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Coming up with the Right Fictional Character Names
Getting the Right Names for Your Characters is Vital
Getting the right names of you fictional characters is a major part of writing great fiction. If the name doesn’t suit the character you are virtually sunk in the first few paragraphs. Getting the name right is vital, especially for your main characters.
Imagine if J K Rowling had called Harry Potter - John Harris or Jason Young for example, or Charles Dickens had name Scrooge - Thomas Watts or even the super cool James Bond was Eric Foster? The name is Foster, Eric Foster. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it does it? Get the names right and you are well on your way perhaps to your first blockbuster.
But, finding that right name is not easy at all. You could dig through the local telephone directory for names, or do what J K Rowling did, and get them out of the local church’s 1800s records. Even modern writing tools such as Scrivener now have random name generators too.
Yet, you have built a picture in your mind of your characters, their role in your story and their various characteristics, but without a name they can’t come to life in your imagination. Inspector X meets Mrs Y, while investigating the brutal murder of newspaper tycoon Mr Z. It just doesn’t work without proper names to work with. A lot of authors start with a name and build a character around it.
Many writers collect names in their little black book. When they hear an interesting one they write it down for use in the future. And as soon as they hear a name, they start building up a character around it. Listen out for peoples names all the time. You may be in a doctor’s waiting room, or hospital when they call names, or they catch your eye when reading a newspaper or a magazine.
In my daytime job, I come across names from all over the world, and some are totally unbelievable and unusable as they sound too far fetched. You couldn’t make them up if you tried, and if I had used them in a novel, you would dismiss it, as the characters names are too odd. While others made me laugh every time I hear them.
Although, combine a few names, and you can come up with some very interesting names such as Dr. Ernest Love, the ageing trantric sex expert or Dirk Cramwinkel, the retired 1970’s blue movie star.
Tips for Picking the Right Name for Your Characters
1) Take your character and list his or her physical attributes and personality traits. Does a name immediately spring to mind that might suit?
2) Start with the first name, try different variations of the same name such as Gemma or Jemma, John or Jon, Alicia or Elysha, and Delilah or Dalila.
3) Try simple first names and big complex surnames such as Ron Fernández García or the other way around such as Wilheminia Smith - mix & match.
4) Get the correct names for the countries. Your readers will have trouble conjuring up an image of a Russian called Ramsbottom or Chinese man called Entwistle.
5) Try a twist, write a name backwards or make up an anagram. One of my pseudonym is Curtis Devereux, which comes from two local kipper manufactures on the Isle of Man.
6) Make sure your names are fashionable for the period and region you are writing about. You wouldn’t find many Brooklyn’s in ancient Rome for example.
7) Use other languages to find unusual names. Indonesian place names can make some superb sounding names such as Irian Jaya or Gala Ampat.
8) All your character's names should roll right off the reader's tongue. Try saying it out loud, it should sound cool.
9) Use the many name generators on the Internet, but nothing beats the one that you have made up yourself.
10) If the name doesn’t sound right to you, it won’t sound right to your readers too. Pick another, time spent getting the right name pays in the end.
Don't name one of your characters after somebody who's already been invented - as you can imagine it causes problems later.
Don’t use un-pronounceable names.
Don’t make the names too long.
… And don’t forget - All characters in this book/work/film are just fictitious and does not reflect to any person alive or dead or any political person!
© David Lloyd-Jones 2010
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