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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Make Great Character Names

Did you know that the right character name can make your manuscript more vibrant or powerful? I wrote this article, which originally appeared on Suite101.

Make Great Character Names

Add Depth and Emotion By Naming Your Characters Carefully

Be judicious in how you name your characters, paying attention to details and not just name meanings, in order to add color, depth, and power to your characters.

When naming characters, many writers only pay attention to how a name sounds or what a name means, but there are other things to keep in mind when you name your characters.

Choosing a good name and paying attention to certain details can:

Add power and depth to a character

Make the manuscript less confusing

Make the manuscript more polished and professional

Create smoother reading pace

Evoke an emotional reaction in your reader

Choose a Name With Meaning

These days, the Internet has many resources to find names and their meanings. Any baby name site will offer almost too many to sift through.

A name with a strong meaning can add power and depth to a character. A prosecutor named Mark Justice can evoke subtle emotional reactions in the reader.

On the other hand, be aware that a name with a not-so-obvious meaning might fly right over the head of a reader. For example, “Alexis” means “defender” but not every reader is going to know that, and the name won’t evoke the same kind of emotion in the readers who don’t know the meaning.

Take advantage of names that will evoke a certain type of emotional response in your reader: Paul Smith versus Paul Snipe, or Yvonne Warren versus Athena Warren.

Pay Attention To Historical Context

Choose names appropriate to the historical time period. Do not name your ancient Roman citizen Seamus or your Regency heroine Yasmin.

Even if your story is set in current day, pay attention to the age of your character and choose a name appropriate to the character’s gender, age, generation, and ethnicity: Cassiopeia versus Carol versus Caitlyn versus Carlotta.

Avoid Confusion For the Reader

Reading has auditory elements as well as visual elements, so writers should try to address both and eliminate as much confusion as possible for the reader.

Choose distinct names for each character to help the reader more easily distinguish between them. Every little detail helps the reader and can ease reading flow.

Try to avoid names that start with the same letter: Mark and Mel.

Also try to avoid names that sound similar: Rick and Nick

Try to have characters’ names have different numbers of syllables: John and Roy versus John and Royden.

While in reality, parents name siblings with similar names, try to avoid this for fiction: Katie and Kathy versus Katie and Michelle.

Changing Names is Easy

Even if you’ve already started your story with one name, just use the “Find” and “Replace” function in your word processing program to change a character’s name. You might be glad you did—changing a name or two might smooth your story’s reading flow or evoke a stronger emotional reaction in your reader.

2 comments:

  1. Great article, thanks Camy!

    I've had to rework several names because they started with the same letter or had too similar of a sound or just plain weren't the right name for the character.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're welcome, Avily!

    Names are easy things to change--after all, character is written in action, dialogue, and thought, which are not easy to revise--but a good name or a bad name can sometimes make or break a novel.

    ReplyDelete

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