Thursday, May 3

Character Names: How To Create Them


Dan Schmidt, over at The Write Practice, has excellent tips on how to pick character names.

I don't know about you, but I find choosing character names agonizing, so I love reading advice on the subject.

Without further ado, here are Dan's tips (I'm paraphrasing):

1. Mine Your Contacts
Dad suggests using the names of the people around you. Your friends, relatives, acquaintances, the pizza boy, your waiter. I try to keep a notepad with me at all times in case I get inspired on the bus. After this, when I hear a name I love -- and I'm guessing we've all had this experience -- I (hopefully!) won't just think, "Wow, that would make a great character name" and then forget all about it, I'll write in down.

Dan suggests changing the name in subtle ways so it's not obvious where it came from, just in case the person we received inspiration from reads our story one day. Excellent advice! Especially in the case of a villain. I can think of a time or two someone ticked me off and I thought of them when writing an unattractive character, best not to make it too obvious.

2. Interesting Street Names
I had never thought of this before, but Google Maps provides oodles of street names from all over the globe. At the very least, looking at maps would be a great way to get inspiration for naming.

3. Movie Credits
Again, this was a point I'd never thought of, but Dan recommends studying the names of the cast and crew listed at the end of a movie. Awesome tip, and something I'm definitely going to do after this. Or try to do, I have a memory like sieve.

4. Think Outside The Box
Dan mentions the name of one of his favorite characters came from a length of PVC piping. This is awesome advice, to be constantly on the lookout for anything we can incorporate into our stories.

5. First and Last Names Don't Have To Go Together
Dan suggests keeping different lists for first and last names. He mentions using index cards, but I imagine that computer files would work just as well (he sounds much more organized than I am!).

6. Create A Cast List: Make Your Names Work For It
Don't accept any old names, put them through their paces. Write a list of all the names in your story and check to see that most of them start with different initials, that they have a different tone and that the name has a realistic feel.

7. Read the names out loud
Your book may one day be an audiobook, so someone may have to read all the names you've used. Make sure they are pleasing to the ear (or not, depending on the kind of character they name). Vowels are you friend. Dan advices asking a friend to read all your character names aloud. This is great advice, but if you can't manage that, I often like to have my stories read back to me by text-to-voice programs. The first time I did this I was amazed by the number of typos I caught.

8. Google it
You don't want to a real person as your arch villain, at least I wouldn't! Especially not if it's someone I might actually meet. Awkward.

I hope this list will be of some use. It's based on Dan Schmidt's post here: 8 Tips for Naming Characters.

Links:The Write Practice

Photo credit: Webdesigner. (I generally try to have some kind of connection between the topic of my post and the image I use, but today I couldn't find anything so I chose a Pirate. Why? Because Pirates are cool! Aarrrgggg.)

"Character Names: How To Create Them," copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

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