Tag Archives: character development

A Character By Any Other Name

Charles Dickens was very good at naming characters: Ebenezer Scrooge, Martin Chuzzlewit, Seth Pecksniff…While the rest of us can never hope to compete with such a great character-namer as Dickens, we can make an earnest attempt to not be overly bad at it. Names need not be overly creative to have a good ring to them. Harry Potter, for example, is a perfectly ordinary moniker, but it has ingrained itself in the imagination of the populous so much that hearing either part on its own calls to mind the whole. Or maybe that’s just me being an obsessive nerd. Either way, coming up with a good name, whether it’s completely pedestrian or totally out-there, is an important part of character development.

Sometimes names just hit you–for instance, the two ghosts in “Ravenfeather” (the ‘published masterwork’ I keep talking about, for you newbies) just had to be Samuel and Charlotte. Such a moment of serendipity has not occurred again for me; naming takes a bit of work. Since I tend to write stories set in far-away or nonexistent places and times, most of my names are of my own invention, but I don’t like to pull them out of thin air. I often raid the shelves of history and legend for inspiration, or plain old loot. Jennet from my novel is named for the heroine in the Scottish legend “Tam Lin.” (Fun fact to that effect: Hrothgar, the original dwarf king in the Inheritance Cycle, is also the name of a human king in “Beowulf.”)

One of my favorite other resources for names is Behind the Name. You can search by meaning, country of origin, even starting and ending letters. There’s also loads of fun stuff like name days and random name generators. Behind the Name is especially useful if you have a certain kind of name in mind and want to see if such a name exists. A simple Google search can yield a lot, as well. I’m working on a concept for a Poe-ish universe that could become the setting for some short stories, a novel, or maybe even a comic, and a search for dark-sounding names yielded this list, and this one too.

What do you find most important about a character’s name, or do you not think it really matters? How do you come up with names for your characters? Tell me about it in the comments!


Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Writing


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How To Make a Monster

This post is for the Teens Can Write Too! blog chain. This month’s prompt was:

How do you develop and relate to your characters?”

To come up with characters, I have a fairly static system. I call it P.L.A.N., the criteria being placed in order of importance, like so:

  1. Purpose: Why does one come up with a character in the first place? So he, she, or it (I’ll be using “she” for ease of typing for the rest of this post) and can carry out the action of a story, of course. The first thing I need to think about when developing a character is her purpose in the plot. Whether it’s to fulfill a long-lost prophecy or bully the protagonist in the cafeteria, a character’s reason for being is always the most important and easiest thing about her to come up with.
  2. Looks: A character’s physical features help determine what readers think of her. They can tell a lot about her background and can add to the story’s atmosphere. They also give readers an automatic evaluation of the character. Even a reader above stereotyping is going to have a different opinion of a character, who, say, has died-black hair and a nose piercing than of a character wearing a cheerleading uniform and pink eye shadow.
  3. Attitude: Basically, this is a character’s personality, but I call it attitude so the character development system forms a coherent acronym. This is fairly self-explanatory.  It includes how a character reacts to a situation, her morals, how she acts with other character, how she speaks, and her interests. This is the most likely to change element of a character. I revise character’s personalities constantly, almost obsessively. Is she turning into a Mary Sue? Or is she so flawed that readers won’t give a crap about her? I’d even go so far as to say that I’m usually insecure about my characters’ personalities.
  4. Name: Although I often come up with a character’s name before numbers two and three, it is the least important thing about a character, at least to me. Names can be interpreted in different ways. Say this arbitrary character I’ve been talking about is named Antoinette. Maybe her parents are French, or maybe they’re just francophiles. Perhaps they’re professors of history who were studying the French Revolution at the time of her birth–though if this were the case, I would be convinced that these parents must also have a love of the macabre, considering the lovely Queen’s bloody fate. My favorite resource for names is this–it provides the most comprehensive name search I’ve found. I also have a baby names book that I use for instant reference or when the Internet is down.

All of this is a rather dull and commonplace explanation of how I invent my characters. The second half of the question, relation, is where things get very interesting. I’m sure you longtime readers have heard the following tale multiple times, but for the newbies stopping by for the chain, here it is once again:

I was in the midst of one of my hardcore multi-thousand word writing sessions usually taking place on weekends. The hour was late, nearly 11 PM, but I was really into the groove, and the momentum my fingers had picked up on the keyboard would probably have been difficult to stop anyway. My handy plot map now directed me to set my merry band of characters on the run from The Bad Guys, and I complied. As I wrote of their desperate bid for freedom, I found myself noticing how tired they must be getting, how cold, how thirsty. Their boots would be soaked through, because, like in any good fantasy novel, it was snowing. I was bone-tired myself, but I could not bear to let the gang suffer. Therefore, I stayed up past midnight getting them safely to their destination. Only once they found a proper tavern in which they could have a bit of mead and get some shut-eye did I go to bed myself.

All this may sound like I’m over-indulgent of my little creations. In fact, I’d like to say quite the opposite, because there’s rarely a moment in my stories during which the protag or one of her sidekicks is suffering emotional and/or physical pain. As Gail Carson Levine writes in her handy guide for younger writers, Writing Magic (allow me to detour briefly by saying that, years after procuring this little volume and following its advice religiously, it still holds a treasured place on my bookshelf), making your characters suffer is what makes the story interesting. Don’t accuse me of not letting my characters suffer sufficiently, because they sure as Hades do.

It’s just that those perfectly annoying little figments worm their way into my mind, my soul, until they’re more than figments. They become real to me, more real than any character whose story I’ve read or watched, and, in a strange way, more real than myself. Creating characters puts my mind on a whole other level of reality. Sometimes I feel like the suffering I put them through isn’t exactly my fault, because it’s “part of the story.”

But that story came out of my head, and so did the characters! My characters are monsters, each and every one–from the evil overlord to the barmaid, they become a part of me, and refuse to let go. It’s a love-hate relationship. They suffer, I feel bad about it sometimes (I cried when I killed off a certain character), but feeling for characters so deeply, and in such a complex way, sure makes for a good story.

Want to follow our blog tour? Here are the participating parties, day by day

December 5– — Comfy Sweaters, Writing and Fish

December 6– — Tay’s Tape

December 7– — This Page Intentionally Left Blank

December 8– — Embracing Insanity

December 9– — Novel Journeys

December 10– — Crazy Socks and Ninja Bunnies

December 11– — Kirsten Writes!

December 12– — The Land of Man-Eating Pixies

December 13– — A Farewell to Sanity

December 14– — Esther Victoria1996

December 15– — The Word Asylum

December 16– — Teenage Reader

December 17– — Missy Biozarre, Young Adult Author

December 18– — Red Herring Online

December 19–– The Incessant Droning of a Bored Writer

December 20– — Here’s To Us

December 21– –Teens Can Write Too! (We will be announcing the topic for next month’s chain)



Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Writing


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