Naming Your Characters

It’s time to break out the baby-names book! Because your protagonist needs a name, and any old name won’t due.

The go-to option is to name your characters after people you knew. Just remember to, later on, change it to something else! Your book may be published with a villain named Timmy Blankencheck, the kid who pushed you in the sandbox back in preschool.

Somewhere, Timothy B.  is on a flight for business, picks up a book he’s heard good things about, and is surprised to discover that he shares a name with a fictional penguin-murderer.

Don't feel bad. All Timmy's are evil

Don’t feel bad. All Timmy’s are evil

I know several people who have named their villains after a teacher or mentor who didn’t believe in them enough.

(By the way, if your instinct is to name your protagonist after yourself, you might consider reading my post about the Mary Sue).

Method number two for name selection is to name them after characteristics.  I like to call this method “Neil Stephenson-ing” because of his brilliant book Snow Crash, in which the main character is Hiro Protagonist. It’s a little strange, but it’s a strange book.

This can also be called “George Lucas-ing.” Seriously, his villains have the dumbest names: “Darth Vader” “Darth Sidious” “Darth Venamis” “Darth Tyranus” “Darth Maul” and “Darth Plagueis”.

Let’s play a game: guess which one of those villain names I made up. Wrong. They’re all real.

This calls to mind one of my favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Space Mutiny. Throughout the movie, Mike and the Robots call out new ideas for the muscle-clad meat-head protagonist.

“Plank Manchest!”

“Splint Chesthair!”

“Dirk Hardpec!”

The slightly-more subtle, but still cliche’d method is name your character Cane, Kayne, Kain, or Kanye. This just telegraphs that the character is a villain.

Similarly, be careful with any name that tells us how dedicated your character is. Detectives or Private Investigators named Hunter or Archer or Spade or Skywalker or Arrow or Captain America.

Full disclosure: my first book starred a homicide detective named Archer.

Damn it, FX!

Damn it, FX!

You will eventually have to change the name of one of your characters because you subconsciously named someone after your favorite ninja turtle (this was, tragically, discovered too late for the DiCaprio family).

Anyway, just remember, there’s something wrong with every character name you choose. And nobody use Principle Illustrion. That’s what I’m calling the lead character of my legal thriller.

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Read This: Author Patricia C. Wrede

This post will probably be the first in a series maybe.

When talking about a beloved author, it’s not uncommon to chastise others for not having read that author’s whole bibliography. I won’t do that. I know there are too many books out there for you to have read all of them.

But really missing out if you haven’t.

Patricia C. Wrede is, by grand margins, one of my favorite authors of all time. It began with my mother reading me Dealing with Dragons. It took classic castles and dragon and enchanted forest books and made them wonderful and hilarious.

I LOVE her characters. The Raven Ring is a study in making you fall in love with characters within a short span of time.

Wrede does something else with her stories that seems so lacking sometimes. Her books are so damn fun. I could pin down the whys and hows right here… but that’s actually what this blog is often about. So, just know that her stories created the joy in me.

Exactly the way aspiring writers like us want to.

Review: The Martian

I’d really, REALLY love to tell you about a book that I read recently that I spent much time eviscerating in my mind. I’d like to work with that author’s agent and publisher, though. I don’t have the star power to speak my mind.

Yet.

So, instead, I’ll review a book I loved and pick apart the reasons why I loved it.

 

And this cover art is gorgeous. I’ll make a whole post about covers

The Martian by Andy Weir. I really, really liked this book. It’s about a modern-day astronaut stranded on Mars and how he survives day-to-day. Think Robinson Crusoe but with a much redder landscape.

Let me get a couple quick things out of the way: I like the engineering, the layman’s math, and thinking about space-travel in general. Mileage may vary, reader to reader.

I posted about how you can have conflict without assholes. This book proves it. There is constant tension as the main character meets and overcomes obstacles. The astronaut battles the elements, the folks on Earth battle physics, weather, and budget crises.

I LIKE EVERYONE IN THIS BOOK.

I’ve read plenty of books where I’ve thought, “These people could die on another planet alone and I’d be fine with it.” This book is not one of them.

Here’s how any OTHER author would add conflict for the sake of conflict: the astronaut would have a wife back on Earth.

We’d spend pages – even chapters – listening to the protagonist opining his lost love or constantly wondering “Will I ever again get to see my little girl/dog/stamp collection!?”

The writer would say, “What could possibly be more gripping than a romance ripped apart by the planets themselves?”

The answer: NOT having a whiny character.

Author Weir’s  characters face conflict on every page. But while making people one can like. If something bad happens, it never feels like it’s because the writer said, “Well, I better insert some conflict.”

Read this book. It’s FUN, dammit.