Tina Foster is the author of five books on the craft of writing and two fiction books, so far. She has spent 15 years as a literary agent and 10 years teaching fiction writing classes. Now retired, she is concentrating on her own writing. She also does some editing and critiquing for other writers. Follow Here and Here to find out more about Tina.
Now that you have your story line or plot for your novel, you need to people it with characters to make it more interesting to readers.Here are some things to think about when naming your characters.
Now that you have your story line or plot for your novel, you need to people it with characters to make it more interesting to readers.
Here are some things to think about when naming your characters.
*** Have a character sketch of
each of your main characters and include some important secondary
characters as well. Write down how you spell the character’s
name. Also include their age, and other basic information.
One writer who had submitted a manuscript had written a character’s name several different ways. Is it Sara or Sarah? Is it Jacky, Jackie, or maybe Jacque? Marilyn, or Marylyn, or Marrilyn? Jon or John? Dillon or Dylon? You get the idea.
You want to keep the spelling consistent throughout your book. It can really throw the reader off if you suddenly change the spelling. They aren’t sure if this is a typo, or if you have brought in a new character with a similar name.
By writing down their name, it will help you to remember how you spelled it. Especially if it isn’t a conventional name or has several different spellings.
*** The next thing to consider is that you should avoid having characters whose names sound similar or start with the same letters.
For instance, John and James are both short and start with a J. If I read a story with those names in, I will mix them up every time. The same with Jane and James, because they sound enough alike and look enough alike that when readers sight read they can mix them up. Also Marty and Mary, or Jake and Jack, or other names that sound or look similar.
When I was an agent, I had a submission once where almost every character’s name started with the letter J. There was a John, a Jim, a Jacky, Mr. Jones, James, and a second Mr. Jones. This writer hadn’t put much thought into his character’s names. You can easily see where a reader might mix them up and have a hard time differentiating between the characters. This writer had a hard time getting off the letter J. I think he had one character that wasn’t a J.
*** Another thing to consider is to avoid long foreign names that are hard to pronounce. If your book is intended for a Russian audience who are familiar with certain names, that is fine. If you are writing for an American audience, then consider how hard some of the names might be to pronounce. This is also true of fantasy in a make-believe world, or a sci-fi.
Keep in mind that if a reader has to stumble over a character’s name every time it appears on a page, it can pull the reader out of the action. You don’t want the reader to stop reading just to pronounce a name when it appears.
Try to have names that roll off the tongue easily. It can still be an unusual name, but don’t make it too hard to pronounce.
Make sure the name fits the character. If you have a rugged hero, probably it’s not a good idea to name him Eugene. This name seems to be more fitting to a bookish man wearing glasses, rather than a cowboy, or one who climbs mountains. (My apologies to men with that name. This seems to stem from seeing movies where the high school geek was named Eugene. It tends to leave an imprint in reader’s minds.)
What names do you associate with heroes? Which names do you relate to a more nerdy or geekish character? How about your villain? The sidekick? The best friend? The teacher? Each character should have a distinctive name so the reader will know him at a glance and not mix him up with another character.
The same with your heroine, or the leading lady. What name do you associate with the type of character you are trying to present?
So put a bit of thought into your character’s names. Don’t just use the first one you think of. And if you have another character with a name that looks or sounds similar, or starts with the same letter, then maybe change one of them to avoid reader confusion.
This article is an excerpt from my book, “A Hand Book For Writers.” Includes Plotting and Characters, Plus Many Writing Dos and Don’ts.
Thanks for letting me participate.