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  • Writer's pictureDonna Norman Carbone

Behind the Book: A Series, Part 3

I always have the most fun building the bones of the story before I even begin writing. At that stage, the possibilities are endless. Once I had a loose idea of what ALL THAT IS SACRED would be (for me, that’s a general summary and how the story ends), I worked on establishing the setting then scoured for the appropriate character names and eventually the title.

Because this novel was inspired by an actual event and person in my life, I knew early on that I wanted to plant Easter eggs within the words of the story as an homage to Donna and the memory of her. I decided to write what I know in using a town in Connecticut as a generalized version of the characters’ hometown. I changed the name of the town to something familiar to both Donna and me, West Woods, the elementary school where we met. Some of the locales within “West Woods” would also be familiar but not possess the original name, for example Rutherford Park is a park fashioned after one we had visited together.

In Charlestown, Rhode Island, the main character, Lynn’s family owns a beach house, one she frequents with her childhood group of friends, and one that she and her husband ultimately convert into their permanent home. I needed a house on a beach in close(ish) proximity to West Woods, something just over an hour’s drive away. While my family is more familiar w/ Cape Cod and Donna’s vacationed at Martha’s Vineyard, neither were plausible because of the time element. I had been to Charlestown, so I was familiar enough with it for inspiration. For the beach house itself, I used the idea of a lake house my husband and I visited in Vermont to create the landscape of the property and the kind of house I wanted to feature for Lynn.

Once I had the setting in place, I started to flesh out bios for each of the characters, but first I had to establish their names. I researched the origin of a name and what it means, the basic initial consideration for every character I create. I also take into account which names are popular for the time period and which would have been considered unique.

Lynn is a name I settled on for my main character in the early stages, as it’s the middle name of my friend who passed, and the middle name for this character too. These are some of the findings of my research:

The meanings associated with Lynn resonated with the character I wanted to create, especially the water references, which serve as symbolic in this novel. In addition, the traits mentioned, such as strong minded, spiritual and a peacemaker, speak to not only her essence but to her goals.

I went about this process for her friends and family as well, trying to match characteristics to character. It’s a subtle way to establish a foundation that each character will seek to embody throughout building the story.

Then, I was faced with creating a title for my novel. This novel has had two. The first was something I searched for using synonyms for “friendship” and “bond.” At the heart of this story is the friendship of five friends who become chosen sisters to one another. Summer Sisters, Divine Sisters had already been used, but I knew I wanted something along these lines. I found the word affinity and liked that it could encompass both her friends and her family. The first title for this novel became Affinity.

A few years after I had begun this project, one of the editors I worked with suggested I find a new title because she said Affinity gave off Sci Fi vibes which did not in any way characterize my novel. After some brainstorming, I decided to skim my manuscript for inspiration when I came upon a quote that did just that. One of the characters refers to some of the secrets they share as “sacred sister stuff. Viola: the title ALL THAT IS SACRED was born.


Use a place you have experienced in some way OR visit where you want to set your story if it’s a place you’ve never been OR do some thorough research. Places give off certain vibes which is important to convey that in your story, in some stories to a larger degree than others. Settings can sometimes become like a character. Take the character out of a setting, and the story can change. Give some real thought to where the story lives.

Character Names:

Use a baby name source OR go with your gut. Think about how characters you’ve read embody characteristics based on their names. Also, make sure the names of your characters aren’t similar to help your readers distinguish one from the other.

Book Titles:

If a title doesn’t come to you in an organic way, skim your manuscript for something that not only encapsulates your story but one that entices your reader. Also, do a search on the internet, Amazon and/or Goodreads to make sure your title hasn’t already been used, especially not recently.

I hope you enjoyed Behind the Book. I’d love to hear your questions about any of the three posts in this series & would be happy to answer them in the comments.

23 views3 comments


Apr 18, 2022

I can not wait to read your book! It can’t be printed fast enough for me.


Apr 11, 2022

I always look forward to your blog post. Great insight into your novel.

Donna Norman Carbone
Donna Norman Carbone
Apr 12, 2022
Replying to

Thanks so much, Hope. It's fun reflecting on it after so much time. I started writing this years ago!

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