WORDS, Part 1
In last Wednesday's post on Writing Rhythms, I talked about the importance of the sounds of words to contribute to the overall mood or rhythm in a work of writing. For this week and next week, I'm zeroing in on specific kinds of words. Today:
NAMING CHARACTERS AND PLACES
Unusual or familiar?
I choose my character names with care, and I like my main character to have a more unusual name. I'm not as concerned about minor characters; they can have more bland names. To me, it gives the novel a different flavor. I'd be really bored writing about a main character named Jane or Sara, Tom or Bill. My characters have been named Rylee, Karleen, Troy, Marina, and Niesha. Especially for a fantasy novel, I go for the more unique, like Niesha. It could just be me, but a more unique name makes me more fond of my character, and more like I want to spend 200+ pages with him/her. Sometimes, however, a more familiar, comforting name might be in order. It depends on the story.
I think part of my reason for choosing a more unusual name is that I don't want another book to have a character with the same name as mine. It's like seeing another child with the same name as my child running around the neighborhood. Weird, and just…wrong!
I try to fit names to the type of personalities my characters will have, whether the names are unusual or not. Names can alter the overall feel and meaning of a character. For instance, Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind originally was called Pansy, before the editor asked Margaret Mitchell to change it--and a good thing, because there's a completely different connotation between a pansy and something scarlet! Scarlett's character is NOT pansy-like.
People in real life tend to live up to the way their name sounds, or at least to their perception of their name. The characters in your novel can work on the same principle. There's no denying that a name like Edward James Cunningham brings to mind a different kind of personality than Jasper Lee Snickdon, right? Although actually, sometimes for comic or ironic effect, a totally OPPOSITE name is effective--kind of like naming your teacup poodle "Killer" or "Brutus."
Overly unique or unusual?
If you adore using unique or unusual names, be careful not to overdo it. A lot of novels (particularly fantasy ones) tend to have such extremely unusual names, it's difficult to remember them or "say" them mentally as you read them. They're full of apostrophes and so many syllables they can become tangled in the reader's mind. Confusion is not what you're aiming for as a writer.
Varying beginning letters and syllables
It's also important not to name your characters all starting with the same letter. These names can get confuzzled in the reader's mind, making the story difficult to follow. It's also nice to vary the number of syllables, throwing in a simple Rose along with your Stephanie, Jennifer, and Havannah.
'Cuz we wanna
Sometimes, we as writers can purposely--or subconsciously--name our characters in honor of a favorite relative, or an old crush in junior high. To you, the sound of that name equals a certain personality. Perhaps you've even named your villain after a despised schoolmate, teacher, or neighbor. Isn't being a writer wonderful?
Being inventive with PLACE
Place names can be invented, too. I think a lot of writers do this, so they aren't tied to keeping true to the geography of an actual physical place like Chicago, Paris, or Tokyo. In one novel, I invented a fake beach town on the Oregon coast, kind of a cross between invention and reality. (Does this mean I'm lazy, and hate research? Maybe. But I also don't like to be tied down to reality if the plot veers off a different way.) Writers invent places like this all the time, while others prefer more concrete kinds of settings.
As a note, you may want to Google or do a web search on ANY name you create, whether a place name, a band name, a character name, or an acronym--to make sure you're not stepping on toes, copyrights, or personal space. For instance, in a recent novel of mine, I had to alter a protest group from WHO to WHA, since in real life, WHO is the World Health Organization and totally opposite from my novel's obnoxious, violent organization.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
What have you named your characters?
Do your character names tie in with your characters' personalities?
Do you prefer usual or unusual names for your characters?
Do you make up place names, or name your characters after real people you've known?