Monday, February 22, 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name

Guest blogger, Tracy about naming characters. Sounds like she's another eclectic writer.
A Rose by Any Other Name – What You Call Your Characters.

In my newest novel, Bride of Tranquility and the first book of the series, Tranqulity, one of the four main characters is a waitress named Average Jones. I’m currently working on a young adult science fiction novel that involves a set of twins named Mary and Elizabeth. And for a detective novel that I have outlined, my primary characters are a pair of partners named St. James and Dean.
In case you haven’t guessed, I have trouble picking character names.
Choosing the right character name is very important for a story. Names are a basic part of us, given to us at birth like a label sewn into the tapestry of our soul. So when you give a character a name, it tells the reader a little bit about your character.
For the television show Supernatural, the creator chose the names of the primary characters, Sam and Dean, because they sounded like Sal and Dean, the characters from Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. Like Sal and Dean in the book, Sam and Dean of the show are always out on the road, searching.
When author Timothy Zahn needed to pick a name for a smuggler and fallen bounty hunter for the novels that were to be the re-launch of the Star Wars Universe novelization franchise, he chose the name Mara Jade. Mara is a word that means “bitterness,” and Jade is a name that means “fallen woman.” Both words described his character’s status and personality.
Average Jones, the first resident of Tranquility that you meet in the series is named ironically. Because each character in Tranquility has an unexplainable superhuman ability, they are anything but average. Even though Average’s name implies that she is ordinary, as the name for a woman, “Average” is a little bit exotic. In naming Average, I hinted at what readers can expect from the town of Tranquility – a strange mix of both the ordinary and the bizarre.
When you are looking for a good name for your characters, there are some excellent resources out there. Phone books are a great source for contemporary names. But you should avoid them if your setting is fantasy or period. The name Wendy was invented by the author of Peter Pan. If you write a medieval fantasy, then naming your heroine Wendy will seem strange.
Literature or historical accounts written during the time period that you are writing in is another good source of material. Henry, Margaret, Rose, Elizabeth, Mary, Jane and Edward were all popular names that people of all stations used in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods, thanks to the monarchy of England.
When naming a character, you want your story to stand out. In order to do that, you should avoid using the same names in genre fiction that are over-used already. Although it’s trendy to give babies differently spelled names now (Traycee instead of Tracy), you should resist this for naming your characters.
A final naming trap to avoid is to give your character an unpronounceable name. Worldbuilding fantasy and science fiction authors are prone to overusing accent marks. Apostophies, glottal stops, accent marks. (Why yes, Mr. Tolkien. I am looking at you).
Remember, you want your character’s name to either add something to the story, or at least be wearable. The last thing that you want is for a name to throw a person out of the story. Once you’ve lost your reader’s attention, it is hard to get it back.
If you think you have a good name for your character, try it on for size. Wear it around for a few pages. Try reading it out loud. Do the first and last names run together? You may want to end your character’s first name with something other than S to avoid possessives like Silass’s. And you may want to avoid ending a Given name with the same letter as a surname. Try reading Liam MacDonald out loud, and it may sound like Liamacdonald.
And remember, if you don’t like it, you can always change it.

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