RIP “Gertrude”

Screen shot from baby names site

I’ve been revisiting character names in my latest novel, the one I worked on in November. Until now I have called my work-in-progress (WIP) “Gertrude” after the person I anticipated would be the protagonist, and who I thought was born in 1920. But now I know that the character Gertrude was actually born in the late 1930s to early 1940s. Also, it turns out the novel has not one but two main protagonists. Gertrude may have become a little less main than Lillian, who, in novel-fact, was born circa 1920.

The name Gertrude wasn’t as popular in 1940 as in 1920. This sort of information is available on a very handy section of the Social Security website (and probably some other sites, too). The name Barbara will work. It was popular in 1940 and has a variety of nicknames other characters can call her by (Barb, Barbie, Babs). Maybe only by chance Barbara was my mother’s name. As the storyline and theme continue developing, I may learn that this shift was not only by chance, though I still think it was. Certain other characters’ names need to change, too, now that the story will be set twenty years later than I’d first thought.

Why twenty years later? That’s what happened when I decided to place the novel’s climax in a certain milieu and crowning event in the 1960s. At last I have a setting for the novel, a decision I struggled with in November. Much of the story could be drafted without being tied to a setting, but the other day I realized that particular freedom of motion no longer applied. I had to pin down the time and place my characters were experiencing their world.

This novel is my best experience to date with a story that wants to be told but requires me to keep excavating to find it. In a way it has been excruciating. I started it last year, feeling there was something there, but it was eluding me. Most of this past November was equally aggravating, but its final few days revealed more pieces. I no longer have the nagging feeling that I’m kidding myself. This book will take a couple years to complete, I’m sure, but I finally know it will be worth it. I’ll keep “Gertrude” as a working title until I’m clear about the book’s reason for being.

Now back to more revisions on my GREAT WHARF novel for when a smart agent takes the revised-again query letter’s bait.

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