1. lastspartacus
    Offline

    lastspartacus New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2012
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    0

    Character and Place Names Getting in the Way of Your Story?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by lastspartacus, Jul 22, 2012.

    I'm cursed with a form of perfectionism. I agonize over possibly the least important aspects of my story: naming things and characters.
    I seriously have most of the details planned out for novels worth of story, and I cannot progress. Every time I try to think about what the main protagonist would do, I am stuck at the name of the person who does such a thing. If the person or place doesn't have a name, in my mind I can't write about it. But to me perhaps the name is a very important thing. I, for instance, want my protagonist's name to fit him perfectly, be unique but not too wierd, and so on. Same goes for locations.

    Has anyone seen any kind of resources for do's and don'ts when naming? Is anyone else stumped from further progress by this smallest of hangups? I will agonize to no end over names, and get no writing done.
     
  2. Warde
    Offline

    Warde Member

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2011
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    5
    There's been at least one recent thread on the actual process of name choosing so I won't go into the details of that here (see: How do you go about the name choosing process?). One point which is specifically raised by your post, however, is that you may be happier naming your characters at the end of (or, at least, some way into) writing your novel. This way you will know more about the character or place you are trying to name and will be better placed to choose the 'perfect' name for them.

    You mentioned having difficulty writing about people and places that you haven't named yet and I experience much the same thing. One solution that I have found is to use stand in names. While a stand in name could be as simple as "City A", I have found it is much easier to work with names from the real world and/or your own life. For instance, I currently have a country in my novel called France. It's a fantasy novel set on a very different planet from our own, however, this country just so happened to be shaped rather like France in the first rough map that I drew. I haven't come up with a better name yet so "France" it is until further notice. Naming places after real locations which they resemble in some way allows you to have an intuitive name for them (for instance, if a fantasy city had a very Italian feel to it, it could be Rome or Venice) without getting stuck in a rut trying to figure out what their "real" name is going to be. At some point in writing, you'll probably have a "wow, this place should be called X" moment. If you get the end of the novel and this still hasn't happened, at least you're working through the naming hump with the warm glow of knowing you have already completed an honest to G-d first draft!

    This process works equally well for characters. In this case you can use stand in names from people you know who are similar to your character, historical figures, or characters from your favourite book.

    Hope this helps!
     
  3. Quinn T. Senchel
    Offline

    Quinn T. Senchel Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2012
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    NS, Canada
    Warde, that's a brilliant idea. I have the same difficulty. I need the perfect name for my characters and locations before I can write about them. They need to resemble them ethnically and also they need to fit the character's personality. For instance, I'm writing about a heroic character that comes from a society that is heavily based on the Gaels of old Ireland before outside influences. I'm trying to find the way to name him and his clan without outright copying the Gaels. I'm trying to make the name unique without it being complex and tough to pronounce, and I'm trying to make it sound heroic without stealing the name from other heroes. I currently have a naming scheme for the clans, for instance the prefix Os' or Y's will indicate descendance for males, Ori for daughters, and Eka for wives. But I'm still stumped on a real name.

    A lot of does and don'ts usually go like this:
    Make it pronounceable and easy to remember, names that roll of the tongue.
    Don't name a character Justin McLean and his brother or neighbor Brisngr Ni O'sorxeksl of the Willow Trees.
    They're the same ethnic background, they should have similar patterns in their names.
    Don't give every character a nickname, and don't give your main character 50 of them.
    Avoid alliteration, if everyone's name begins with J people forget who's who.
    Watch out for unintentional sexual innuendos.
     
  4. Morkonan
    Offline

    Morkonan Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2012
    Messages:
    101
    Likes Received:
    7
    I can tell you some important ones.

    For one, make sure you know who your target audience is and what their culture would assume of characters with certain names. A character named "George Washington" would evoke some strong imagery from an American audience. But, as a creative writer, you could play off of that imagery. Which, brings me to another point...

    Traditionally, in English, hard consonants, gutteral sounds, names ending crisply, etc.. are generally "strong" names. Creed, Kong, Kincaid, etc.. Names ending with pronounced vowels can be seen as softer or even comical - Larry, Curly, Johnny, Freddie, etc.. Names that are all soft with lots of soft vowels generally reflect assumptions about "softer" characters - Stacy, Sherm, Harris (a bit hard in the middle), Arris, etc.. Whatever.

    One thing you can do is pick a name with some cultural meaning, but twist it to fit your character without blatantly copying it. ie: Arthur Jackson. (A sort of nerdy first name, despite being shared with King Arthur, yet strong on the finish and could be associated with Stonewall Jackson (a relative, perhaps?) In other words, you are allowed to use names that drag along some character attributes with them, but just don't do it blatantly. However, naming your janitor Einstein Twain would be darn awesome! (Even better if he fit the imagery that was evoked!)

    I don't let it drag me down too much. Sure, I want a good name. But, if I can't think of one, I will insert a temporary one that gives me just enough "oomph" to remember what it is I wanted to do with the name. Plus, there's a lot of John Smiths out there for a good reason - Parents aren't much better than writers when thinking up names. :)
     
  5. Steph4136
    Offline

    Steph4136 Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2012
    Messages:
    164
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Toronto, ON
    When I can't think of a name for a place, I write this : [INSERT NAME HERE]. Yes, it's big and jarring, but at least it stands out to me when I go back to revise. I think we all know things can slip through the cracks during revision, and if it's the name of a minor place (say an important building or small town), it won't get missed. When I do this I'm able to move on and continue writing, especially when I'm on a roll, and I don't waste time sitting there trying to think of a name, or worse, spending an hour or two on goggle looking.
     
