Friday, February 25, 2011

Naming Names at Ink Slingers

Ever heard a future parent say that until they see their baby, they won't know a name? Or even that the baby will name itself, based on it's reaction to names said? That is basically how I name a character. (To read how my critique partners name theirs, click here.)

I'm a pantser, first and foremost (pantser = no/little planning for novel other than possibly knowing the end and a few tidbits ), so it may come as no surprise that I don't really create a character, except for the main ones. They just float in and out of the story, sometimes with more importance than other times (that's what editing is for right?) Sometimes, I won't know they're there until they start talking...and then the details come....and then their name. Other times, I start writing and fill in the details right before they jump in. (which is what happens below) (Keep in mind, that, like most things I do, this is a mental process that I don't write down and plan...normally)

Example: Let's say I'm writing something about a girl, named Lisa, who is skipping class...For all I know at this point, Lisa could continue walking down this sidewalk for the rest of her life, but something tells me she's going to run into someone who isn't in school either. As soon as the idea hits me to add another character, I start imagining it.
This is what I know just from seeing him in my head:
  • It's a boy, though not one Lisa knows well or by name
  • He's a dweeb
  • Slightly annoying--makes me think he's younger than her
  • Brown hair that hasn't been combed
  • He has glasses that are too big for his face
  • Mismatched clothes, they're worn, as if they've come from a lower end thrift shop
  • He's bored and curious as to why "Perfect Patty" has skipped. 
Here are the names that immediately come to mind, just from thinking about who I think he is:
  1. Tom
  2. Andrew
  3. Matt
  4. Harold
Two stick out the most for me (Which for you? or are you seeing another name?) Tom and Harold. He seems like an young kid under the influence of older he lives with his grandparents or his parents are older.  I don't confirm a name in my mind until I actually start writing him.

Something flopped from the bushes not ten feet before Linda and landed on the sidewalk, blocking her path like an animated trash bag. It took a few minutes for her to see there was a head attached to the bag along with arms and legs. It waddled like a duck coming closer until she could see it wasn't a bag at all, but a boy in an over-sized black jacket, floppy baseball hat, and shoes at least three sizes too big.
"Uh." She looked down at the mess and figured he was about ten. "Excuse me." She tried to edge past the blob of clothing.
"I said, 'hey.'" The boy complained in a whining tone, pushing the thick glasses up his nose, which like the rest of his attire were way too big. "I'm Harold."

Not my best, but you get my least, I hope you do.
I can't name a character until they come alive on the page. Until they have an actual voice or flow about them, I find that I keep renaming them every ten seconds. Every image of a character conjures a name or two that seem to just "fit" the character. Of course, if I want to surprise the reader, I may pick a name like Harold, and turn him into the school jock, just because that seems less predictable.

So, what about you? Are you feeling a different name for this new character? How do you name your characters? Let me know in the comments!


jdcoughlin said...

For this book, I've changed my character's names at least twice. All of them. I tend to stick with a letter, and then a syllable count. I know what sort of pause I want when the characters speak out. I'm not finished yet, but I really have been considering changing one character back. Sean John is still P. Diddy, right? No matter that it's changed, it's still hard to forget.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I use a baby naming website and pick the names that call to me for a given character (I've been known to spend over an hour looking). I do have certain criteria, though, based on if it's a girl or guy, and if it's a major character or a not-so-major character.

Carolyn V said...

I base names on the characteristics of my characters. Like if a character is absent minded, I choose a name that goes with that. =)

Amy said...

I often find myself using stand in names for characters until I find the one that fits them perfectly.

Rachel Searles said...

I don't get too attached to most of my names, so I end up changing a lot of them.

The name Harold reminds me of Harold Lauder in The Stand, and he was pretty annoying, so that works for me! :)

Meredith said...

I think of a personality first, but I need a name before I can start writing them. I love the name Harold for that character!

Stacy Henrie said...

I have to have the main characters names down before I start writing, and if I don't know the name for sure, I usually have an idea of what letter it should start with based on personality or what letters the other characters names start with.