BY Guest, Stuart White
We started yesterday with a post on HOW TO GET STARTED WITH YOUR NOVEL. Today, we are continuing with some tips on
HOW TO NAME YOUR CHARACTERS.
So you have your title and what the story is about. Now don’t worry, these are not the Ten Commandments written in stone for which you’ll be tortured to death if you should deviate from them. They’re guidelines. Remember that. They’re sort of rails on a bridge, or ropes on a cliff to help you hang on if you falter.
What to do next…? NAMES!
Next thing to write down: “Who is the hero or heroine or the plurals of those?” Write down the name of that person or persons. Then the names of any subsidiary characters you can think of.
HOW TO NAME YOUR CHARACTER:
IMPORTANT NOTE: Give them a name that springs out. Rather than Molly Perkins, Gretchen Sunflower. Rather than Dan Smith, Alban Lightsaber. Get the drift?
“Good” Character Names
Good character names stand out and publishers like them and readers love them. But, if you think your character is Molly Perkins, then call her that. It’s your book, no-one else’s. And there’s a good argument that your readers will identify more with Molly Perkins or Sue-Ann Jones, than Gretchen Sunflower. (For this exercise you can have her Molly at the beginning and she’ll change her name to Gretchen Sunflower en route to Hollywood and fame. Most Hollywood stars after all do not use the names they were born with. Deal? OK.)
“Bad” Character Names
Definitely avoid like the plague of that cliché, names that readers will find hard to pronounce or stumble over. When they do they might just stumble enough to not bother walking on. I once unforgivably called one of my characters, Uwe. It’s a German name pronounced Oo-vay. No-one I knew who read the novel could pronounce it, and used to say to me, “That guy, the German spy, ooo-weee…or uh-way..” they couldn’t pronounce it. So don’t choose one people will have problems pronouncing, like Brezezinski, Sczesny, or a long incongruous name like Aristotle Van Takhmanangakal (unless it’s some eccentric professor or mad scientist and the name is deliberately weird). Because those are names that people will stumble on, and when they stumble they lose the thread of your book. So – go for a name that springs out but doesn’t overwhelm.
Make A List
Start to list their information as though they were a real person. Date and place of birth. (Remember in your novel that the chronology must always fit).
- What kind of school did they go to?
- Are they Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, whatever?
- Are they tall, short, fat, thin? I’m serious. I’ve read novels where people start out small and then suddenly grow about six inches as the story goes on; amazing to have a growth spurt at thirty-five.
- What color is her/his hair.
- Teeth? Regular, irregular
NOTE ABOUT IRREGULARITY: And a bit of irregularity always makes a more interesting character; a freckle there, a slightly larger eye, a mole. But it’s your character, so if you want them to be six three with ice-blue eyes, blonde/blond with bulging biceps, fine, a kind of Swedish cyborg then so describe them. Just don’t then have them as a shy, retiring middle-school teacher in small-town Alabama because that’s stretching your credibility. Now keep your dossier to hand and remember it when writing your scenes.
TO BE CONTINUED…..COME BACK TOMORROW FOR MORE GREAT WRITING TIPS. Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written!
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