Thursday, December 2, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Naming Your Characters


Say you have an idea for a story and want to do something about it, like write it down. The most reliable way to tell that story (so readers can relate to it) is to let the characters tell it. Once you figure out what kind of characters you want, they need something to identify them from other characters. That's where names come in. What's in a name? Well . . . a collection of letters that make up a character's personality in a single (and sometimes) made up word. Names are powerful in shaping characters, even our own character. Not too often have I wondered what would happen if my name were Fred or Cornelius instead of David. Why, that would change my outlook on everything! Of course, real world names are expected in historical fiction, modern day fiction, or even future fiction, so this post will cover two things: how to name and what to avoid.

For the most part, naming characters involves a gut feeling, a personal relationship between writer and character. Typically, the name ought to match their core traits. Say the name out loud a few times, experiment, and use possessive tense. See if the name flows right and matches their personality. Nicknames, second names, aliases, pet names, you name it! This work is your baby, so give them all a good name.

What to avoid (especially in fantasy) is the outlandish and outrageous names. I don't mean the kind that are impossible to pronounce except for the author (for the most part), but names that sound so alien that they don't match the world that your language applies to. That's not saying that, if you're writing in English, that you must use only English sounding names. A big turn off for me and a lot of readers I know are names that are trying too hard to show how amazingly original they are, and often have accents thrown in that make it near impossible for the average reader (or even the author) to pronounce. Keep it simple and legible, at least most of the time. Spell it as it sounds. In a recent favorite of mine, the main character in Mistborn is a girl named Vin. Simple, fun, and tells a lot out her personality (quick, shy, silently strong). In short, if your names sound too Tolkien, you're probably better off bringing it down a notch. In the end, the name is yours to give.

Names: give them wisely.

I'm David - and it looks like my desktop crashed.

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