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I am a writer - late developer since I wasn't published until I was 50. I have now written 23 novels, numerous short stories and articles.

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Sunday, 29 November 2009
Characterization is one of those giant aspects of writing that need a couple of weeks to look at so this is the beginning. Characters are of great importance in general market fiction. Why? Because so many of our novels are character led rather than plot led. We want our readers to care about our main characters. (It might be a good idea to point out that caring need not simply mean liking for it can also mean concern, worry, or even hoping they get their just deserts – the prime example being Scarlet O’Hara.) Bad or good, it helps if you like them. As I’ve told you, having decided on a theme I hang around hoping an interesting character will appear. Then when one arrives in my imagination I spend a lot of time thinking about them and making notes. It’s wise to do this since I am going to spend a lot of time with them and so it has to be someone I’m interested in. One that I can empathise with. If they are boring the book won’t get finished since who can write when they are bored? And who would buy a book with such a person as a lead character? The more time you spend on these important characters will repay you, for, the more you know about them the more rounded they become and the danger of a one dimensional character is lessened. I write a history of such a person: what has happened in their life so far - their schools, their home life, what illnesses they had etc. What sort of childhood did they have for how your character interacts with others will be influenced by their upbringing. A happy child is more likely go become a confident adult, an abused child could become aggressive, defensive. On the other hand, you can turn these probables on their head and write the character as triumphing over a lousy beginning . You might use this information, you may not, but it will have served its purpose, YOU know them inside out, you know what they will do, how they will react, how they will behave. Names. Look at the trouble new parents go to when naming their baby. They make lists, they ask advice, they argue/. I hope we agree that names are important. Names should fit the character. Naming a fictional character can be as difficult as that new baby. Watch out for: 1. Fashions in names change. The names Alice, Hannah, Grace, unused for years are now back. So a heroine in the 60s is unlikely to e called Grace. 2. If writing an historical it is important to check the name existed. The prime example is Wendy which was made up by J M Barrie so you can’t have a Victorian or Tudor Wendy. 3. Be careful not to give similar names – Mary & Marjory. Ken & Keith. I’d go as far as to say using names of primary characters with the same letter can confuse too. 4 . Beware of exotic names and those which are difficult to say, for the reader will stumble and, worse, the reader can get irritated and give up. 5 Remember you can indicate class by the name you choose. Would a working class family have a Peregrine robably not but an upper class one would. And a duke is unlikely to call his daughter Charlene . . . I’ve had people say how ridiculous, how snobby – of course it is but it doesn’t alter that it’s true. 6. The sound of a name can be useful. Short, one syllable, names can indicate a strong masculine feel, Matt, Rex, Pete. But Matthew or Peter, have a softer feel to them. For heroines a soft sound is a good idea. 7. Surnames. A surname, ideally should go with the Christian name smoothly so the reader doesn’t stumble. The National Trust have a great site showing the common geographical position of names. Google surname and bewildering lists come up. There is nothing worse than realising well into your novel and deciding a name is wrong and then to have to find one and none sound right. It’s a good idea to keep names that attract you noted down, with suitable surnames. Then the easiest thing is to check in your book and there’s one waiting for you. To be continued . . .

6 comments:

  1. I agree. Names are one of my Big Things. I can't write until I have got the character's name correct. It used to drive me absolutely wild when one magazine editor I had would casually change my people's names "because someone else has used that that one in this issue".

    Grrr!

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  2. I've just realised that two minor characters in my novel have the same names as a friend's children. It's not really a problem but I feel a bit of a twit... It's not too imaginative, is it? I just can't bring myself to change them.

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  3. Names are fantastically important and thanks for talking about this. If you have Dickens's talent for it, you have half your work done for you. Gradgrind, etc. You hardly have to describe them at all. Though in mass market fiction, such names,which tell you about the character, would of course nowadays be frowned on! Still we can try and convey as best we can the essence of the character through the names....it's fun trying!

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  4. I'm catching up on blogs after missing several. Characters.
    My new female lead is reacting to a change in her life that I could not quite justify in my mind. Even though I've set up a character sketch of her, I don't know why I never considered looking to her past. As usual - thanks for the wonderful blogs!!

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  5. Thanks for the thought provoking post, Annie. I've changed character's names in several WIP's during the course of getting to know them better - but never the hero's. He's always the one firmly fixed and named right from the start!

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  6. Sensible advice to follow, thanks.

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