and no one’s ego is to be hurt.

Writer friends, have you experienced the same issue? How do you choose your names and do you keep the person’s qualities, flaws or personality attached to the name when you build your characters? 

Everyone else, have you ever come across your name in a book? 

Thomas Enger’s book Cursed is currently on tour! I haven’t read it yet because my obsessional need to read series in order has prevented it to happen but the first books in the series are waiting for me. In the meantime, you can check the amazing blog stops below!

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27 thoughts on “No, It’s Not YOU! A Guest Post by Thomas Enger #OrendaMonth @OrendaBooks @EngerThomas

  1. I’ve written a few things and often struggle with the character names until I hit on one which feels right. Luckily I’ve not had the problem Thomas did!

    I’ve also appeared in a book, though as my twitter username rather than my real name! It caught me by surprise as it was a friend who pointed it out, having read the book after I’d recommended it – I’d completely missed the fact that the author had used my twitter name on reading it the first time! She’d asked months and months earlier if anyone would mind and I said yes. When I finally noticed, she was worried that I minded – not at all! Thrilled to be part of one of my favourite author’s books.

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    1. This post made me realize just how difficult it is to find the right name for characters, I have been thinking about the ones in my favorite books and I admire authors even more now 🙂
      Oh, that must have been a great surprise! 🙂 Even if you were a serial killer in the book, haha!

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  2. Really-really enjoyed this guest post!
    I have always wondered how much authors draw from personal experience and how much is the fruit of their imagination… like, is there a balance in between real life/imagination when creating a plot/character/scene one has to keep in mind?
    I’ve written a ton of short stories and in most of them I have mostly referenced real life people and events, although with slight variations and different names… and there’s always this voice that tells me, you can’t publish this anywhere because they’ll recognize it… so, answering my own question here (sorry, going off on a tangent here maybe!) the trick is to tone down the real life/close personal events and mix them up so well with other elements to avoid the tricky situations…
    This is a lot of work… and more than a 100 characters? One has to be truly creative and observant, much like Thomas Enger is! 🙂

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    1. So happy you liked it! I love hearing about the work behind a story and names have a special place because you spend hours with the characters and that is one of the first things that characterize them.
      Haha, please, keep talking, even to yourself, it’s entertaining and fun! I think I would stick to close to reality, I don’t have the creativity to draw from what’s around and create out of thin air. That’s too bad we can’t read your short stories!!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, and as a non-writer, I only see the happy side of writing, when it’s all done and the brain has given the story its best so this kind of posts reminds me of how it works and it’s fun to think of steps to get to the final product. Names are such an interesting subject! xxx

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  3. Lovely post my Sweechie! Characters name are always so interesting to read about, and…well, to be honest, I kind of suuuuuuuuck at finding names for my own characters. I always want to find the name that ticks, that feels right, but somehow I find myself, after writing pages, that it quite doesn’t fit. This is a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig struggle ahah 🙂
    I don’t think I have ever come across my name in a book – well, maybe there are a couple of Mary’s here and there, but not written like mine is, haha 🙂

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    1. I never ever thought about this process, probably because I don’t write, and the only pieces I’ve done in the past were fanfictions so no need to bother finding names! I love Thomas Enger’s story and I find it difficult to draw the line between how much of a person you can take and how to mix things so that it becomes a true original character instead of the copy of someone.
      Yeah, you’d have to read in French for that :p

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I had never thought of these issues before. I wonder if that explains why some authors use really strange names? Ooh I didn’t know your name was used in a book! How honoured, I would love that although it does make me think if the character was really mean would I still be flattered??
    Another fab and thought provoking post.
    Amanda.

