Let’s talk about changes of character. No, I don’t mean becoming a “good person” through some spiritual miracle—though I’ve seen that happen and believe God changes hearts and characters every day. For now, however, I’m referring to fictional people, and when it’s time for an author to give them a makeover of one kind or another.
Here’s an example. The heroine in Destiny’s Dream, the first book in my upcoming Solomon’s Gate series, underwent a name change in the final edits. A character in the second book, Kylie’s Kiss, morphed from a saucy redhead to an equally dynamic black sistah about two-thirds of the way through the book.
Why the character changes?
I had a couple of reasons for changing the heroine’s name from Karissa to Destiny, though I am admittedly still getting used to the new moniker. After all, I thought of her as Karissa through the entire writing process. (One of my real-life friends, whom I’ve known since I was ten, legally changed her name from Judy to Julie when she reached adulthood. That’s been at least thirty years ago, and I still slip and call her Judy from time to time. Old habits really do die hard.)
In Karissa’s case, it turned out that manuscript had too many characters whose names started with the hard “K” sound: Cassie, Carrie, Carson, Claire, Karen, Cameron, Clay—and, of course, Karissa. Why on earth was I so drawn to those hard “K” names at that time? Who knows, but apparently I was. So why not change the other characters’ names? Especially since Karissa’s name was also in the book’s title, Karissa’s Dream.
Well, that’s why. The other two books in the series will have alliterative titles—Kylie’s Kiss and Gypsy’s Game. In order to make the alliteration consistent across the whole collection, my editor and I decided Karissa should get the name change. She became Destiny, and the title is now Destiny’s Dream.
Why would I give my fun little redhead in Kylie’s Kiss a complete racial makeover? Because I recognized a lack of racial mix in my overall writing. Every character in my books up to that point was Caucasian, like me. Not good! So Dayna became a beautiful black gal with plenty of attitude, but retained her role as the heroine’s best friend. I find that I rather like Dayna in her new skin—it fits.
Recognizing and being willing to change that lack of racial variety will add depth and more realistic peopling of my future writing. Kylie’s Kiss boasts a loveable, loyal Hispanic character named Trina. Here again, there was a character change part way through the manuscript. Catarina (Trina) was originally named Anina, but called Nini by those who knew and loved her. Another character, Winona, went by Noni. See the problem? As much as I loved Nini, I decided I could use that name in another book someday. Noni fit the other character so well—and it is my sister’s name, so held a rather special place in my heart.
Changes of character. Changes of attitude. Changes of skin color, occupation, age, eye color—every author must make them at some point in her writing career. Reasons vary, and range from simple to complex, but when they are recognized, it’s important that the author be willing to reshape her brain children. It hurts sometimes—I did not want to change Karissa’s name, and I nearly cried when I changed Nini’s, while Dayna’s racial makeover gave me not a single moment’s pause.
I reworked those things because it was the right thing for my characters, my readers, and the book as a whole. As the creator who breathed life into these fictional people, it is my sole responsibility to change them in any way that will improve the storyline, even when doing so demands a sacrifice of some quality or characteristic that I personally love. (I’m pretty sure our Creator sometimes sheds a tear when he rids us of some characteristic that doesn’t work out for our good, or His glory.)
As a writer, have you made character changes that helped your storyline but hurt your heart? As a reader, have you come across characters you wish the writer had taken time to change?
Tell us about them. What did you change, and why? What bothers you as a reader?
We want to know—it’s a matter of character….
DELIA LATHAM is a Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and friend. While she considers each of these roles important ones, she treasures most of all her role as a child of the King and an heir to the throne.
A former newspaper staff writer, Delia promised herself a novel for years, while raising her four children, working at various jobs and writing the occasional article, poem, or song. She fulfilled that promise when Vintage Romance Publishing released Goldeneyes in 2008. A Christian historical romance with a touch of the divine, Goldeneyes is set in the farm country of the author’s childhood, and therefore close to her heart. In 2010, White Rose Publishing released Yesterday’s Promise in electronic format. A children’s book, Adam’s Wings, will be available in December 2010. The Solomon’s Gate series is in the publisher’s hands and awaiting release dates.
Delia grew up in Weedpatch, a tiny agricultural community near Bakersfield, in California’s San Joaquin Valley. She and her husband Johnny recently transplanted from that area to Okmulgee County, Oklahoma.
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