When writing what turned out to be Lost without You, I made one crucial mistake naming the hero. See if you can spot it.
The following is how I went about deciding on his name:
1. Think about the type of first name I want.
I don't want a long name. One syllable sounds good. It needs to be a strong name fitting a strong, male lead, but not a harsh one, like Butch. It needs to be likable and warm, but not wimpy.
2. Come up with names like that.
I think through names of guys I know personally and as acquaintances and try them on for size. I look at name tags at grocery stores and restaurants. Eventually I remember a gal from high school whose boyfriend was named Greg. I hardly knew the guy, but I like the name and decide to go with it.
3. Be far less demanding with the last name.
Mentally, I go through neighborhoods I've lived in, up and down the streets, thinking over the names of the families who lived in each house: Ferguson, Stringham, Lambert, Tolman, Van Dyke, Stevens.
Hey . . . Stevens. I like that.
4. Try the last name out with the first name.
Me likey! The hero is christened Greg Stevens.
That's seriously how I came up with his name. Did you catch the step I missed? No?
Some back story that will help explain:
My parents presided over the Finland mission from the time I was 10 to 13. During that first year, we had an elder who was, apparently, quite good looking. At least, a lot of the sister missionaries thought so.
I took their word for it; I was ten, so boys still had cooties, and I couldn't see what they were so enamored over. I mean, he was nice. He could play the guitar well. But from where I stood (somewhere around four feet tall), he was big and hairy: a nice, musically talented ape man twice my age.
Okay then. You can probably see where this is going. Several months after Lost without You came out, some of my parents' former missionaries dropped by, and my new book came up in conversation:
"Oh, your daughter must have had a crush on Elder Stevens like everyone else did since she named her hero after him."
When my mom told me about it and asked if that's where I got the name, my eyes flew open the size of dinner plates.
I had a what on Elder Stevens? But his first name wasn't . . . was it? Oh, no, it was Greg. All of these missionaries who'd practically been extended family, faux brothers and sisters to me, thought I'd had some crush on one of them? No, no, no, no, no!
To this day, there are probably a couple of dozen women (and likely men) who served in the Helsinki mission circa 1984 who think I had a crush on Elder Stevens.
So, did you figure out my mistake?
Yeah. Before you commit to a character name, scour your brain and your past for anyone, anywhere who you've run into at any time that might share the name. People will assume the character is named after them, and no amount of protesting will change that.
So Veli Stevens, if you're reading this, um, hi! You don't show up in my first book, I promise. When I started writing the thing, I'd been home from Finland much longer than I'd been alive when we got there, and our missionaries' names were the farthest things from my mind.
And, um, sorry I didn't have a crush on you or anything. It was nothing personal.
Edited to add: Turns out that my hero didn't have the exact name (further evidence that any connection was purely coincidental): our missionary's last name was actually Stevenson, not Stevens. His wife was pointed to this post, so they both know all about it (read her comment below!). Elder S is as nice as ever and got a kick out of the post.
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