Behind The Rewrite With @cathyskendrovich – Power Of The Red Pen

Behind The Rewrite With @cathyskendrovich – Power Of The Red Pen


In today’s Behind the Rewrite, romantic suspense author Cathy Skendrovich talks about the power of the red pen—and the delete button. She discusses five changes she made when rewriting her new release Zone of Action.

It doesn’t matter how great you think the book you’re writing is, it’s going to need some editing. When I wrote my first book five years ago, I had no idea what the publishing process entailed. Sure, I figured I’d need to change some words, maybe remove some punctuation. After all, I’m a former English teacher; my book wouldn’t need a lot of editing, right? Wrong! My editor had me slicing and dicing until I felt like a contestant on Iron Chef. Never underestimate the power of a good red pen (or Delete button).

The process hasn’t changed over the years, either. Zone of Action is my fifth book, and it went through three editing passes before my editor approved it. Here are some changes I made that I feel have improved it drastically.

Change #1: What’s In A Name?

When I started writing Zone of Action, I knew I wanted my heroine, a former Army counterterrorism expert, to have left the military and become a florist. I wanted to juxtapose her violent past with the peace and tranquility of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, I also thought it would be fun to name her Daisy Jenkins. Get it? Daisy, florist? Besides Daisy, I chose Joe for my hero, and Frank for my villain. I could picture my characters really clearly with those names.

However, my editor didn’t see them the same way. She asked me how vested I was in those particular names, that they were old-fashioned and in Daisy’s case, a dumb idea. It took the seriousness out of the plot and made it, well, corny. And Joe was not hero-sounding enough. It was too ordinary. And Frank? Way too old for the twenty-first century. I racked my brain, because I was already into the book a few chapters by then and decided my hero could change from Joe to Cameron “Cam” Harris, and my villain went from Frank Gates to Brett Gates.

I immediately saw a different image whenever I wrote Cam (just look at the cover model!), and, though Brett was a harder sell for me, I eventually saw the prudence in changing his name. I now get a very vivid picture of Brett whenever I see his name. As for Daisy? I tossed around a lot of choices, but in the end I chose Audrey, after my older son’s fiancée. It’s still a little old-fashioned, but more up-to-date, and definitely not a poor play on words! A name is everything in a book; choose one that sets forth the right image for your characters. Your readers will thank you for it.


Change #2: The Sinister Acronym

My novel is about a terrorist group who wants to take over the U.S. Army. When I first started writing, I decided to have a terror cell working with a larger group, meaning I had two sets of acronyms. I had them straight in my head, so I figured the readers would understand the difference, right? Wrong. On the third edit pass, my editor finally flagged the two entities and said, “Can’t we just have the one terrorist organization? I’m getting confused with all the acronyms.” Since she’s the expert, I went back and pulled out the cell’s acronym, and reworked each section that had it. More work for me, but the finished product reads much better now. Less confusing. By the way, the group is the GUWP. You’ll have to purchase the book to find out what it stands for!


Change #3: “Strangers In The Night”

Most of you are probably too young to know the song sung by the venerable Frank Sinatra, but it’s a good title for my next major edit. My novel is a romantic suspense thriller. I had the required romance and (Sh!) sex scenes, but my editor came back very early in the first pass and said, “I don’t see any buildup of attraction, to romance, to sex. They have insta-lust, and then they fall into bed,” or on the floor, in this case. I reread the manuscript (again) and looked for places I could add a stolen glance, a prolonged touch, a flirtatious comment. I added those, and also reworked the actual sex scenes, adding description, using better adjectives, and “showing, not telling,” as our English teachers are always saying. And I have to say, those scenes are really “hot” now. Again, you’ll have to get your own copy to see if you agree.


Change #4: Good Guys Don’t Act Bad (ly)

The hero in Zone of Action, Cameron Harris, is a military man. That means he believes in action. He doesn’t want to sit around talking or cajoling suspects into telling their secrets. If there’s a way to physically coerce the unsub, then he’s going to choose that route. For example, Cam catches the eighteen-year-old kid who was hired to break into Audrey’s house. Audrey asks the youth why he did it, and who hired him. The kid replies with a nasty phrase. I wanted Cam to act like a he-man and slam the kid’s head into the car hood. My editor said, “No, no, no! That makes Cam look bad. He isn’t heroic if he’s slamming a kid’s head into something. Rewrite!” I really wanted that scene, but in the end I changed it to him shaking the kid and saying something rude to him. I have to say that I like the change now that I’ve lived with it. Cam doesn’t seem to have a wicked violent nature hidden under the surface now. Most of the time, editors know best.


Change #5: The End (Or Is It?)

I love writing the HEA to my books. Sometimes I know the ending before I know the beginning, if that makes any sense. In Zone of Action, I wanted an ending like the old movie, An Officer and a Gentleman, where Richard Gere appears and whisks Debra Winger off her feet. My editor was fine with that, but she encouraged me to delve into Audrey’s thoughts more, show her worrying over never saying I love you to Cam. After working the ending scene over a few times, I’m very proud of it, and can see how the added information builds Audrey’s character more. Readers can relate to her now. Haven’t we all wished we’d said some things to our significant others? Or, perhaps not said certain words? By adding to Audrey’s thoughts, I’ve pulled readers into her dilemma, and they can feel for her more.


red pen

Want To Read The Rest Of The Book?

Former terror cell expert Audrey Jenkins has seen enough death and destruction to last a lifetime. When she uncovers her ex, Brett, a higher-ranking officer in her unit, selling military secrets, she turns him in and returns to the simpler life she has embraced since leaving the army.

CID Special Agent Cam Harris is a career military man with a strong sense of duty. When a military prisoner who once saved his life in Afghanistan escapes while in his custody, he requests the assignment to track him down.

Cam’s manhunt leads him to Audrey’s door. His prisoner—her ex—will resurface here, he’s sure of it. The feisty woman wants nothing to do with hunting down her ex, but when a terror cell she’s all-too-familiar with launches a deadly attack on army intelligence soldiers and officers, she knows it’s Brett.

Helping Cam is the right thing to do. But the attraction burning between them may be the mistake that gets her and Cam killed…

Buy it on:


Cathy Skendrovich

More About Cathy

Lover of dogs, reading, and the outdoors, Cathy Skendrovich looks for story ideas in everything she does. Recently she moved to Star, Idaho, with her real-life hero, and now they enjoy living overlooking a pond. Her favorite genre to write is romantic suspense, though she’s also dabbled in historical romance. Her fifth book, Zone of Action, blends her love of suspense with the military. Her younger son, who’s currently in the army, has stopped taking her calls because of all the research questions she asks him. Seriously.





Opportunities For Writers

Are you an author interested in writing a Behind the Rewrite guest blog post? Get the guidelines here.

Are you a writer who could use some editing tips? Check out Stacy’s free resources:

Line Editing Made Simple–5 Days to More Polished Pages  – Free e-mail class packed with line editing tips

Shortcuts for Writers: Editing Made Simple Facebook group – Download the guide, 7 Simple Steps to Nailing Your Book Blurb in Unit 1.

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.

Book Editing Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable – Learn how to streamline the editing process in this affordable, self-paced online course that will empower beginner and intermediate writers to think like an editor so they can save time and money. A steppingstone to hiring an editor.

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?


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:

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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