For Shakespeare’s Juliet, “that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” — but for a writer creating characters, a name can be a wonderful opportunity for enhancing character development.
Some writers must have a good character name before writing a the first word of a fictional story; for others, names are a bit of an afterthought. (Or, if you’re like my writer husband, you use the same three character names for every piece until your editor reminds you that some recycling isn’t actually for the best.)
Character names are more important than you might think…for one, having just the right name can offer a sense of context, history, culture, and personality — whereas having an ill-fitting or too-strange name can distract readers.
Here are a few tips for choosing the perfect names for your fictional characters…
- look for names that aren’t too simple or too weird, unless this is for a very good reason
- research the origin of the name; give it meaning
- think about how it sounds in your ear and how it looks on the page
- consider how the character feels about his/her name
- use names consistently throughout (first name, or last name) to avoid distracting or confusing readers
- if you’re writing about someone resembling a real-life person, change the name (as well as other identifying characteristics) to something really, really different
For inspiration and a plethora of name ideas, check out baby-name books, visit the Social Security Web site (where you can search name popularity by year), and search baby-name websites. You could also research the old-fashioned way: Dorothy Parker got her characters’ names from the telephone book and from the obituary columns.
Here are a few writing prompts to get you in the naming mood …
- Write for 10 minutes about how you feel about your own name. Do you like it? Have you always liked it? Why/why not? What would you prefer your name to be if not the one you have? Has your name changed over the years due to losing or acquiring nicknames, marriage, etc.?
- Write a list of your favorite names, both male and female. Next, write down characteristics you associate with these names, physical and otherwise.
- Write down the names of all of your family members and/or close friends. How do their names help define who they are (or not)?
Write about the last time you cheated, whether it was on a partner, in a game, etc.
Take a scene from something you’re working on, and put on a film-school hat. As director, screenwriter, cinematographer, musical producer, whatever — rewrite the scene as it would appear in a film, paying close attention to (you guessed it) the actions of the characters, the dialogue, the setting, the sounds. Then take note of what you’ve discovered about this new scene, and incorporate these elements into your project.
Imagine passing a logging truck on the road. What does the image bring to mind: a new home, an empty forest? Write a scene that captures the image and your emotional reaction with as much detail as possible.
Write about fog, whether it’s a marine layer at the coast or a cloud hovering between mountain peaks or a mist you’re driving through at night. Describe all the sensations and emotions that fog brings to mind.
I just sent out an e-newsletter with late summer and early autumn news and events …
…and there’s a lot more going on than I realized until I put it all together.
The fabulous Sheila Bender will be in Southern Oregon … I’m reading (with Janée Baugher) and teaching in Port Townsend in September … there’s an all-day writing conference coming up in Ashland in October … I found a very cool online resource for writers … and I’m teaching an online class for the amazing organization Kahini in the new year.
You can check out the latest news here. And, if you’d like to receive news via email, click here to subscribe.
Hope to see you this fall!
Write about the color green and all its possible meanings and connotations. Next, write about the color blue. Then orange. Then purple.
I’ve written about this wonderful bookstore previously, and it’s as wonderful as ever — but now, the store is in a new location under a new awning: Owners Anna and Peter Quinn purchased Imprint Books and, this spring, combined the two stores in its new location at 820 Water Street.
The new Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books has all the best of both places — a huge selection of books (still creatively organized), as well as fun writerly gifts and toys (from Writer’s Block chocolate to cleverly worded T-shirts and mugs).
The store is as bright and welcoming as it was in its previous location, and the Quinns continue to host visiting and local writing instructors in a lovely and inviting new workshop space.
You can check out the workshop offerings here — I’m delighted to be in the lineup to teach two workshops on September 17 (call 360-379-2617 for more information and to register), and I’m in great company with other fall instructors, including Bill Kenower, Erica Bauermeister, Sheila Bender, and many more.
And for those of you with little ones, Imprint Books has a fabulous, child-sized section for kids, a cozy little nook perfect for getting lost in a book or two.
If you haven’t stopped in already, be sure to visit The Writer’s Workshoppe and Imprint Books when you’re in Port Townsend…and be sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore this fabulous spot for readers and writers.
I recently read about a study that revealed that people enjoy anticipating vacations even more than they enjoy taking vacations — apparently, the joy is in the looking forward rather than the being away.
With this in mind, write about a vacation you looked forward to that actually disappointed you. Next, write about a trip that was even better than you expected.
Write about a rest stop.
Write the jacket copy for your memoir. (Remember: a memoir isn’t a summary of your life; it’s a story. What story would you tell if you could write only one book about your life?)
Write about something you stole, or wanted to steal. And why.
Thanks so much to Kara at the Ashland Art Center for this lovely write-up about the Creativity for Artists class I so enjoyed giving a couple weeks ago.
It was a wonderful class … and of course a class is made great by having incredible students! Thanks to all the artists (painters, photographers, writers, and so many more), I too learned a lot about living a creative life. Click here to read Kara’s post and to get some tips about bringing more creativity into your own everyday life.
Write about your favorite moment in history — and why. Then, write about a moment in history that makes you cringe, and why.
Write about a home you wish you still lived in.