By Any Other Name

In most of my writing I don’t usually give a lot of thought to character names, they tend to come instinctively and just feel right, recently however I had a real struggle trying to decide on a name for my female protagonist. It did remind me that the importance of a name shouldn’t be dismissed and there are a few key things to remember when naming characters:

Age

This one is fairly obvious. A name can often indicate someone’s age and if your character is twenty years old for example you probably wouldn’t call him Albert.

Time Setting

If however your character is twenty years old in the 1940s then Albert would be much more appropriate but a female character in the eighteenth century called Tulisa- not so much.

Class

If you are writing about a family who are particularly wealthy and privately educated it is also likely you would want their names to represent that, such as Beatrix. Although do be careful with this one, if you have a whole family with names like Edmund, Arabella and Wolcott things will very quickly become tedious.

Associations

It is highly unlikely you would decide to call a character Adolf unless you intentionally wanted to create particular associations. Although Adolf is an extreme example a lot of names have associations even if is not because they are linked with someone famous, for example the names Summer, Rain and Autumn all suggest young women who might be described as hippies (apologies to any Summers, Rains or Autumns reading this who consider it insulting to be deemed a hippy).

Who you Know

One of the difficulties sometimes can be avoiding names that are perfectly suitable because you have a friend with that name. I make a point of never using a name the same as someone I am close to because no matter how different that character is from said friend/relative they are bound to think it is based on them and they’re either going to be flatter or (more likely) highly insulted.

Bill, Ben and Bob

An often forgotten bit of advice is to avoid naming character within a story similar names and this includes even having them start with the same initial if you can help it, this is particularly true with short stories when it can very quickly throw the reader as to which character was just referred to.

Finally a good resource to use when naming characters is an online directory of baby names, such as babynames.com, this will also give you the origin and meaning of names. Or if you really want to have some fun try a character name generator and see what random results you get you can find a good one here, this is particularly good for science fiction writing.

Now how much thought do you put into your character’s name?

Where to Begin?

For some time now I have had the germ of an idea niggling away at the back of my mind, waiting to begin building towards a novel. It is something I do feel passionate about, which should help, but how does the inexperienced novelist develop that niggling germ into a full-blown manuscript.

It is not just a question of ‘to plot or not to plot’, but where is the initial focus of development, character or plot? It is like the chicken and the egg question. Character and plot both develop one another.

It is a question I recently asked on Talkback, the popular forum on the Writers’ News website, and the most common response I had from the forum was ‘it depends’. That does not sound particularly helpful but the more I have looked into it the more that does seems to be the case. Will the story be plot or character driven? In many cases this is also dependent on the genre.

You may accuse me of sitting on the fence but personally I think it is beneficial to work with them both together to some capacity, focusing on either the plot or the character too much and neglecting the other may mean that you have either a weak plot of unbelievable characters. Beginning at the first hurdle you need some sort of spark of an idea to begin with, there needs to be some focus to work around that can hold it together and from there the plot and character can be built upon.

My plan for the time being is to carry out some research in the area that the novel is focused upon, this will not only fill in some gaps of factual knowledge, but should also assist in where I decide to take my characters and plot. Maybe that is the best place to start after all, before digging into plot and character, carrying out some basic research is possibly the best way to give everything a kick start. It is the method I will be trying for the time being so I will report back on how this develops.