Monday, November 07, 2011

Writing Tip of the Day: Character Names

A quick Do and Don't for fiction writers ...

Don't
Give your characters similar names, as this can confuse the reader. In fact, try to avoid using the same first initial for any characters within the same gender.

Also avoid default names. If your story has a little boy, don't call him Timmy, Tommy, Billy, Bobby or Jimmy. This kind of obvious choice takes the reader out of story because it feels so written.

Do
Use various sources for names ... your Facebook friends list, the phone book, obituaries—anything is fair game.

A lot of writers refer to baby name websites for ideas. My personal favorite is this one, which lets you see the 100 most popular boy and girl names for any particular year, from the 1880s through the present. It's a great resource for historically accurate inspiration.

9 comments:

See Elle Oh said...

Great advice and so easy to forget! I agonize over character names, sometimes to the point of feeling unable to move on to other parts of prewriting until I get them right. Thanks also for the link.

Jill Thomas said...

Great advice, Ellen!! And nothing TOO weird ;) I love Dean Koontz and read his FRANKENSTEIN series, but, wow, it was hard to get past the protagonist's name...'Deucalion' Quite a mouthful!

Ellen said...

See ... I agonize, too. But try to remember that you can always go back later and change them. (That's why God invented Find & Replace!) So if you're stuck, just plug something in.

Jill ... Oh yeah, that's another issue--unpronounceable names!

Becs said...

I love that link! I had been using the social security online website for finding names for my WIP, which is set in the 1890s. I'm also trying to find a reliable site/book for meanings as that is something that I also like to consider when naming my characters.

Marleen Gagnon said...

That's a great link. Thanks for the advice.

Alyssia said...

Thanks for the advice, Ellen! Always love your writing tips. :)

Hutch said...

Im glad I discovered.you. I use a random name. generator I found on line. Ranges from obscure to more common ones. I precursor more.obscure names.

Janet Lingel Aldrich said...

A friend of mine was looking for names by meaning... here's a good site for that: http://www.behindthename.com/

Wendy Sparrow said...

I always use IMDb and just scan the lower sections of the cast for big movies--that way I can also get surnames that sound right also. Many of my characters are named after gaffers and lighting people in big Hollywood movies. : )