Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Real authors probably have a better system for this

A new romantic comedy idea sunk its teeth into my brain last week and began gnawing like a feral hamster on crack.

A smart author would probably devote time to charting a detailed plot and analyzing the characters' goals, motivations, and desires. At the very least, she'd put some solid thought into her hero and heroine's names.

I opted to leave that to the housemates. I found one sipping coffee in the kitchen, and though I wasn't certain he was awake, I decided to pick his brain.

"I'm starting a new book this morning," I informed him. "Name my hero and heroine."

He blinked at me. "Johnny Appleseed. Allie Alligator. Donald–"

"Allie, that's good. That'll work. I've never written an Allie before."

"Especially not with the last name Alligator."

"Right," I agreed. "I might have to change that. OK, now you have to name the hero."

He stared at me blankly for a minute, then looked down at his coffee.

"Hold that thought," I told him. "I have to refill the dog's kibble. You keep thinking."

"Kibble's a good name," he mused as he took a sip of something he probably wished was a lot stronger than Starbucks.

"I know!" I announced. "The hero comes from a big military family. How about a famous military name? Weren't you a history major? Here's a great chance to use that degree!"

He didn't look entirely enthusiastic about the opportunity, but began rattling off names anyway. "Custer. Patton."

"Too redneck. Too gay."

He frowned. "Ulysses?"

"As in Ulysses S. Grant?" I tried to remember eighth grade history class and whether Ulysses S. Grant had a history of beastiality. "Grant's good. I don't think I've written a Grant."

I thought about it for a second as I scooped kibble into the dog's dish. By the time I set the bowl back on the floor, my mind was made up. "Allie and Grant. I like it. Those are my characters' names. Thank you."

He nodded. "I still like Kibble better."

"I know you do."

So there you have it – the new characters I'll be getting to know shortly. I hope I didn't spoil anyone's notions about the hard work and creativity that goes into naming romantic comedy protagonists.

If you're a writer, how much thought do you give to your characters' names? For the readers among you, how much of a difference do names make in your perception of a story? Please share!

I'll be hard at work crafting the fate of Allie Kibble and Grant Patton.


chihuahuazero said...

Usually, I take some time to find the right name for a character, but it usually comes to me and it feels like it fits.

For example, the name of my character in a roleplay is Blue. While it's the same name than the protagonist of my NaNoWriMo, it has some meaningfulness tied to his past life, not to mention fit his current role pretty well.

Mary said...

Gah! I hate naming characters! I renamed one character about ten times as I was writing. It was a serious pain to go back and find-and-replace all the time. *sigh*

But I like Allie and Grant. Now, here's a question: is Allie short for anything? Allison? Allisandra? Allegra? (I'm just throwing things out there...) Or is she an -ie kind of girl?

Perhaps the housemate knows.

Anonymous said...

LOL, love it...

I do take time and sometimes it changes. On my last WIP, I made up a name on the spot BUT when I got to the first sex scene and the hero was whispering her name it just felt WRONG. So I changed it to Claire after doing research and liking the French word origin meaning since it could tie into the time travel element. So it was Claire for the rest of the first draft. Then I took a break for research and read some comps. First two were Outlander and Time Traveler's Wife and I groaned when I saw they had the same name! So I changed it to another French name Adele, as it had some personal meaning for me. Then a crit partner pointed out that it was too similar to the main secondary character Ada, and since that was a real historical personage, I couldn't change HER name, so now the FMC is Isabelle. In fact, when I'm just initially brainstorming before the first draft and writing down ideas, it's just FMC and MMC until I settle on a name :)

Jamie said...

I follow a pattern much like yours, random objects I see around me, or quite often I steal them from my twitter feed. Only one characters name has been chosen with hidden intent...."Shade".

Delia said...

I have a nephew named Grant because his grandfather's middle name was Ulysses. I kid you not.

And did you know that the S in Ulysses S. Grant doesn't stand for anything? It was a mistake on some school forms when he was little. Ulysses is his middle name. His real first name is Hiram. And now you have all the useless info from my brain on that topic. Your welcome.

Taryn said...

Writing in first person usually means I don't give any thought to my characters names for a few chapters, at which point I think OH NO I NEED NAMES. Then something comes together eventually!

Kelsey said...

I love it when you tell us a roommate story :)

Unknown said...

I'm sorry. I'd love to share what is surely the most genius way to invent character names ever, but I'm too busy laughing. Kibble. *snort* :)

Stephsco said...

That's hilarious. I usually just like a name, but I do a little poking around online too. I writing a historical (1960s) story and wanted to make sure my names were appropriate for the era.

Allie and Grant are good names, nice choices. I'm a bit sick of seeing Chloe, Zoe and Maggie as protagonists.

Feotakahari said...

I like to group names. For instance, one of my fantasy stories involves a religious organization loosely based around the Roman Catholic Church, so I gave all the organization's members surnames like Piety and Charity (which their ancestors had taken on upon joining the church.) For given names, I gave not just them, but everyone in that country pseudo-Roman names like Horace and Merritt. String those together, and my protagonist was Mercy Astra (they use the surname first.)

That said, one think I like to avoid is giving characters "meaningful" names. Astra isn't any more merciful than anyone else in the story, and Charity Merritt isn't more charitable. Even standard naming can be a little galling to me--I have a name that's almost exclusively used to indicate comic relief characters, so I was overjoyed when another writer assigned it to a badass werewolf.

Hannah Hounshell said...

Sometimes I don't give them much thought, because they pop into my head with their own names. Other times I head for the name websites and pull out the baby name book hidden in the computer desk and start searching for the one that fits perfectly. And it has to fit, or it'll bug me and then I'll find myself stuck.

To me, names say a lot about the character, even if the author is the only one who really knows exactly what is being said about them.

I hope that made sense. Work was hellish today and my brain is officially scrambled, lol. :)p

Claire Dawn said...

I'm tempted to write a Kibble now!

As I write non-American settings, I try to keep my names true to my locales - Barbados and Japan. In Barbados, nicknames are common, so I get to choose all sorts of crazy stuff: Slim Pig, Charlie Bloke, Zubi, Geek, Mice Milk... all actual nicknames of people I know at home.

Not_Rachel said...

Most days when I read your blog I expect the usual: f**king hilarious writing.

But the name "Patton" is "Too gay"? Really? Come on.


Not_Rachel, that wasn't meant as a derogatory term, nor is it a stereotype I'm suggesting I believe. I'm sorry if it seemed that way. Unfortunately, authors writing commercial fiction do have to consider the stereotypes average readers might hold. My editor is constantly lecturing me on how things I've written will "play in Peoria" (meaning some of the more outlandish things I try to write aren't likely to resonate with readers in more conservative, smaller towns, at least according to her). That's not to say the name "Patton" would cause midwestern readers to throw my books at the wall, but I do have to consider the impression a name might make. You know that scene in "When Harry Met Sally" when they discuss whether it's possible to have great sex with a guy named "Sheldon?" Same idea. While names conjure up different connotations for different people, I have to consider what sort of impression my characters' names might make on the "average American reader" (if there is such a thing).

Thanks for the feedback! It's always good for me to consider how my words might be taken by readers, and it's helpful to know what that particular word choice meant to you.