"The pen is the tongue of the mind." -Miguel de Cervantes

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On Naming Characters

Recently I've read a handful of forums that rant over bad character names, and today I want to cover a few things that will help you come up with believable names that will stick well with a reader or agent. I can't say all of my character names have been perfect. Far from it. In fact, a few of my writer friends pick my names to death, and for good reason. For example I had finished half of my first ever W.I.P before I realized that Lily Waters was a very common perfume and besides the fact made for a very 'Sue-ish' name. Oh, and of course there is Grimace. I get ragged to death for Grimace. Alright, so enough with my bad names. Lets get right down to it.

Tip #1: Make your character names match the age of your character. Or if they don't, have a GOOD reason why not.

This one kills me. I see names that were popular for teenagers in the 1980's being used to portray characters that are suppose to be teens now. Why is this a problem? It isn't realistic. Lets say you are writing a contemporary YA novel set in 2011 and you name your MC Pamela. Well, Pamela may have been popular when you graduated in 1986 but in 2011 there may be one Pamela in ten high schools, thus making your work seem dated from the get go. So, how can you fix this? I suggest using the Social Security Database. It lists the popularity of baby names by year and comes in handy because it saves valuable research time.

Tip #2: Make your character's name easy to pronounce.

There is nothing worse than staring blankly at a page trying to pronounce a the name of a character you have just been introduced to. Half of the time when this happens to me I make a mental name change, and keep going rather than have my entire flow of reading thrown off. Do a test. If it takes more than five seconds for a friend to say the name of your character, then consider changing it. This tends to be common for Sci-Fi/Fantasy works, but trust me. You can have a quirky name that is easy to pronounce.

Tip #3: Research your character's name.

Like I said before. I'm guilty of such names as 'Lily Waters'. I could have saved myself some time just by typing it into google and hitting search. Before you get attached to a name you just have to have make sure you plug it into a search engine. You may find out that even though you just *love* the name Albert Fish that you may not want him to be associated with the Albert Fish that ate children in the 1920's.

In the end, it is your choice. Your characters are your own and you can do with them as you like. But keep your readers in mind next time you are thinking of naming Joe's love interest Carla Jean Hipps

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