Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Character Creation 101: It's All In The Name

     Time for another Creative Writing 101, but this time I’d like to focus on something a little different. I had thought to write an entry dedicated to Character Creation for novels, but that in itself is a hugely diverse topic to explore (and I’m going to need a lot more coffee than I have to do that!). So I’ve decided to take baby steps…or at least keep the training wheels on a little longer.

     Let’s start simple. This might be teaching some of you to suck eggs, and in no means is it meant to. This entry is purely designed to highlight a few points, hopefully share my own experiences, and provide a few laughs (at my own expense, of course!).

     What do you call your characters?

     Potentially, this can be one of the hardest parts of writing. Imagine yourself a parent, a proud mother or father (both? If you’re that way inclined!) to a newborn babe. Your child has its whole life to look forward to, anything is possible! Now, imagine if Cletus was to become President, or Montgomery was destined to like the skin off of KFC…you get my point. Names define your characters, and if you can’t find one that ‘doesn’t quite fit’ you’ll be umm’ing and ahh’ing over the character as you write instead of doing the important thing…the ACTUAL WRITING.

     A name has to fit the character’s personality. This sounds obvious enough when you consider Druss from David Gemmell’s works. The name is short, sharp, simple, but most importantly: blunt. Druss is a ‘what you see is what you get hero’. Axe first, politics later. His name suits him to the bottom of his iron-shod boots. But what if we were to call him…Bob? Need I say more?

     Names need to stick to the theme of the story, and where each character comes from. Take Arlen Bales and Leesha Paper from Peter V Brett’s novels ‘The Painted Man’ and ‘The Desert Spear’. Each from village backgrounds set in a fantasy-medieval world, the names suit their origins. The theme of the story in this case being the setting = fantasy-medieval, where the characters come from being their respective villages.

     The same could be said for the time frame setting. I’ve yet to meet a ‘Sean’ in an Ancient Roman novel, nor an Odysseus in a crime thriller (though that’d be wicked! Time to add that to the ‘to do’ list).

     Names don’t just need to be pronounceable, they need to be memorable. This is a massive oversight particularly in fantasy, where writers squeeze as many vowels into a character’s name as possible. Eieieiouaiue is a damned sight hard to read, let alone say, though it’s memorable (better luck trying to spell it from memory though). Sure, our axe-wielding hero Bob might be pronounceable enough…but truly memorable? I know a ‘Bob the Builder’ and a ‘Bob the Axeman’.

     Think of your favourites. I dare you! Go on – and no peeking, no checking. If you read this, respond with 3 names, yes 3, from 3 of your favourite books. So that’s 9 names in all. Now, ask yourself if it was the character’s actions, the story, or the name itself that helped you remember them.

     Personally, the most memorable name in my mind is one from TV…

     Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock. Honest, it’s not something I’ve just made up. It was on ‘Friends’.
Might just call one of my kids that…wonder if they’ll make President? (NOT LIKELY – I LIVE IN THE UK!)

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