June 28, 2011

Guest Post: Jim LePore

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:57 am

Blood Of My Brother

I’m very happy to welcome back author Jim LePore to the blog. For one thing, Jim wrote the very first Made It Moment almost exactly two years ago! Since we have now passed 75 Moments I feel as if Jim is a little part of history, at least the history of this blog. For another, Jim writes some of my favorite psychological fiction. His debut, A WORLD I NEVER MADE, still ranks as one of my all-time favorite novels, one I recommend to everyone who reads, and he has now gone on to release two more, all with the same interesting-for-these-times small publisher, The Story Plant. Today Jim muses about the role of naming, something that inspires him as he begins a new book.

Jim LePore

The Myth of Naming In Fiction

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
 by any other name would smell as sweet.

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

My Basic Premise

There are no ideas or emotions unless first there is a human being (Character 1) who thinks something or feels something. That human being cannot exist of course without context, that is, time and place. Character 1 must be placed in the world (or a world if you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi) at some point in time as we know it. Action does not necessarily follow. Another human being (Character 2) must first be added to the context, someone present, past or future, who has done or said something that motivates Character 1 to act.

What I Do

I start with a name. I know this sounds crazy, but getting the right name for my central character somehow triggers the mysterious process of writing a novel or a story. I suppose that starting with a place, like a medieval castle or a colony on Mars, would work as well, but you will quickly need a person, a person who feels and thinks. That person will have to have a name. The story, for me, is in the name.

Let’s say Character 1 is Jane Scardino. The first thing that comes to mind is that her friends call her Scar. Does she have a scar somewhere on her body? Maybe. Will it be integral to her story? Maybe. Does she like her name? Is she Italian?

What does Jane look like? Is she young, old, beautiful? What is she wearing? Let’s say she’s in her mid-forties, worrying about her fading beauty and not happy to be so vain. She’s wearing something comfortable, but fashionable, yes, attractive, a black high-collared sweater, black slacks, funky shoes decorated with faux gems and sparkling rhinestone (or are they diamond?) earrings. Vanity wins, it seems.

What is Jane doing? Perhaps she’s getting ready for work, putting those earrings on, thinking about her mother’s boyfriend, who she’s worried is stealing her mother’s money. Yesterday she saw her mom going into the bank with Harry, her charming, silver-haired, Cadillac-driving beau. Jane is going to see a lawyer after work to talk about this, a lawyer she met at work last week who asked her out. She had declined, but why then did she pick him?

I think I might have the beginning of a story here, a story that started with a name, a name that somehow has a story in it.

Shakespeare was using things as metaphors for people. Could Romeo Montague and Juliette Capulet have gone down in history as John and Jane Smith? We’ll never know, but something tells me the answer is no.

I practiced law for twenty-five years before retiring in 1999 to write and take pictures. I have written a number of works of short fiction that have evolved from my novels. After each novel was completed, its characters continued to live in my head, telling me, it seemed, that they wanted to go on living on the page. The stories that grew out of A World I Never Made will be published in February, 2011, in a volume entitled, Anyone Can Die. My second novel, Blood of My Brother, is available now at Amazon and all other online booksellers.


  1. The names of characters always attract me as a reader! Great post.

    Comment by Connie J Jasperson — June 28, 2011 @ 9:39 am

  2. Very Interesting! I always struggle with names. Nothing ever sounds right to me . . . but once I’ve used one for a bit, I get used to it and it works OK. There have only been a few that I’ve really loved from the start.

    Comment by Gary Hoover — June 28, 2011 @ 9:52 am

  3. What else can I say? The tittle of my novel is Johnny Oops.


    Comment by Arthur Levine — June 28, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  4. Great to see Jim again!!

    Comment by Judy — June 28, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  5. I like the deconstruction of the name. Interesting! I often start with a name, too. I have two right now that are doozies. I’m just waiting for their stories to show up.

    Comment by Ramona — June 28, 2011 @ 10:37 am

  6. Now I can’t wait to meet Jane! Is she going into a book? Whether or not she is I’m definitely looking forward to checking out A World I Never Made.

    Comment by Johanna — June 28, 2011 @ 11:15 am

  7. That’s so interesting! My character names often come later…after I get to know the person better. Sometimes I start the book using a temporary name, knowing it doesn’t feel right, and it’s not until I get further into the story that the “real” name becomes clear to me. Although I outline extensively, so by the time I start writing full-blown scenes, the characters and I are old friends, and I know their real names.

