Hi again, and welcome to week 1 of a 4-part, February-length series on building characters. Yes, I said it. BUILDING characters.
“But, don’t characters just come to you?” you ask. The answer is simple. No. And yes. Some characters just appear, fully built, and all you have to do is write down what they’re doing at the moment. Others take some work, and let me fill you in on a little secret. You’ll have to work to build people more than you’ll have to watch already built characters. Confusing enough for you? Good!
So, topic of this week: What’s In A Name?
Great question, right? (It is. The answer is yes.)
In my experience, people (and characters) either live up to or live down their name. Examples:
Mother TERESA = harvester. What did she do? She harvested people for the Kingdom of God through her kindness and all around good nature.
Mr. DARCY (Pride and Prejudice) = dark one. And who was he? The tall, brooding one.
Get the gist? Good, let’s move on.
Your character’s name is just as important as — if not more important than — their quirks, dialogue, and action. A character’s name is our very first introduction to who they really are. Before your character ever says a word, we get to know their name. A name reflects a promise of what is to come. Ever seen an action hero named Hubert? There’s a good reason for that. Hubert just doesn’t fit an action hero, and obviously writers recognize that.
“How do I know what the right name is for my character?”
Well, my friends, that’s a tricky one.
Generally, the answer is “When you know, you know”, but I realize that may not suffice here. So let me explain.
I keep a notebook specifically for “Name Searches”. When I need a new character, out comes the notebook and the baby names book. (Don’t worry writers, people will always freak out that you have a baby names book. They are to be ignored. One day, when they need a name, they won’t have anything to guide them.)
I write a list of names that I like either for the meaning or the sound of them. Anything that stands out. Right now I’m just gathering ideas. I write all of them — and their definitions — in the notebook. List form, it’s easier to read.
After I’ve done this, I star the ones that REALLY stand out. The ones that just fit the character. And it will. The name you pick will fit your character, because you already subconsciously know what this character is going to be like. From these ones, I choose the first one to grab me by the hand and take me on a journey with the character, the one that says “Hi there, my name is…”
Having said all that, there are other days when I just know what the character’s name is. In a recent novel I wrote, I searched for three days to find the perfect name for one of the main characters, while the other main character stepped right up and announced, “Hi, my name is Brooke.”
So, really, when people say “when you know, you know”, they’re being honest. Sometimes you do just know. For those of us who don’t, there are baby names.
A lot rides on what you name your character, so be careful how you go about it. Don’t just flippantly toss a name on them. Give it the time and consideration they deserve. There’s nothing better than knowing that your character is going to have a long and memorable career, and you spent the time to really get to know them. Including giving them the right name.
Tune in next week for part 2 of Character Month
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