Alina Adams’ Behind The Rewrite: Back And Forth With HarperCollins @IamAlinaAdams

Alina Adams’ Behind The Rewrite: Back And Forth With HarperCollins @IamAlinaAdams

 

HarperCollins new releases

I remember hearing New York Times bestselling author Alina Adams speak at a conference about her figure skating mystery series many years ago. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Alina through social media, and when I heard about her new release, The Nesting Dolls, I knew that if she wrote a Behind the Rewrite post, it would be packed with information. Alina touched on five important areas to consider during the editing process: structure, narrative voice, title, prologues, and the importance of sympathetic characters. I think readers will be fascinated to learn how she struggled with choosing a title for her book. It also struck me that she included a prologue in her novel. I usually advise clients to be careful with prologues as many don’t work, however, Alina’s prologue is an example of one that was successfully executed. Below, you can learn more about the editing stages of The Nesting Dolls and how she went back and forth with her editor at HarperCollins, a big 5 publisher. 

My historical fiction novel, The Nesting Dolls came out on July 14, 2020 from HarperCollins. It tells the stories of five generations of Russian Jewish women, taking place in Odessa, USSR during the 1930s and Stalin’s Great Terror, Odessa, USSR in the 1970s during The Great Stagnation and the Free Soviet Jewry movement, and present day Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. 

My editor bought the book in June of 2018, but it took over a year of back and forth edits for the manuscript to be finalized. Here are the top 5 changes that were made:

Change #1: Structure

The Nesting Dolls is told in three different sections, the 1930s, the 1970s, and 2019. In the original manuscript that I submitted, the story flowed in intertwined chapters. I.e. Chapter One: Daria 1934, Chapter Two: Natasha 1973, Chapter Three: Zoe 2019. The first change my editor made was for me to restructure so that we got all of Daria’s story, then all of Natasha’s, then all of Zoe’s. (Even though, for one rewrite, I convinced her to let me try it backwards, first Zoe, then Natasha, then Daria. I thought it might make it more intriguing, but, in the end, we went back to the chronological version.) My father is happy that we did. He says he gets too confused reading stories told out of sequence. (And speaking of my father, watch him explain how to make vodka from potatoes – a key part of The Nesting Dolls plot – here!)

Change #2: Narrative Voice

In the original draft, Daria and Natasha’s sections were in the third person, past tense, while Zoe’s was in first person, present tense. Since she was the modern character, I thought it would give more immediacy to her story. My editor felt it didn’t allow us to get to know Zoe as well as we did Natasha and Daria, since she was not the best judge of what she was actually thinking and feeling and, more importantly, what effect her behavior was having on others. In this case, she felt we could understand Zoe better if we observed her, rather than letting her tell us about herself.

Change #3: Title

The book went through multiple titles. I’d initially called it, Love Is Not a Potato. Because that’s the first line of the book and refers to the Russian expression, “Love is not a potato. If it goes bad, you can’t throw it out the window.’ (It rhymes in Russian and, as we learned from The Lego Movie, everything is true because it rhymes.) My agent thought it sounded like a children’s book. So I changed it to Mother Tongue, because a big theme in every woman’s story is communication, both the political – in the USSR, saying the wrong thing or even speaking the wrong language could get you deported to Siberia – and the personal, parents and children not saying what they mean, or misunderstanding what is said. My editor thought Mother Tongue sounded like a nonfiction title. We wanted a title that suggested Russia, as well as love, family, and relationships. Unable to think of anything, I turned to Facebook, where one of my friends offered The Nesting Dolls. Nesting dolls are dolls where one is inside the other, inside the other, inside the other. It was perfect, since, inside everyone, are all the family members who came before, and what they lived through. They’re what make you, you!

Change #4: Prologue

The Nesting Dolls always had a prologue. (Don’t listen to those who say a book must never have a prologue. I love to read them, so I write them – when it fits the story.) But, in the original draft, the prologue merely set the scene and introduced some of the characters we’ll get to know later, in the present day. My agent suggested making the prologue more compelling by incorporating the story’s climactic dramatic event – the potential exposure of a deeply held family secret – as a tease, to whet the appetite for the drama to come!

Change #5: Likeability Factor

Some of my characters are more likable than others. One, I was told, came off as particularly abrasive and unsympathetic. She mostly complained about her life, blamed other people for it not working out the way she would have liked, and dismissed those who wanted to help her. My editor’s notes were very specific about making her more of a character to root for. I did it by making her more proactive, more heroic in the actions she took, and more aware of other people around her. I added more difficult challenges for her to overcome to show that she was a good person at heart… she just had a tougher time being vulnerable than most. She’s still not the most loveable person in the world, but trust me – she’s much improved!

how to title a book

Want To Read The Book?

The Nesting Dolls is a historical family saga set in the USSR is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. A Book Club Reading Guide is also available

Spanning nearly a century, from 1930s Siberia to contemporary Brighton Beach, a page turning, epic family saga centering on three generations of women in one Russian Jewish family―each striving to break free of fate and history, each yearning for love and personal fulfillment―and how the consequences of their choices ripple through time.

