This past week, with no editing or writing or revisioning to do, I felt completely lost. I haven't been at the beginning of the writing process in so long that I have forgotten what it was like to just be able to muse about what ifs, and in some ways it's put a lot of stress on me because I don't have the comfortable characters, the ones I've had in my head for the past few years, surrounding me in my schizophrenic state of writing.
Now, I have to create new characters and get to know them intimately. I have to learn what types of food they enjoy eating and if they drink or smoke dope... or worse. I have to learn their most hidden secrets, and then like a bad friend, reveal those secrets to the world.
Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I was considering what to name my new protagonist, and not having much luck. I want this novel to be in first person, and I don't think I'm a good enough writer to have a male protagonist. (You know what I mean. You've read novels that didn't ring true because the author didn't do a good enough job of assuming the alternate gender.) So I have to come up with a name, a women's name that I can live with for a couple of years, minimum.
The problem with names is that if you use the name of one of your friends or close acquaintances, deep down, even though they deny it or don't realize it, they think you're writing about them. Of course, if I was going to write about one of my friends, I'd cleverly disguise their name. For example, if I was going to write about my friend Ken, I might call the character Ben or Fen, but definitely not Ken. Of course, I'm just kidding. Most of my characters have bits and pieces of many of the people I've known, and usually it's the ones I don't like that end up in my stories.
Yes, my characters are typically "unlikeable". They possess a lot of negative qualities that we often don't see in novels, because everyone, maybe everyone except me, wants their characters to be universally liked. In some cases, the characters, if they don't have some bad habits, become two-dimensional. That's one of the reasons I don't read a lot of romance novels. I will say there are some really good romance authors out there who do a great job of having fully rounded characters, but they're not the norm.
Of course, if I'm not careful, mine can go the other way and not have enough good/nice/happy qualities to them. I try to make the reader understand. I try to engage the reader in what the characters are going through and why. To quote my friend Ted, "While I don't consider the protagonist, Janice, very high on the "likability scale," I grew to understand the motives behind her actions throughout the story." That's what I'm shooting for.
With that said, I'm going to spend some time making up new people. Going to start with a web page of women's names. I'm leaning toward Alexandra, Cassandra, or Celeste. There aren't that many when I delete all the ones associated to people I know. But this'll be good, I'll have some brand new friends soon.