Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What A Difference A Word Makes...

by Sean Chercover

As I've mentioned here before, I added a short scene in the middle of the final chapter of TRIGGER CITY, for the paperback edition. I felt that the hardcover version ended a little too abruptly, but I didn't know what was missing.

Then it hit me: Ray Dudgeon (my protagonist) should visit the dead woman's apartment one last time, sort of a coda to his relationship with the woman he only came to know after her death. It was a very short scene - less than a page - but it added a little breathing room, and I hoped it would give the ending a stronger emotional resonance.

According to people who've read both versions, the difference was striking.

All that, from less than one page out of 300.

But how about one word?

In my current WIP, I had a character (one of the antagonists) with the name of Lucky. Not an unreasonable nickname for a Las Vegas bookmaker, I figured. My early readers liked the character, and the scenes in which he appeared, but a couple said that, while the humor of the scenes worked very well, the menace was lacking.

I read over the scenes. I'd already decided to change Lucky's name, so I did (to Jackson) but I couldn't see how to address the 'menace' problem, so I moved on, resolving to come back and fix it later.

And a funny thing happened. Next time my early readers got a copy of the ms., they all said that the humor had been toned down and the menace was now there in abundance, and they asked about the changes I'd made to fix the problem.

But I hadn't made any changes. I'd only changed the character's name from Lucky to Jackson.

Somehow, just the name Lucky signaled readers that humor was imminent, and that the character was not to be feared. Amazing.

I learned a hell of a lesson, and will never approach the naming of a character quite the same way.

One more thing: If you're stuck for a last-minute Christmas gift, (and also want to help a good cause) allow me to suggest Bob Dylan's new album, Christmas In The Heart. A terrific collection of holiday standards, plus this catchy tune that is new to me:

All of Dylan's royalties from the sale of this album are going to feed the hungry. Another good reason to pick up the album.

Until the next time, have a Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.


Kathy Holmes said...

If you write a book set in Vegas, you gotta name the character Lucky - or so it seems. Even my ms has a female lead in Vegas and, yes, her name is Lucky, but then it's somewhat romantic comedy.

Now I'm pondering the name of the character in my next ms - even have a poll on my blog. :)

Dana King said...

Elmore Leonard tells a story about a character who just wasn't working out. When thinking scenes through in his mind, the character didn't have much to say, and what he did have to say wasn't very entertaining. I think he was considering getting rid of the guy, but on a whim changed his name. Bam! Problem solved to the point where the character took on en even bigger role than Leonard originally envisioned.

Libby Hellmann said...

Oy.. and Dylan was once such a nice Jewish boy. :)

Sean Chercover said...

He goes back and forth...

Sara Paretsky said...

That Dylan tune keeps running through my head, driving me crazy. And I can't make out the presidential patter in the reindeer segment--do you have that, Sean?
Libby, Jesus was a nice Jewish boy,too. Do we know if Dylan passed the nJb test? Was he good to his mother?

Sean Chercover said...

Wish I had those lyrics, Sara. Have listened more than a few times, and got much of it, but some of it still eludes me.