Naming my new characters, or James Bond was an ornithologist

Naming my new characters, or James Bond was an ornithologist

I’ve spent some of my extra time in the past few months finishing my detective story — the book I was going to finish “someday, when I have the spare time.” Well, someday has come and gone. The case is solved.

What now? Start a new novel, of course. My main characters, student Daisy MacDonald and detective Sgt. Mike Hossa, are going to solve  another murder case. But the last case was set in January and February of 1983. Since Daisy had to cancel several classes, she’s stayed for summer school to make up some lost credits. Not all of her neighbors from the winter/spring semester have done the same, and summer school will mean being around some new neighbors. The villain, of course, is gone.

So for the first time in several years, I’ve got a question: How do I name my new characters?

Daisy MacDonald, who narrates both stories, was an easy name to come up with. I wanted to identify with her closely; Daisy is one nickname for Margaret (although one I’ve never used) and MacDonald is the Scottish clan to which my grandfather and his ancestors belonged.

Mike Hossa, the police sergeant working on both cases (finished and starting), is named after Marian Hossa, one of my heroes on the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks of 2010, 2013, and 2015. He is a Czechoslovakian immigrant to Indiana (since the story takes place before the division of Slovakia and the Czech Republic), but his resemblance to the real-life Mr. Hossa ends with some characteristics of his voice and his heroic abilities. Daisy looks at Mike with the admiration I had (OK, still have!) for Marian from afar.

But new neighbors are going to have to turn up in the dorms, and while I will call the new villain Name Withheld again if I must mention that person, the villain needs a name in the text.

I find myself looking at my books in new ways at this stage, even the names on the spines of them. After all, the headline above is true –– James Bond was an ornithologist.  Ian Fleming, the writer of the 007 stories, lived part of the year in Jamaica and owned the real-life Mr. Bond’s book about birds of the West Indies.

So I’m looking around at the names of various authors on my shelves, from Doyle to Christie and McCall Smith to Mortimer.

Maybe I’ll just have to listen to what’s being said for a while before I can put names on it. That’s similar to what I heard Alexander McCall Smith describe as his practice for his long-running series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, when I went to hear him speak several years ago about his new book in that series.

When he was asked why his characters drank so much tea in the stories, I thought the answer would be because Smith lives in Scotland and knows the comfort of tea. To my surprise, he said that when he got stuck, he let the characters stop for a cup of tea, “to move the inaction along a bit.” I tried that with the story that was struggling in my notebook at the time — Daisy MacDonald’s grownup adventures — and sure enough, when I got stuck, I sent her to have lunch. Something was getting talked about in the lunchroom that advanced the plot, and (since Daisy didn’t go to lunch at the same time as the rest of the staff), something happened while she was gone that she needed to be told about when she came back to work.

So in this new story, I’ll remember that, and she and Mike can go to the student union for a Coke when they get stuck on something. For a quiet girl like Daisy, showing up with an older man will get the neighbors talking!

If it takes them a while to introduce themselves to me, that’s all right.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.

So  how’s the new story going to work? Will the neighbors have names like Safire and Bartlett? Subscribe and find out! Type your e-mail address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam-free, and you can opt out at any time.

Filed under: Writing


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  • That's such exciting news! All best wishes on this new project.

  • Thank you very much. There may be reasons to consult the committee before long about writing matters.

  • At least in the movies, Bond's characters were of the feline variety, but not cats. Also, if you are using hockey names, there weren't many that could be spelled in last night's Stanley Cup clincher.

  • In reply to jack:

    I don't think I'll use many names from the Tampa Bay Lightning, the new champs. I know them better from the 2015 team that the Hawks defeated. At any rate, the Russian names wouldn't be authentic for 1983 Indiana.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Joe Pavelski of Dallas would work.

    2015 reminds me that when I was in a pizza joint Palm Harbor FL in 2017, I thought it odd that they had a 2004 Lightning Stanley Cup picture, but they can now get a new one. On the other hand, the Bulls poster in Tony's Subs in Deerfield is so old that Jordan and the crew are wearing pink uniforms (due to sun fading).

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks again, Jack. Joe Pavelski's name might be useful, if he didn't drive the Hawks crazy so often. (Hmm, the villain is still nameless!)

    As for aging championship photos, I'm in a glass house here. I bought a 2010 Hawks team picture at a neighborhood sale... one of those photos with the Stanley Cup in the middle of the bunch. It's not coming down any time soon!

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