Thursday, March 12, 2015

Choosing Names for Characters


Terri Reid touched on how she chose names for her characters in a presentation at Book ‘Em NorthCarolina. Coming up with names for characters is different from choosing one for a newborn and more complicated. An infant is an unknown personality, but a writer has created and knows the traits of his characters.

I’m reading Box of Delights by John Masefield (1878-1967), which has long been a classic novel for children. The protagonist’s name is giving me thoughts of quitting the book. His name is Kay, and I can’t seem to accept this for a boy’s name. As an aside, the language and writing are well done, but Masefield goes off on flights of magic that inhibit the progress of the plot.

A name can be a signal and has the potential to attract or repel readers. By naming a character Hemingway, you set up something of an expectation. Our literary heritage gives us a slew of names with oracular potential, names like Agatha, Flannery, Horatio, Rudyard, Eudora. Or family names like Faulkner, Poe, Camus, or Dickens. There are names with cultural import like Dixie, Baron, Gore, or Christian. You may not remember which Bond film she appeared in, but you probably remember Pussy Galore. 

I find it hard to understand authors who give characters similar names. I’ve found while writing manuscripts that I’ve accidentally used similar names or even repeated a name, but I change one or the other to avoid confusion.

The protagonist of the manuscript currently on my desktop is a twelve year-old girl named Lilleva. Her name’s significance has dual implications which come out in the book. Lill and Eva contribute to the plot. She began as Lillellen until I realized I couldn’t go with Ellen, the name of my daughter-in-law. Now I’m reconsidering Eva, for it’s a component of another family member’s name. I’m thinking about Lilllena (Lill plus Lena), though I’m resisting the change.

For several weeks I was attending to author events instead of writing, but I’m happy to be back working on revisions to my manuscript. The end of the tunnel is in sight.

This photo isn't of a tunnel, but there's a short distance through arches to a garden. I took this photo on an outing with my son Matt and his family. It's of the ruins of an Italianate mansion built in the 1840s by wealthy plantation owner, Godfrey Barnsley, for his wife as a retreat. It's located on a golf resort at Adairsville, Georgia.

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