Friday, September 23, 2011

Writing Tip - Simplifying the Hunt for Perfect Character Names


What's in a name? For me it's the personality of my hero and heroine. I really need those names to be right and to be set when I begin a book. But I don't want to waste tons of time cruising around the Internet or poring through books to come up with two names when what I really want is to dive into the story. So...I don't.  I don't have to.

Because years ago, I spent some time setting things up so that all the best names (best for me, that is) would be at my fingertips. Here's what I did.

1. I gathered every name source (first and surnames) that I had access to (books, phone books, pages copied from the internet...and okay, I didn't use the Internet because those were pre-Internet times for me, but if I were doing this today I would access those sources).

2. I took a mid-size spiral notebook with a heavy cover and divided it into three sections.

3. In one section, I set aside a page or two  for each letter of the alphabet and devoted that section to last names. Then, using my handy book of surnames, I chose some of each letter and scribbled them in my notebook.

4. I then took the other two sections in the notebook, labeled them male and female and also divided each of them up alphabetically. When I filled in these sections, I was even more fussy about the names I selected, because these were potential first names for my heroes and heroines. Not just any name would do.

It was a fun way to spend a couple of days, and the time I spent then continues to pay off today, because I've been using that same notebook throughout my entire career. Whenever I start a book, I simply open my notebook and scan the names I listed so long ago. I don't have to weed out the ones that don't feel romantic enough for me, because I did that when I created the notebook. Occasionally, I'll have to look up a new surname on the Internet or in a book if I need a character with a specific nationality, and sometimes I'll hear a name I like that isn't on my list and I'll add it to the notebook, but that's about as far as keeping the book up to date goes. Through more than 40 books my notebook has been sufficient for naming my  heroes and heroines. I don't use it for secondary characters, because I want to keep the lists relatively short.

5. After I finish a book, I circle the name I used with a colored pen or marker so that I know it's been used. And yes, I have used some first names twice (I note that next to the name) but only a couple of times. And I haven't used any more than twice. Yet.

This type of a system may not appeal to you. But, if you think this might make your life easier, go for it. And if you're looking for a book of surnames, here's a list of them on Amazon. Or check your local library. Or simply google surnames.

Happy name hunting!

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