Swoon Author Sandy Hall: What’s in a Name? Sometimes Everything!
Here’s a fun fact about Signs Point to Yes, or not really fun per say, but hopefully at least a little bit interesting. Aside from the title, almost nothing is the same from the first draft. Nearly every detail, large and small, was modified in one way or another. There are one or two scenes that made it through, but those early drafts would barely be recognizable to most people.
Take Jane for instance. Early on in the planning her name was Ellis, but I knew that didn’t work for her. In the first draft her name was CeCe. And then she was Thea and then Jemma and then finally Jane. When she became Jane, I felt like I finally got to know her.
Even as I got to know Jane better, I kept running into the same issue — her blossoming relationship with nerdy-hot lifeguard Benj wasn’t clicking. There were a myriad of problems. Because not only did I not know Benj, I didn’t even really like him. I couldn’t get a handle on him. I had no clue why Jane would want to hang out with him, forget wanting to date him. I assumed that’s just what happened when you had a plot you liked and had to insert the characters. I had been lucky in the past. Characters had shown up in my brain with stories that were interesting and that I wanted to write. But this time the plot came first and it was a much different, and harder, experience.
I kept going back to the drawing board over and over again. It was during a brainstorming phone call with editor extraordinaire Holly West that the “eureka moment” for this book finally happened. Benj needed a new name.
From the moment Benj become Teo I could feel a shift, a focusing, that the story needed. His character suddenly had dimensions and quirks, and best of all, I finally liked him!
After that, things actually started to fall into place. I had to replot the entire novel, but aside from that it was completely smooth sailing. Because once I understood and liked Teo, a lot of other things clicked into place. I finally put together the pieces of his friendship with his BFFL Ravi, and I could fill in a lot of the blanks in his relationship with his family, particularly the awkwardness between him and his stepfather.
But most importantly, I finally figured out why Jane would eventually fall for him. They had more in common with each other than I realized at first glance. For instance, they both felt like outsiders in their families and neither of them were very popular at school, but for very different reasons.
The best thing I did in between drafts three-ish and four-ish (it was around then that I totally started losing count) was to change Teo’s name. It was such a small detail that made all the dominoes fall into place. If you’re struggling with a story, take a look at the characters — not only their personalities, but also their basic information. Maybe there’s a simple fix for a larger issue.
Because even though a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, apparently a Teo by any other name wouldn’t have worked in Signs Point to Yes.