I don’t know about the rest of you but I love a good name. Fanciful ones, really apt ones, names that sneak up with new meaning later on in the tale – I love a good name. Which means I’m also certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that I almost always fail at finding just the right name. Hell I have a whole blog dedicated to the fact that most of my characters start out with the same name: Sarah.
That doesn’t mean I don’t try like hell to find just the right nomenclature for each and every character, book and story. Over the years I’ve come up with a few methods for to help myself out, and on the off chance that others out there are struggling with this part of the process too, here they are:
Sometimes the tale isn’t just sitting quietly in the back of my head waiting for me to find the time to write it. Sometimes it’s waking me up at 3am and demanding that I start putting words to paper. On those occasions there really isn’t time to deliberate, either the names come with the tale or they’ll be replaced later. I’ve already mentioned that many of my characters start out named “Sarah” which is true, find and replace are handy little options later down the line when I figure out what they’re really called.
There are days when I realize I need to add another character to a book and oh gods, I’ve already used “Sarah” as a placeholder! I’ve also used Sara, Sarai, Sar, and Sarahh! Now I’m really in a bind. So I stop. Can’t be helped can it? Can’t get around calling this suddenly vital character “Hey You” till I figure out what their name is now can I? Well I probably could, technically but it’s a mental block that’ll stick in my writing muscle and make me grind to a halt eventually so I give in early and stop.
Grab a sheet of paper and a pencil. Or a fresh notebook document. Whatever way you like to take notes. Yes notes. Thousands of them. I run around collecting names from everywhere I can think to find them, my favorite foreign languages, baby books, other artist’s works, friends, family, gravestones and meat byproducts.
Ok, maybe not meat byproducts. Maybe. Who knows though, maybe not.
For some reason, creating a physical list of bits that aren’t quite right alone – leads to finding the magical word I’m looking for. Not just once but over and over again. For example, recently while writing the first draft of the my second novel “Ash of Ambitions” I came across a new character and realized I didn’t have a name for them yet. They were too important to ignore (male so Sarah would not do) and I’d known they were coming but failed to find a name for them yet. I stopped, pulled out my trusty notepad and got to work. After a full day brainstorming I’d finally found their name but for it to work I also had to rename their brothers and their sister who won’t even appear till the next book found a name as well, the main character got a new last name and to top it off I found a better name for one of the hapless love interests.
I got very few words written that day but when it was over I had my names entered and one extra that I am very happy with. All in all a very satisfying way to end my day I think. Of course, after all of that work I then managed to avoid calling the character by his name throughout most of his brief appearance…
Keep a List
Writer’s lives are crowded with snatches of paper they’ve scribbled notes on in the spur of the moment. Make a list of names one such piece of paper, that way, as you go about your daily life you’ll accumulate a vast array of names. Some may come in handy on your next book, most probably won’t but you’ll already have a handy supply if/when you come across the need for one.
Some characters name themselves. Sometimes they even have to. For example: Void is an undead type character who’s ‘people’ tend to name themselves after the first thing they see after they’re reborn but the world was a blank to Void. Traumatized beyond words by whatever had left her dead to begin with the first word that even popped into her grasping mind was simply descriptive of her state of mind, a void. Clara, a character who shares similarities with Void in that when she wakes she’s so disoriented she doesn’t even realize at first that she’s not in her own home demanded to be named Clara, because there is nothing ‘clear” about her. Ash and her former teacher Buddy Jenkins lept into my head fully named, while I had to search hard for Rin, Sven and Nadya.
If your characters want to make it easy on you, I say let ’em!
Naming books defers a bit from naming characters though. Perhaps I’ll get into that next time.