What’s in a name?
Updated: Feb 1
I’ve had editors, agents, and beta readers all ask me about X’s name. Is that really his name? Is it just a placeholder? Did you drop your creativity and forget to pick it back up?
I’ll let you in on a little secret – yes and no.
Before we get to the name, let’s go back to where Worthless started – the ending. Before I knew anything else about the book, I knew how I wanted it to end. I could see how the final scenes / chapters played out in my head, and no matter what came before, that was where it was all headed. So, when it came to drafting the outline, I roughly did the last chapter first, then looped back around and started in on chapter 1.
Yes, in that last chapter, I used ‘X’ as a placeholder for the character’s name because I didn’t know him yet. What was he like? Where did he come from? What was his upbringing? Who were his friends? What were his issues? Without those, I couldn’t settle on a name. Instead, I used ‘X’ as a filler and started building up his background.
Now, my dad was always a big fan of westerns, and when I was growing up, that’s what we’d watch together. Good ol’ Clint, horses, and six-shooters were how we’d spend a Sunday afternoon, and my mind went back to those old movies. There was a scene in one of them (bear with me, this is from the memory of a 7-year old) of a cowboy in a bank who couldn’t read or write. The uppity bank manager (because they were always slimeballs) needed the rough-and-tumble hero to put his ‘mark’ on a page.
What did he do? He signed with an ‘X’ – the only mark he could make.
That’s where it all clicked. ‘X’ had a rough life. He grew up poor, illiterate, and with parents who didn’t care about him. More importantly, parents who also couldn’t read and write. What would they put on his birth certificate?
You get one guess!
And so X was born. (See what I did there?)
From there, everything fit. The name represented the character and all of the struggles he grew up with, and served as a constant reminder to him of where he came from. Like everything else in his life, it was something he would have to try to overcome. A constant reminder.
It was also a helluva lot shorter to write a million times through three books.