Odessa, 1931. Marrying the handsome, wealthy Edward Gordon, Daria―born Dvora Kaganovitch―has fulfilled her mother’s dreams. But a woman’s plans are no match for the crushing power of Stalin’s repressive Soviet state. To survive, Daria is forced to rely on the kindness of a man who takes pride in his own coarseness.

Odessa, 1970. Brilliant young Natasha Crystal is determined to study mathematics. But the Soviets do not allow Jewish students―even those as brilliant as Natasha―to attend an institute as prestigious as Odessa University. With her hopes for the future dashed, Natasha must find a new purpose―one that leads her into the path of a dangerous young man.

Brighton Beach, 2019. Zoe Venakovsky, known to her family as Zoya, has worked hard to leave the suffocating streets and small minds of Brighton Beach behind her―only to find that what she’s tried to outrun might just hold her true happiness.

Moving from a Siberian gulag to the underground world of Soviet refuseniks to oceanside Brooklyn, The Nesting Dolls is a heartbreaking yet ultimately redemptive story of circumstance, choice, and consequence―and three dynamic unforgettable women, all who will face hardships that force them to compromise their dreams as they fight to fulfill their destinies.

Buy it on:

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More About Alina

Alina Adams is the NYT best-selling author of soap-opera tie-ins, romance novels, and figure skating mysteries. She was born in Odessa, USSR and immigrated with her family to the US in the 1970s. Visit her website at: www.AlinaAdams.com, on Facebook at: AlinaAdamsMedia, on Twitter at: @IamAlinaAdams, and on Instagram at: IamAlinaAdams.

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How To Name Your Characters: Tips Every Fiction Writer Should Know – Check out this extensive post on naming your characters, an informative video tour of 7 character-naming sites, and a free PDF guide that summarizes all the information.

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How To Name Your Characters – Tips Every Fiction Writer Should Know Plus A Free Guide

How To Name Your Characters – Tips Every Fiction Writer Should Know Plus A Free Guide

how to name characters

Writers will often tell me that they don’t know where to start with writing or editing their story. One good place is with something that looks deceptively simple—naming your characters.

Below, I’ve included six questions you should ask yourself when picking your characters’ names. I’ve also listed seven sites to help make this task easier and uploaded a video that gives a tour of each site.

Want a PDF of the questions and the character-naming sites? Sign up here for a free Tips for Naming Characters Guide.

I want to hear about your character names in the comments and how you selected them, along with links to the books we can find them in!

But first, let’s discuss why names are so important. Regardless of whether you’ve finished your draft or are in the early stages of writing the book, it’s important to assess whether your name choices do the story justice.

What’s In A Name?

Think about famous fictional characters like Katniss Everdeen, Albus Dumbledore, Bridget Jones, Luke Skywalker, and Sherlock Holmes. Or how about Fudge from the Judy Blume books, or Ponyboy Curtis from The Outsiders? Can you imagine any of those characters with a different name? Neither can I.

I give a lot of thought to naming my characters, especially the protagonists. Let’s take my chick lit novel Fooling Around With Cinderella. I chose Jaine for my reluctant theme park Cinderella as it symbolized the transformation of a “Plain Jane” into her new role as princess, and more importantly as a confident young woman.

My mystery novel Sink or Swim is about Cassidy, a reality show contestant grappling with her newfound fame and the attraction of a stalker. As a child, I got hooked on reruns of The Partridge Family and remembered reading about David Cassidy’s mobs of fans and his devastation when a teenage girl was killed in a gate stampede at one of his concerts. That always stuck with me. When I was outlining my novel, the name “Cassidy” popped into my mind, and it felt right as it represented the downside of fame. Even though my readers probably wouldn’t make the connection to David Cassidy, naming her that helped to reinforce the theme in my mind. 

When I was growing up, I also loved watching reruns of Charlie’s Angels. My favorite angel was Kris, portrayed by Cheryl Ladd, and I’d imagine that I was a private detective, too. That’s why the protagonist in my first mystery novel, Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, is named Kris. Once I gave my character that name, I found it much easier to write about her as I was tapping into my love of women sleuth stories.

Not every name has to have a deeper meaning, but it does need to fit your character and story.  This goes for your supporting cast also. I’ll use baby name books and online name directories to get ideas, then choose the one that fits best. Usually a few will jump out at me, and I’ll go with the one that “feels right.” I’ve also been known to change names in mid-story.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when considering names for your characters.

tips for naming characters

6 Character Naming Questions

1. Is there a story behind why your character’s parents chose that name?

We had a fascinating discussion in the Shortcuts for Writers Facebook group about why our parents named us what they did and how we got our nicknames. I started the discussion because I wanted everyone to think about how they might apply this question to their characters, especially the most important ones. If you’re a member of the group, you can look for it under Characters in the Topics section and add the story behind your name.

2. Does the name fit the character’s background—what is the character’s age, ethnicity, and geographic location?

This goes a long way toward making your characters and story world believable. For example, according to the Social Security database, the top boy and girl names in 2018 were Liam and Emma. In 1918, the top names were John and Mary. If your protagonist’s grandfather was born in 1960 and is from an Italian family, Angelo would work better than Aidan.