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    1. That might explain some of the weirdest names we can find in books, indeed! Actually, my mother took my first name out of Thorn Birds, the TV adaptation of the book, and Donna, my second name, has been used by one of my best friends in her most recent story, it’s an adorable gift. So I’m lucky to see both my names appear on pages! Well lucky… If you read Thorn Birds you know Meggie isn’t that lucky (my mom changed it to Meggy so that everyone in the family would have a Y!) xx

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  5. This is such a great post Donna, I’ve never really put too much thought into what goes into naming characters but I guess if you’re writing a book it can be hard not to draw inspiration from the people around you, which can later cause some awkward situations like Thomas said in his post. I guess the only want to avoid it is to write fantasy books like Throne of Glass where no one in real life has the name Celaena (at least no one I know!)
    There aren’t many books that have a character named Bethany in them but I kind of love seeing my name in books when I do come across it, no matter what the character is like! 🙂

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    1. I know, I can’t believe I never paid attention to this point before! I guess not being a writer leaves me with no clue on some aspects of storytelling!
      Your point is good, except when the books become overly famous and adapted on TV. Think of all the baby Daenerys…!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Same here I think, you read all these books but sometimes it just never occurs to you what goes into actually writing them.
        Yeah good point, but I guess before George R.R. Martin started the Game of Thrones series there was likely no one he knew called Daenerys. 🙂

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  6. I am guessing that this scenario could be quite comical and frustrating at the same time. I have honestly never given this any consideration. I personally know a few authors who have based characters and event off of real life friends, but they are very open about it. I have never stopped to think about all of the possible assumptions based on names and similarities!

    My name is not one I see very often. I am not sure why. It is not uncommon that I know of.. I am sure there are plenty of tea Queens 😉 Love this post because it sheds light on an entirely different aspect of writing and the challenges that can come with it ❤

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    1. There can only be one Tea Queen and she’s mine *evil laugh* 😀 ❤ Thanks a lot ❤ I love this post because it made me realize I usually don't pay much attention to the writing process until I have the final deal in mind. There's so much to think about when writing, I'm glad to leave it to creative and talented people, I feel more comfortable in the readers' side!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. haha love how you put that about needing to love/hate characters- the worst thing that can happen in a book for me is that I’m just ambivalent about them! hahaha I loved reading the guest post- such a funny story!! I actually really love naming characters- I spend ages poring over name meanings and constructing odd made-up ones… And I realise you didn’t ask for that, but thought I’d share anyway 😉 As for whether my name has turned up in a book… Well, the Librarian’s from Discworld so I get a nice feeling every time that comes up 😉 Does that count? Cos my real name is unusual enough that I doubt this would ever happen!

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    1. I’m difficult to satisfy, I need emotions, so the characters better make me FEEL!!! 😀
      It’s a lot of work finding the right name, I can see how it can be fun, but I’ll leave it to you, I’d ask myself too many questions, hahahaha.
      Ha! Let’s say it counts 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I loved reading this guestpost. I’ve not seen my name in any books yet but it would be really cool. I know a well-known blogger who has been named at least 3, 4 times already in books. We have a writer here who often uses local celebrities in his books and there’s always a fuss about it. He tells everyone he just uses their names and it’s all fictional but they really don’t like it. I guess it’s his way to get publicity for his books.

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    1. Oh, weird idea to use local celebrities’ names like that! I loved this post because it got me thinking about the entire process of creating characters, and it’s a bit like creating your sims xD

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  9. Great guest post!! I have never come across my name in any book, which isn’t much of a surprise, but I have seen things that sound the same but written differently (i.e. La Shawn). I don’t relate to them in any way, but it’s always funny to see things like that happen. What are the odds right? Hahahah I’ve always been curious about the process writers go through to create a name and a character, especially after the fact, when the character becomes iconic. It’s got to be so rewarding to have come up with an easy to remember name or one that people decide to build their own real life personalities around (wow! drastic! :D)

    – Lashaan

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    1. Thank you!! Names are a fascinating subject … that I had never really thought about xD I never come across my name either (except for the gift this year from a friend), but it’s better that way I think! 😂 It must be so hard to find the right combination of name/personality/background to get THE character!

      Liked by 1 person

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