On writing

Naming your characters

One thing science fiction and fantasy writers are famous for is giving characters unusual names.

I’m guilty of it myself. I love going through the baby name books, picking out names that are unusual or even, occasionally, making up my own. In this global, multi-cultural age I don’t even have to use the name books, I could use the phone list at my work and people would swear that my names were made up.

Many people say it’s a beginning writer’s thing, and as I gain experience writing I notice that my names are becoming less unique.

You do come across the occasional book loaded with unpronouncable names, and it does make the book harder to understand. Yet what most people complain about when they read a book full of unusual or made up name is not so much the pronunciation or spelling, but the way all the unfamiliar names run together, so that it becomes hard to tell which character is which.

Introduce one character with an unusual name and providing it’s pronounceable the reader will cope.

Introduce a second and the reader can still cope, provided the names are not too similar.

Introduce a third and the reader starts to founder.

Give every character in your book an unusual name and even you will have problems as you write it.

Give every character in your book a name and even you will have problems as you write it.

The other day I dusted off an old idea for the writing workshop I am taking this year. I wrote the first chapters years ago. The characters’ names are all … unique is probably a polite way to put it. The obvious solution, change the characters’ names. The problem is, these characters have lived in my bottom drawer for so long, and every so often I have thought about them, and added a little more to their story. Their names are embedded in my psyche. I can’t change the names.

There’s only one thing for it. Write the story using these names. Once the story is complete take a long, hard look at the names and see what I can do with them. If I need to replace them then, so be it. Search and replace in Word was built for times such as this.

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