Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Naming Characters

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Naming Your Characters

      "Pass me the ketchup, will you?" Kelly said, pointing across the lunchroom table.
      "Sure." Christy passed the bottle without looking up from her book.
      Kelly doused her fries with a flood of deep red, and squinted . "Wow, you're almost done with that book."
      Christy didn't answer. Her eyes flickered across the pages, devouring them as though they were a fresh, hot batch of curly fries.
      "Whatcha reading, Christy?" Sherry asked, leaning over to look.
      "Uh, it's called Bite Me, You Loser," Christy mumbled. "Vampires. I love paranormal romance. Now let me read! I'm in the middle of a good part."
      Sherry snorted. "I could think of better things to read."
      "Like what?" a voice called. Craig ambled over, followed by a trio of his football buddies.

First, a word of caution: don't start a story with dialogue. It's often a pet peeve of agents and editors, partly because it is only effective if you're really great at writing and can pull it off. The reason behind it not working well is that when you start with dialogue, the reader is often thrown disconcertingly into the middle of a conversation without knowing who the characters are. It feels like something is missing. Also, can you really tell in the example above who the main character is? It makes it more difficult to figure that out. The reader assumes it's the first character introduced, but he/she is not sure. (The first character presented or introduced generally should be the main character, by the way. Try to structure your story thusly, as a general rule)

As far as naming characters…do your readers a favor. Don't make them work any harder than they have to. They don't know your characters inside out like you (hopefully) do; they will get confused. For instance, if two or more characters start with the same letter, it becomes more difficult to tell them apart. Variety is the key, here. In the example above, not only do Christy and Craig start with C, they have the same beginning K sound that Kelly has. The mental sound as someone reads the passage--of all THREE characters--will be the K sound. In addition, there are three characters that end with a long E sound: Kelly, Christy, and Sherry. Try to vary this. Throw in something like a Lauren or a Melissa, a Terrence or a Will, to vary the ending sounds.

Another thing to watch for in naming characters is how many syllables each one has. Variety is key here, too. The example above shows three out of four characters with two-syllable names, Kelly, Christy, and Sherry. Additionally, some novels (such as fantasy, which is notorious for doing this) have most or all of the characters with odd, unusual, or mentally/verbally unpronounceable names. Do you really want to clutter up your pages with names like Mu'a Ha Bathi, Clydistica, Reinfraughtensyde, or Syllestria-qi? One or two of these more difficult names will be enough--certainly not every character. Besides, let me point out the delight of having to type a very short and simple name for your main character--my current novel's MC is a boy named Jay. Lovely, and so easy of a name to type over and over!

1 comment:

  1. I see exactly what you mean. As you know, I am guilty of creating characters whose names start with the same letter and same letter sound. Looks like I've some work to do. Great post-as always!

    Mary

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