Ever since early August, when the literary agent told me my proposed memoir had no hook for readers in Ohio, I’ve been devising a plan to appeal to her and others in her trade when I have another opportunity to pitch to them next summer. First, I applied and was accepted into the University of Washington’s year-long writer’s program with a focus on popular fiction. The goal is to complete a first draft of a novel by the end of the next school year.
My only assignment between now and the first day of class is to dream up a character, to understand what makes her happy, despondent, angry, and proud. (Note: read my Facebook wall for ideas). What are her quirks, what makes people like her, and what does she do that makes them roll their eyes? (Note: start observing my friends more closely.)
My first idea was to take a historical character, a relative of my grandma’s, whose name and occupation were unearthed in a brief family history. Unfortunately, to know this man would have required me to do months of historical research. This sounded burdensome, given that I also have to learn how to write a scene, plot out chapters, and create minor characters and subplots. My second idea came with its own set of challenges, that is, trying to imagine what a Chinese immigrant new to town was experiencing. I decided that I also wasn’t ready to take on this challenge. Finally, I settled on a character who was working in a field I knew well: school public relations.
I took my cue for character development from one blog reader in Ohio, who had referred me to an “Atlantic” article called, Don’t Write What You Know. I decided my protagonist would not be me. To start with, she would be much younger, maybe in her thirties. Over coffee yesterday, I confided in my friend Jackie that I had heard a stinging criticism of one writer’s manuscript because she didn’t know how to talk like a thirty-year-old. Jackie assured me that she could help me here, because she knew a few women in their thirties.
“There are two important facts you need to start with,” she said. “Some of them use the f-word a lot and they don’t wear panty hose.” Feeling buoyed by her obvious expertise, she added, “I think your character should be a bimbo [as in empty-headed].”
I told her that I was imagining an opening scene in which my protagonist was facing a television reporter for the first time. The question the reporter asks is a variation on one I had been asked in my career. “How did you feel when you learned that you had a possible pedophile volunteering in one of your schools?”
“I’ve got it. I know how she answers,” said Jackie. “I love pedophiles. I get a pedophile and a manicure every week.” Luckily, by then the Starbucks crowd we were sitting with had mostly cleared out for the morning and we didn’t disturb many with our giggles.
I feel confident I can share this imagined episode publicly, because I have a strong suspicion it’s not going to appear in my novel. My task is clear: get to know my bare-legged, swearing bimbo before October. But I still don’t have a name for this character. I started with Bitsy, but decided that was too East Coast. Any suggestions?
A name for a 30 year old bimbo? Look and see what TV shows and movies were popular 30 years ago.
I commend your effort and offer the name Bambi for your character…Bambi the Bimbo has nice alliteration. Bon chance!
Okay, I loved your friends suggestion and could see myself laughing at that comment regarding the pedophile.
As far as a name for your lead I actually looked up the most common names in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Heather appears on both lists and I have always thought of it as a “flighty girl” name. (Sorry to all the Heather’s out there who disagree.)
I realize that I am not an expert, so take this just as a comment from my point of view. I would think that whoever your main character is, given that you will be spending a lot of time with her, I would think you might want to like her – at least I would. I also realize that I am probably in the minority – but if I can’t have empathy with the main character I don’t read the book. So anyway, obviously she will have faults – just give her a few nice qualities too.
Thanks to those who commented here and via my email and who called to my attention that I could fine names on-line by era. Top names from the 1980’s included Heather, as Debbie mentioned and Brittany, Tiffany, Crystal, Nicole and Danielle. Seems like there are enough dandies on this list for me to choose from.