Monday, September 17, 2012

Naming Characters After Real People

By Beth Groundwater

Many people ask me if any of my characters are based on real people in my life. The answer is always no, with one exception. Sometimes when I attend a mystery fan conference, I will put a character name in an upcoming novel up for bid in the silent or live auction they often have for a literacy-related charity.

Usually, the novel has already been written, though, so what people are bidding on is the privilege of their name being used for an existing character. Also usually, that existing character is not one of the main characters, and not a character that will continue on in future books in the series. So, I already know something about the character, but I don't know them to the depth that I know my main characters, such as my sleuths, Mandy Tanner and Claire Hanover.

That gives me the leeway to add or modify a secondary character's personality and background to match key aspects of the winner of the name of that character. And that's the fun and the challenge for me, to incorporate as much of the winner as I can in the fictional character--even if the character is evil, the villain, or the victim. Of course, mystery fans just LOOOOVE being the victim or villain!

I recently turned in the revised manuscript for the third book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, titled Fatal Descent. In the book, Mandy Tanner and her boyfriend Rob, who own an outfitting company together, take a group of clients on a whitewater rafting trip down Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River in Utah. At least one of those clients will not make it out alive, and Mandy, Rob and their two trusted guides, Gonzo and Kendra, must keep their clients safe while at the same time figure out whodunnit.

At this spring's Malice Domestic conference, two people "won" (bid the highest amount for) character names in the book. Their names will become public fodder when the book is published in May, 2013, so I might as well get them used to the notoriety now! One winner was a man, Tom O'Day, and the other was a woman, Maureen (Mo) Heedles. I collected email addresses from both and communicated after the conference with both about what character they'd like to "be."

In Mo's case, I have three married female friends who go on this fatal trip with Mandy and Rob to get away from their husbands and kids. One is an animal track spotter, one is a wildflower enthusiast, and one is a birder. Some of these areas of expertise turn out to be useful in the solving of the crime. I asked Mo if she'd like her name to be used for one of these three characters. She replied that she is an avid flower gardener, loves wildflowers, and takes photographs of flowers that she hangs in her kitchen gallery. So, I gave my wildflower enthusiast Mo's name, added a line of dialogue where she mentions her kitchen gallery of wildflower photos, and made sure she snaps some photos of flowers on the trip. I was able to use a few other characteristics that Mo gave me in an email about herself, but I'll leave those as a surprise for her to find when she reads the book. ;-)

In Tom's case, he is an avid bidder on character names in mystery novels and told me that he has enjoyed being characterized as a villain or evil-doer in past novels. He also told me that as a teenager, he wanted to be involved in the outdoor life as a park ranger. I couldn't name any of my four river guides (Mandy, Rob, Gonzo, Kendra) on the Fatal Descent trip into Cataract Canyon after him, because they are all recurring characters that have already appeared in other books of the series. However, one other guide comes along on the trip--a climbing guide, since the trip includes some rock climbing adventures. This guide, who goes by the nickname of Cool, is a womanizer who manages to piss off both Mandy and many of the female clients with his overtures. What a delicious ever-doer for Tom to become! ;-) Again, I was able to use some other characteristics that he gave me in an email about himself, but I won't ruin the fun he'll have in discovering them when he reads the book.

Making these changes to two of the characters in Fatal Descent meant more work for me, in addition to addressing the revision requests that my editor gave me, but they also made the revision process more fun. I hope Tom (Cool) and Mo are pleased with the result!

Have you ever had a character named after you in a mystery novel? If so, please tell all! What did you think of the experience?

1 comment:

Kathleen Ernst said...

I've never participated, but I've always thought it was a great way to have some fun with readers and to raise money for a good cause. One year the highest bid went for the chance to get your pet named in a big-name author's next book!