When I was young I wanted to be called David, but I knew that no one would call me that because I was assigned female at birth, and David is a “boy’s” name. As a consequence, when I was writing Time Speaker (which is actually the first book I wrote not the second despite the order it comes in the series), I gave a particular character the name of David. And he kept it right up until last week (March 18) when I was doing technical editing on the second edition manuscripts.
The second editions of Rise of Hawk and Time Speaker happened for a number of reasons, which I’ll outline in this blog series, but one of the two primary reasons was that I’m currently in the process of medically and socially transitioning to male (or NB). My new name is going to be David, as is my new Author Name, so a second edition of the currently published books makes sense.
One of the “rules” in writing is to desperately avoid any justifiable accusation of being a “Mary Sue”. For those that don’t know, or if perhaps the term has changed and some folks aren’t familiar, a “Mary Sue” is a character that is a copy of the author inside the story. It’s considered something that only unprofessional or teenage writers do, and it’s very certainly one of the few rules I follow and don’t screw with (which is saying something because I delight in learning writing rules and then learning how to break them gleefully but in a useful manner).
So, when I made the decision to change my Author Name to my future legal name, I had the dilemma that my character was also called David. There were only three options: don’t change anything and field questions and accusations of being a Mary Sue by those who in the future don’t know that I transitioned. Or, I had to change either his name or my name. Now, it was a difficult decision mostly because this character has been David since I was about 14, so that’s 25 years of a character having that as his core name. But, once I decided that I couldn’t stand to break that Mary Sue rule, even though he isn’t actually a Mary Sue, the decision was fairly obvious. He had alternative names and I did not. I couldn’t, now that I have opportunity to properly live as myself, surrender my name because of a character. Even him.
Originally, the character had a birth name, which, in defiance of his extremely abusive father, he changed to David when he got married. And as the character accumulated other names for his separate roles in the story, he used the name David to discern himself as his real self and not any of the roles he had to play. This was a thematic mirror of my own experiences. When I was twenty one, I changed my legal name, in fact my first AND last names were changed. I did this because my old name was used by people to pressure me to be something I wasn’t. The family name was used to insist that I had to get married and have kids, or as a reason why I’d never amount to anything. People in my life at the time who were abusive decided what they thought my birth name meant and used it as a weapon to try and force me into those roles. And I changed my name in defiance of that, showing legally and physically that I am who I am, and no one defines that but me. I was trying desperately to make space for the real me in the real world instead of having to play different roles for different people. And while, at the time it didn’t work as well as the character’s mirrored action, it was a very important transformative part of my life (still is, actually). So I deliberately kept this theme in the story, even beyond the time when I realised that it served no real purpose for the story other than adding to the character’s ever-increasing list of aliases.
There’s a famous guide about writing, which includes a phrase that’s something like “learn to kill your darlings”. Your “darlings” are the parts of your prose or your story that are self-indulgent, or that you love terribly but that don’t necessarily have a functional part in the story/prose, it’s just there because you like it. It’s said to basically say that the story is more important than your ego, that just because you like something or just because it means something to you personally, doesn’t actually mean it belongs in the prose. So that, an author should try to focus on the prose first and foremost, only keeping the things that further the story, no matter how pretty that piece is or how terribly fond you are of it. You must cut it out of the prose or “kill” it for the purpose of better prose.
His name being David despite not needing to be was probably a “darling”, but honestly the reason why I let it stay even years after I realised it wasn’t needed, was because I couldn’t have that name, but he could.
And last week, I joyously killed that darling because now that I can have my name, he doesn’t need it any more.