Monday, February 3, 2014

EZ Ways to Name Your Characters

The other night, a novel writing student was nonplussed to reveal that the name of one of his characters, meaningful to the writer, was now also the name of a major fast food chain. "My cousin was named that," Writer lamented. "But now it sounds silly."
Writing Tip for Today: When you name your characters, what are some tips to keep in mind?

  • Avoid the Rhymes. Besides sounding a bit silly, character names that rhyme, begin with the same letter or sound similar can confuse or amuse the reader in unintended ways. My first novel once had a secondary character named Tiny (he was a large man) who kept a pet potbelly pig named Jaime (pronounced Hi-me). They sounded silly together, so I changed the pig's named to Jim. If your secondary characters' names rhyme, begin with the same letter or are similar in sound, you are injecting confusion into your story. Look through your manuscript and try to vary the letter each name begins with, as well as checking for rhymey or similar-sounding names.
  • Keep Supporting Cast Small. If you insist on populating your story with a large cast of characters, consider making some composite characters to represent a larger group. The more names you add to the story, the more attention you divert from your Main Character. Don't let these secondary or even minor characters upstage your protagonist. And when you do get them onstage, don't dump them all at once. Let your reader get used to new characters for a scene or two before adding yet another character.
  • Keep Some No-names. The usual advice is that in general, a minor character who has no speaking part in your story should remain identified only by his or her role. Thus, a gas station attendant seen only once in the story should remain the "gas station guy," not "Mr. Stewart Magillicuddy over at the gas station." By relegating some minor characters to "no-name" status, you help the reader attend to your main characters in a more engaging and committed way.


  1. Good information in here. I appreciate it. Thanks, Linda.

  2. Your second point is just what I couldn't put my finger on in something I read lately! Good job.

    1. Susan, I have read some stories where the colorful supporting cast is more interesting than the Protag. A shame, really. Keep Writing! ~Linda