    I love how you create a whole story from nothing but a name. Fascinating!

    Comment by Lauren S — June 28, 2011 @ 11:37 am

  8. Heck, I have a book called What’s in a Name? My characters were on the run and changing identities, so I had to come up with more than 1 name for them. But I don’t worry too much if the first name I find isn’t “perfect.” I don’t plot in advance, so I’m used to changing things along the way, names included.

    Then, I had a secondary character in a book who was known only by his last name. When it was time for his own book, I had to decide why nobody used his first name. Coming up with that one was a challenge, even though it appeared on the page only a couple of time.

    I’ve learned (the hard way) to keep track of names as I name characters. I found a very simple spreadsheet with the letters of the alphabet keep me from having too many names starting with the same letter.

    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

    Comment by Terry Odell — June 28, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

  9. I wanna be a girl named “Scar.”

    Comment by Savvy — June 28, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  10. Names can help to set the tone of the character and the book. If I read a novel about a woman named Scar, I would most definitely expect there to be something symbolic in that name other than it being a part of her last name. I would expect internal scars maybe, something from her childhood, a horrific experience in her past. A physical scar would seem more appropriate for a man, because most women wouldn’t want their identity to be based upon a physical flaw, but that could actually make a female character more unique.

    Most of my names are in my head before the plot, but sometimes, for minor characters, I let my kids name them, or for characters you aren’t supposed to like, I’ll combine the names of two local politicians.

    Holli Castillo
    Gumbo Justice
    Jambalaya Justice coming July, 2011

    Comment by Holli Castillo — June 28, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

  11. My recent favorite name is Miss Maple, from the book ‘Three Bags Full’

    Comment by shirley nienkark — June 28, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

  12. Great post, Jim, and I couldn’t agree more. Your work through for Jane “Scar” Scardino is spot on! I once ran through three names for a central character and couldn’t progress beyond the first chapter until I got the name right. Thanks for a great post.
    Two Feet Below

    Comment by C.K.Crigger — June 28, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  13. I’m happy to get such great responses. Not only can Jenny write, but she can draw a crowd of writers/thinkers.
    P.S. I once went through the naming exercise with a seventh grade class (a teacher friend asked me to do it) and the response was terrific. They came up with names like Spaceman Klook and situations that were surprisingly poignant.

    Comment by Jim LePore — June 28, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

  14. Although my main characters are the exception to this rule, in this particular series I borrowed quite a few names from my husband’s family. It is about the Mexican mafia and my husband’s family is Hispanic. Although they obviously have nothing to do with organized crime, they do have such beautiful names. It was my way of kind of including them in the whole experience.

    Comment by Judy Serrano — June 28, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

  15. My favorite character name in all of my books is Michael Rogers, the sexy male lead in Maggie Mae. I sculpted him right from my husband, Michael Roger Wolters. That’s right ladies, I’m a very happy woman.

    Comment by sandy wolters — June 28, 2011 @ 7:59 pm

  16. This is a fantastic conversation–and I would give yourself credit, Jim: it’s a terrific topic, and you put a great spin on it. I think we’ll all remember Jane “Scar” Scardino for a while! Thank you to everyone for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    Comment by jenny — June 28, 2011 @ 9:22 pm

  17. I name my characters after elementary school classmates, swapping out first and last names. Don’t know why I remember their names . . .but they have shaped how I think about a “Felicia” or “Russell” to this day.

    Comment by Sara — June 28, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

  18. I agree that small nuggets of information can lead to gold mines of a story. For anyone who wants to read more about Jim and why he puts his stories in NJ, hop over to my site, http://www.jerseywise.fiction where he puts Jersey into the mythic..

    Comment by Karyne — June 29, 2011 @ 9:09 am

  19. I love names, but must confess a predilection to “punning” names. Fortunately, I manage to curb the tendency, but couldn’t resist naming a customs agent Duane Zoll. And I’d love to work in Pikemop Andropemov, a Russion cabbie. Ben Travlin is another favorite. Names can trigger a wealth of character traits. Excellent post, thanks for sharing.

    Comment by G Thomas Gill — June 30, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

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