Here’s what’s been happening with me, writing-wise, ever since I wrote last about my latest writing goal to write for at least 15 minutes every day.
I got stuck. And I got stuck not because I wanted to be inspired and wasn’t, and not because I didn’t want to write – I got stuck because the next scenes to be written are from the POV of my other main character and his mentor – and while I can play and replay these scenes in my mind, in full color, with background music and all the right props, there was one thing I really, really needed to know … and didn’t.
Because, you see, in those movie clips in my mind, my two characters don’t address each other by name. Which is perfectly natural – I mean, go back to any conversation you’ve had with someone you know well and see how many times you actually say their name in conversation. See what I mean?
But in the non-dialogue portion of my scenes, I’ve got to know their names. It’s kind of essential.
And nothing was coming to me.
So, rather than writing without knowing their names (it just doesn’t work for me), I dug out my copy of Character Naming Sourcebook, by Sherrilyn Kenyon; it’s been very helpful in the past, and I highly recommend getting a copy for your reference shelf.
This is a much better naming reference than a regular baby names book. It’s sorted into lists based on culture and ethnicity, so it’s really wonderful if you know a lot about your characters.
Since I’m a pantser, not a plotter, I don’t usually know my characters that well in the beginning. But I’ve always found it useful to just trust my intuitive powers and throw the book open to a page and see what jumps out at me.
I discovered my main character’s last name fairly quickly, although I still didn’t have a clue as to his first name. The next day, through some very cool bits of serendipity, I realized what his first name was, and even better, WHO he is, which then brought to me some new bits and pieces which will eventually get plugged into my storyline.
His mentor, though, stubbornly stayed nameless (I suspect this is an indication of his overall character). So this morning, I opened up my copy of the Character Naming Sourcebook and did my trusty “flip open to the right page because any page is the right page using this intuitive method”. And I came across this great tip by author Daniel Wallace:
Now I get my names from spam. That’s right: Those pesky unwanted e-mails are really the best place to find a name these days. All I have to do is look into the Deleted items folder of Outlook Express, and there are dozens – no, hundreds – of names, right there in the From field, perfect for any character I might want to write about.
Right now, there are 9501 emails in my junk mail folder. I use Thunderbird, which does a pretty good job of filtering out spam mail into the junk folder. Now, that does sound like a lot of emails, but unfortunately, a lot of spammers out there just aren’t very creative, so there are a lot of From lines that read something like “Free Viagra” and “Try Viagra for Free”.
But there are still enough real names to give this a shot.
Here’s just a small sample of some usable names I found:
Alaina Breann. Valrie Lanell. Karla Golden. Malinda Loretta – I don’t like Loretta for a last name, but Malinda … Malinda would work quite well for one of my minor characters, who’s right now saddled with a similar sounding name that I had grabbed at just so I could keep writing (which is something I do as long as the character is a secondary character).
There seems to be an imbalance of sorts, in that there are far more female names than male (my MC’s mentor is male) but scanning through the folder, I just found a name that has as its first name one I’ve been playing around with for the mentor. More serendipity – the last name goes very well with that first name.
So … success!
Now I’m going to sit down and write.
How do you come up with names for your characters?