Writing Fiction: Naming Characters

One of the hardest parts about writing is naming your characters. You want their names to seem realistic, but not be so real that someone with that name would sue you.

I use the internet to get realistic, age-appropriate first names. My sources are for American names. If you need foreign names, do a search for “most popular [country] names” to get a list of resources. 

For example, most popular Irish names will give you a list that includes Baby Names of Ireland. In addition to the names, you’ll also get information, meaning, and pronunciation of the names.

One terrific resource I use is the Social Security Administration. You can visit their site and get the top 5 names for girls and boys for the past 100 years. You can see the top names for any decade since the 1880s. You can get top names by state. 

There is a ton of information you can use to make your names realistic. If you’re writing a book set in the area where you grew up, look at yearbooks. Visit the library where you live and go through the phone books. Look at the history of the area where your story is set, and use names that would fit in or sound similar. 

When you decide on a name, Google it to see if actual people have that name. You may see Facebook pages, LinkedIn pages, obituaries, and other links to the name. Change any names of people you’re basing a character on, and change enough details that someone reading about Harry Potter, for example, doesn’t think you’re writing about them. 

Part of what makes a story seem plausible is having characters with names that don’t take the reader out of the story, unless that’s your objective. Mr. Lemoncello is a character in a particular type of story, Eve Dallas is a character in a different type of story, and most likely they wouldn’t be characters in the same story.

Naming characters can be fun, but it’s also a big part of what takes your readers into the story world you create.

Cream Cheese and Olives

Cream Cheese and Olives is a long-time family favorite. My mother would make this to take on road trips, because she could make sandwiches while we were driving without making a mess.

My favorite way to eat it is on Triscuit crackers. I have put it on toasted English Muffins, eaten it on whatever cracker was handy, and made little rolled sandwiches with white bread. In the fast and easy department, it doesn’t get much easier than two ingredients.

It makes an appearance at our annual sausage party (where friends and family gather to make lots of Italian sausage). It shows up in “Dying for Holiday Tea” with the green olive and red pimento giving Christmas color to snowy cream cheese.

Cream Cheese and Olives

Prep time: 10 minutes
Chill time: 30 minutes

1 8 oz package of cream cheese (I use Philadelphia Neufchatel cheese)
1/3 C green olives with pimento
1 T liquid from olive jar

In a bowl, place the brick of cream cheese. If using full fat cream cheese, let it come to room temp before making this. If using 1/3 reduced fat cream cheese, it is soft enough to use right from the frig, but I usually let it soften for a bit anyway.

Chop the olives as finely or as coarsely as you prefer. I prefer using a knife, but to get a finer chop, I’ll use my chopper. Use a fork to mash the cream cheese, add the liquid from the olives, and add the chopped olives. Mix to combine. Put in a container and refrigerate.

The flavors develop best when chilled for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Sometimes I don’t want to wait that long, and adding the olive liquid helps give the cream cheese olive flavor before chilling. If I’m taking it to a party, I’ll make it the night before.

My husband was skeptical about this combination, but now he enjoys it. The picture below is from last year’s Sausage Party (Cream Cheese and Olives in the foreground, Caramelized Onion Dip is behind it). I’ll post recipes from this year’s Sausage Party closer to the date (usually the Saturday before Christmas; this year’s date to be determined.)

2013 Sausage Party Caramelized Onion Dip Cream Cheese Olives 20131221_122035


We’d Rather Be Writing – 88 Authors Dish

We’d Rather Be Writing: 88 Authors Share Timesaving Dinner Recipes and Other Tips is exactly what it sounds like. 

Lois Winston, one of my co-authors in the Happy Homicides: Thirteen Cozy Holiday Mysteries anthology, has edited a collection of dinner recipes and tips for cooking, household, writing, and organization. 

My recipe for Chicken and Noodles is included, as well as some of my tips. I sent out the recipe for the noodles portion of this recipe in the October 1 newsletter. If you don’t subscribe to it, message me and I’ll send it to you.

The price is a very affordable and giftable $.99, with all proceeds being donated to No Kid Hungry. I love that the profits from a cooking book go to an organization whose goal is to end childhood hunger. It’s available for presale now, and will be available October 30 in both ebook and print formats.

All of the recipes were submitted with the understanding that they be fast and easy to prepare. I have a collection of recipes that I can have on the table within 30 minutes of walking through the door. 

I’d love to hear what your fast and easy recipes are!

Triple Chocolate Caramel Truffles

Have I mentioned before how much I love caramel? It’s my absolute fave, and mixed with crispies and chocolate – nirvana! Next time I make these, I’ll add crispies or nuts. I’ve made caramels each of the last two years, and I’ll post the recipe and pictures closer to the holidays. 

I saw Julia Baker make chocolate caramel truffles on her Cooking Channel show Sweet Julia, and thought they looked easy and delicious. Right on both counts!

Last week I went to my friend Joanna Campbell Slan‘s Beta Bash, where her Beta Babes got together in Jupiter, FL. Her Beta Babes are her beta readers, those valuable fans of her writing who have volunteered to read early drafts of her works in progress and give her feedback.

Friday night eight mystery authors talked about their latest books at the Apollo School in Hobe Sound, and Joanna invited the Babes and the authors to her home for dinner beforehand. The authors participating were: S.L. MenearGregg E. BrickmanMiriam AuerbachRandy RawlsDeborah SharpDiane A.S. Stuckart (aka Ali Brandon), Elaine Viets, and Joanna Campbell Slan. I’ve linked their names to their websites for you – you might discover a new favorite author.  

I made these Triple Chocolate Caramel Truffles for the dessert table. 

Triple Chocolate Caramel Truffles

Makes 5 dozen

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Chilling time: 45 minutes (minimum)

2 C sugar
1/2 C water
1 1/2 C heavy cream
1 C milk chocolate chips
1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 T butter (if using unsalted butter, add 1 t salt)
1 T coffee powder
2 t vanilla
Confectioners sugar and Dark Cocoa powder for rolling the truffles in

Put all of the chocolate chips and the butter (and salt, if necessary) in a large bowl, and set aside.

Combine the sugar and water in a medium pot and heat over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. In a separate pan, heat the heavy cream until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Heat the sugar/water mixture to a boil and cook until the sugar turns the color you prefer. NOTE: DO NOT stir the sugar – swirl to distribute the color evenly. 

Remove the cooked sugar from the heat, and add the warmed cream. Tilt the pan away from you, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. The mixture will rise up considerably, so use a pot with high sides. Stir until well combined.

Pour the caramel over the chocolate chips and butter. Whisk until smooth. Dissolve the coffee powder in the vanilla and stir into the chocolate caramel. Pour into a shallow pan and refrigerate until firm (at least 45 minutes).

Pour confectioners sugar into a bowl or plate. Using a small ice cream scoop, form truffles. Drop truffles in confectioners sugar and roll to coat. In another bowl or plate, put dark cocoa powder and roll truffles in it. Put coated truffles in a dish and chill. 

Before serving, let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Let me know how you liked them!