3. Does the name fit the genre and time period?

If you’re writing a historical novel set in medieval times, a girl named Zoe doesn’t fit the era, but readers should accept Millicent, Alice, or Eleanor. If you’re writing a vampire novel, Tobias may resonate with readers more than a name like Chuck

4. Is the name easy enough for readers to pronounce?

If your audience keeps stumbling over it, this doesn’t make for a relaxing reading experience. This is particularly important for a character who appears a lot such as your protagonist.

5. Did you avoid using names that sound too similar?

Limit how many names start with the same letter such as Adam, Alex, Andy, and Annette as readers may get confused. Also limit having too many names with the same ending sound (Sandy, Cindy, Danni, Bennie), that rhyme (Dawn and John), or that have the same number of syllables. (Jen, Sam, Tom.)

how to name your character

6. Did the character’s name shape who he/she becomes or reinforce any qualities?

I took this quite literally in Fooling Around With Cinderella. A supporting character was named Tiara by her quirky parents, and she embraced it. Guess what she collects? Tiaras. This can also be more subtle. Is your character Harmony calm and peaceful? Or, is she the opposite of the hippie parents who bestowed it upon her? Is your character Jagger rugged and macho?

According to George Lucas, Darth Vader—the name of Luke Skywaker’s father—can be traced back to the Dutch and German words for “Dark Father.” We don’t find out about the family relationship until The Empire Strikes Back, but we met Darth Vader in the original Star Wars film. How’s that for foreshadowing? In more Star Wars trivia, Luke Skywalker was originally named Luke Starkiller, but Lucas changed it because he thought Starkiller sounded too aggressive. Good choice!


I’m a diehard fan of the TV series Supernatural. When I started watching it, one of the first things that struck me was the boys’ last name. Dean and Sam Winchester. Since Winchester is associated with guns, that is the perfect surname for a pair of badass monster hunters.

7 Helpful Character Name Generators

Now that we’ve established why names are important and what you should consider, let me give you some helpful resources. It can be hard to pluck the perfect name from thin air, but luckily you have plenty of options to find inspiration. In the below video, we’ll tour seven sites to help you find the perfect name.

Below are the sites covered in the video. Remember, you can sign up here for a PDF of my free Tips for Naming Characters Guide, which includes the questions and name sites included in this article in a handy download.

Random Name GeneratorThis generator contains English first and last names based on the database of the US Census. If you need to come up with a quick name, try this one.

Social Security Popular Names Database – If you’d like to search popular names by year, then check out the Social Security database.

Name Generator Fun – You can find a slew of real names and fantasy names arranged  by category. Need a princess name? A superhero name? How about a unicorn name? You’ll discover all that and loads more.

NameberryFrom Avery to Zephyr, Nameberry is the complete guide to thousands of baby names. You can browse by style such as cool names, names with interesting meanings, historic and vintage names, and more. The creators of Nameberry also have a book out called Beyond Ava & Aiden, offering hundreds of innovative lists of baby names. You can check it out on Amazon here

Behind the Name – Discover the etymology and history of first names including African, European, Biblical, Ancient & Medieval, Literature, and more. 

Reedsy Character Name Generator – Kickstart your story with this random name generator that has 1,000,000+ names to inspire you. Sort using filters such as language, gender, medieval, and fantasy. 

Fantasy Name Generators – Fairy names, vampire names, gargoyle names, evil names, unicorn names, knight names. I could go on and on. It also offers other sections such as place names. Need to brainstorm the name for an arcade, bakery, magic shop, space station, or forest? How about an African town or a steampunk city?

Conclusion

If you’re thinking about writing a book, are in the middle of a WIP, or working on edits, make sure you’ve given careful consideration to names. It will enrich your story, help readers connect with the characters, and you may even learn a thing or two about your fictional cast.

How do you choose character names? Leave me a comment with one of your character names, why you chose it, and the retail link if it’s in a published book.

If you found value in this post, I’d love it if you would share it.

 

Video Tour of 7 Character Name Generator Sites

Video Tour of 7 Character Name Generator Sites

FREE CHARACTER-NAMING GUIDE BELOW! Are you a fiction writer who could use some help on how to name your characters?

Then check out this video tour of seven amazing name generator websites for writers. I’ll show you where you can quickly generate English first and last names, find out names popular in certain years, discover multicultural names, and even generate the perfect names for medieval characters, dragons, vampires, unicorns, and fairies.

Do you need a name to reflect a certain ethnicity? Or, would you like to explore what potential character names mean so that it can add a layer of symbolism? These sites will help you with all of this and more.

You can also visit my blog post which has clickable links to each site along with six questions you should be asking yourself before finalizing your character names.

Sign up for a PDF of my Tips for Naming Characters Guide, which includes a list of all the questions and character-name sites in one handy download. Get the PDF here: https://billowing-water-5216.ck.page/f47dd8ffda

In the comments, share the name of one of your characters and why you chose it. Please like this video and share it with any writers who might find it helpful! Have you used any of these sites to help you pick your character names? Do you have others to recommend. Let me know in the comments.

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