  6. Fivvle
    Offline

    Fivvle Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2012
    Messages:
    214
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Washington
    I spent several weeks (yes, weeks!) trying to find the right name for the main character of my primary project. I spend as much time as necessary to get everyone's names sounding right. Usually, this only takes me a few seconds, at most a few minutes, but in the main character's case it just took a long time. What I do to come up with names that are really eluding me is this: I make a list of names, putting down everything that comes to me. Eventually, the right one stands out.
     
  7. B93
    Offline

    B93 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2012
    Messages:
    297
    Likes Received:
    32
    I would endorse Warde's method. Just be sure the working name you pick is unique so a search and replace can get all and only the occurrences of it. City A would not be a good idea but CityA would work. Don't use a city whose name is also a word that could occur in another context.

    A word to Quinn: Our critique group is reading chapters from a novel by someone who invented the perfect system for clan and family names, and the names are too long and confusing for me to keep straight since I don't intuitively appreciate his system. Make sure that the results are easily distinguished and pronounced.
     
  8. Quinn T. Senchel
    Offline

    Quinn T. Senchel Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2012
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    NS, Canada
    Thanks. I've taken that into consideration because I hate long and unpronounceable names as well. It works in much the same was as the name McKinnon or O'Conon would. Perhaps when I'm done I could get people to tell me what they like and hate about my system. I'd like to read this person's system though, perhaps I could gain something from it.
     
  9. lastspartacus
    Offline

    lastspartacus New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2012
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thanks so much for the replies. I think my OCD can be compromised with these particular tricks. Although now I must resist adding a crazed-eye janitor with a story to tell, haha.

    It could fill an entire thread I'm sure on the power a perfect union of name and association can bring. Such words like Cair Paravel or Rohan evoke powerful tremors in my memory because they just seem to so perfectly fit what they bring to mind. That is why I struggle so much over place and people names, because I feel they could be the difference between deeply memorable and forgettable. But that may just be me.
     
  10. Bjørnar Munkerud
    Offline

    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2012
    Messages:
    393
    Likes Received:
    140
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    I kinda like the idea of naming places and people after you're finished, even though I actually don't do things that way myself. I also like Warde's idea of naming places after real-world places (the same thing pretty much goes for characters, BTW). One way to make the "real" name for that place is to "morph" the orginal name you used, such as "France", into something similar-sounding; like "Pherramsessia", "Seefran", "Franto" or "Clance". Also, you can be even more clever about it and for example name a military base in a France-like place "The Heptagon" by analogy on the Pentagon in the US and the continental part of France which is sometimes referred to as "the Hexagon". Obviously this would probably imply that that facility would have to have something to do with a hexagon, or it could otherwise be lampshaded, of course.

    I'm personally quite pleased with one of the names I came up with for my story: Dunlun. It vaguely sounds like London, especially a particular pronunciation of the city's name, and I also simply switched a couple of consonants around. The town is also supposed to have a London-like feel to it.

    Another example from my own writings, this time about characters: I started out with a character named Jack a year ago. Then he evolved into Matt. Then Dan, Tom and, even, Bladeslinger. Now these are individual characters, except Dan and Bladeslinger, who are the same person, and Jack, who is absent from the story. I have made the absence of a character named Jack somewhat of a (personal) running joke. I originally named the writing project Project Jack (which it is still named), after the character, but he since evolved, and now I don't have any Jacks at all. To add to this I have characters named Jon, Josh, Jay, Jake, Jacqueline etc., but I carefully make sure none are named Jack.

    Also, I came to think of, I named four of my most important characters after actors from Harry Potter: Rupert Grint became Rupert Yonderman, Thomas Felton became Thomas Yonderman, Daniel Radcliffe became Daniel Yonderman and Matthew Lewis became Matthew Yonderman. Many things are changed: they are American, they are family, their personalities are different etc. They resemble the actors to varying degrees: Rupert has brown eyes and black hair, Daniel is tall and has brown eyes and Matthew has brown eyes etc., while Tom's hair is light blonde like Draco's in the Harry Potter movies.

    I did this 1. because I thought it would be a good source for names; I liked all four names and think they all fit the story and 2. because I like the idea of honouring those people, because I appreciate them greatly and I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, though I'm not fan of naming people after other people, but you have to get your names from somewhere, right, and why not take it from what you know and love? (I have more than 300 other characters as well, though, so it's not like I just did that and didn't need other sources for names.)
     
  11. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    I did this when I was younger - but man, it's time consuming! I created an entire alternate world that
    practically mirrored earth, I drew maps, gave each state, province, and country new names. I designed
    folklore, and legends for different minority groups. I had over 400 named characters. A handful of
    which their names kept changing because they weren't original enough. I followed the history of
    these characters back one hundred years. But after three years of this - I didn't write much more
    than a couple of haphazard chapters.

    Looking back I'm sure I was procrastinating. Not to mention constantly comparing myself
    to other writers. If I don't have as original a name as so-and-so my characters won't be
    remembered. I'm learning it's not the name people remember, it's the character. Set a limit
    if you don't come up with a suitable name in a week - just pick something and start
    writing. Your names will eventually work themselves out.
     

Share This Page