OK, so I’m not a guest on my own blog but this is where I’d normally post a guest article but I don’t have any in at the moment (doesn’t happen very often), although I do have a couple due in shortly so hopefully in time for Thursday’s Guest blogs slot, so here’s one of mine…
‘Character names’ by Morgen Bailey
As well as being a writer, I’m a freelance editor and recently I had reason to suggest to two of my clients that they think about the names they were using for their characters. One had picked the same names in different chapters without realising, as well as picking a couple of names the same on purpose. The other writer had some names starting with the same letter. Unless there’s a particular reason for this – I worked with a woman whose four stepchildren’s names all started with L – I’d really advise against it.
To help my clients, I devised a very simple table that would help them track the names. On a piece of paper or if you use Word go to Table / Insert and create a table that’s 5 columns wide and 53 rows high. In the first column heading, write / type ‘Initial Letter’, in the second write / type ‘Female first name (chapter number / heading)’, in the third ‘Female surname…’, then repeat for columns four and five but replace ‘Female’ with ‘Male’. Down the left-hand side (first column) on every other line write / type the letters of the alphabet, e.g. in the box underneath ‘Initial Letter’ write / type A then move down two lines and write / type B etc. Once you’ve completed it should look like this…
Having a tool like this also makes you think about using unusual letters. It’s all too tempting to use standard letters like S, M or B, how about a character’s first name or surname beginning with a U or X?
The last thing you want to do is confuse your readers. Imagine a story with a Tom, Tim, Jim, and Jon. I know there are similar names, or even the same – one of my housemates, Alex’s, best friends is also called Alex. His surname is Kennedy so he’s nicknamed Kenny to avoid confusion. It’s fine to have this in your story but unless it’s vital to the plot, I’d say to steer clear. Anything that can make your reader pause runs the risk of putting the book down or clicking on the ‘x’ or home buttons onscreen.
As I mention on my blog’s https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/writing-101 page, character names are also important as we often get a sense of their personality by what they’re called. A Mavis is likely to be older than a Britney and would, usually, act differently. Avoid having names starting with the same letter; if you have a Todd talking to a Ted, the reader can easily get confused. Bill and Ted would be fine and as we know, they had a wonderful time back in the late 1980s. Try to avoid starting your sentences with your character’s name, as it can get repetitive and obvious.
Finally, don’t have too many characters in your stories. Two or three is usually enough for a short story. I read Kate Atkinson’s Behind The Scenes At The Museum for a college course. The novel had about a dozen (eleven, from memory) different female characters. I ended up drawing a family tree (they were all related on the maternal side) and admit I was struggling but I persevered and was very glad I did… she became my favourite living author.
What’s your favourite character name – yours or another author’s? Are there characters names that haven’t worked for you? If so, why?
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