Naming characters can be an involved and frustrating part of the novel-writing process, but it is critical to provide ones that will pique readers’ interest and give them a chance to connect with the personalities making up a story’s plot. In this LWL episode, I talk about the undertaking of finding the most suitable names for my stories’ characters and a little bit of reader drama with one character’s name.
All right, I want to take a moment to talk about naming characters. Naming characters is an important part of storytelling. It gives authors a chance to shift a character from an idea to a persona they can’t wait to tell readers about.
I treat my characters like they’re real people and they kind of are. I mean, this embodied people, but still human enough for me to talk about them that way. Some of my readers do as well.
I was in a restaurant standing in line with a bunch of people that read my first book, My Way to You. One of them asked me about my second book. I happily announced that it was coming out soon and that one of his favorite characters, Jeremy Stacks, was going to be in it.
We started talking about him like he really existed and other people joined in the conversation. It felt good to know I wasn’t the only one my characters affected. As with the rest of the novel’s characters, Jeremy’s name would drive how I characterized and wrote his actions.
A good name feeds creativity. So, writers should take some time thinking of ways to pick them. I recently gave my Facebook reading group a chance to help me select the name for the male protagonist of a Muslim vampire romance I’m drafting. Yeah, you heard right.
Anyway, I had initially selected the name, Rufus, for him. I had my reasons, but readers weren’t even trying to hear any of them. I got all kinds of negative feedback. Some asked how in the world I even thought up such an old-time name.
The ways I select names for characters in my stories vary. Some characters are easy to name while others are time-consuming. I might not even have a name for one or two I’m almost finished writing the story. Some characters name themselves.
I often say that my characters run around in my mind, playing out and often changing their stories plots. Some of them tell me their names immediately.
Simon Young, the main character in My Way to You, told me his name while I was outlining the novel’s plot. Adam Kane in the upcoming Building on Broken Dreams did the same. As a matter of fact, most of the leading men that make up the Brothers in Law told me their names right away.
Well, not Quinn; he’s always elusive with his stuff. But the rest of them align their names with their character profiles, which is great.
In addition to allowing readers to connect, a character’s name can drive a lot of its personality. After all, who wants a good guy named Satan. It could be frustrating when a character is difficult about their name.
In those instances, there is a need for a placeholder, which may or may not change. Since it can interfere with the writer getting to know a character, the sooner my name is selected, the better.
There’s always Google. Heck yeah, I use Google. When I want to give a name fitting a character’s profile, I go on a search. I did that with Raad Khouri. His first name derives from the Arabic word lightning, which is very appropriate, given how he wreaks havoc on people’s lives. They often don’t realize what he’s hitting them with until it’s too late.
Naming some characters may require more research than others, especially if the personality is layered, making it necessary for the name to reflect the complexity.
But not every character requires so much heavy lifting. I find it simpler to name tertiary characters, allowing me to focus on naming a story’s main and secondary ones. If the name is going to appear only a few times, there’s no need to go through a huge search. The simpler the better.
However, for characters with a significant amount of page space, names and nicknames are important. When it is difficult to nail one down, it can be frustrating.
Sometimes, I just put names out there until one sticks. I often throw around names in my head for a picky character. Toni Kent, Regina’s sister-in-law and best friend in My Way to You had a bunch of names until the name, Toni, landed. I named four main characters; Simon, Regina and Marcus while I wrote.
Heck, even Simon’s mother, Alice, was named, but not Toni. She shot back suggestions as soon as they materialized in my mind. Vivian. Alison, Keisha; she wasn’t going for any of them. I wrote two-thirds of the story with the place holder name, Vivian, hearing her grumble.
One night, the name, Toni, popped into my head and she was like, “Yes, finally.” The name walled off my tongue whenever I spoke about her and I was able to solidify her characterization.
Now back to Rufus. Rufus is one of those characters who named himself. After getting less than stellar responses from some readers about him, I decided to tell him, “No” and go on a search for a new name. Hence, the poll. Yeah, he was stomping around in my mind all mad; “I am Rufus. Why don’t you get that?”
The name works so well with the character’s background and how he got it that moving away from it was hard, but I wanted to satisfy readers. Then this happened; a reader added the name Rufus to the poll, setting it in my mind. “He is Rufus. He will be sexy and readers will love him.” That’s a lot of drama, right?
Well, it’s all part of being a fiction writer. You build worlds and characters. So, naming them may be an adventure.
Thanks for listening to Layla Writes Love. Check out My Way to You and Sweet Love, Bitter Fruit, Books 1 and 2 in the Brothers in Law series. Available at Amazon in print, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
Visit http://www.laylawriteslove.com for information on my books, blog reviews, interviews and access to free reads. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, all with the user name @laylawriteslove.
Let’s keep those keyboards clicking and I look forward to reading with you. Peace.