THE NAMES OF CHARACTERS
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF NAMES
I regard both the book title and the book name as being extremely important. I’m not talking in terms of sales—though it is important there too—but in the context of writing the book (the work bit).
That’s the part of the book business that really turns me on—though many consider it the most difficult. Well, it is—but it does!
Without a title, I find it virtually impossible to focus. Beyond that, a title sets the tone. Blood Chills probably won’t be a fairy story.
Difficult though it is to come up with a really good book title, my primary concern is to find the right names for my characters—and particularly for my main protagonists (my heroes, if you will). So far, I have only three:
- HUGO FITZDUANE—who is the main protagonist in four books to date.
- HARRY FREMONT—who, so far, features in only one, though I plan to use him again.
- ALEX FINN—who is more of an anti-hero. I really like him but haven’t yet come up with a follow-on tale.
Where Hugo was concerned, I picked the first name of a good friend of mine, Hugh O’Donnell, and then made up the second. I took ‘Fitz’ from Fitzgerald, and then added ‘Duane’ from a business connection because I looked the look of it. I still do, but it was a debatable choice because people mispronounce it. I think and pronounce it ‘DWANE’ but some of my readers seem to think of it as ‘DOO-AN.’ Just to make life even more confusing, Duane is also pronounced DWANNE in Ireland (at times).
Dear oh dear! Still, I’m not going to change it now.
Harry Fremont came fairly easily. Harry is the first name of my friend, Harry Cartland, a nuclear scientist whom I first met in Livermore when I went to see their supergun being shot. And Fremont comes from the explorer. I thought of spelling it ‘FREEMONT’ to make it reader-proof, but I prefer the look of the shorter version, and the California associations.
As for Alex Finn, I have always liked the name ‘Alex’ and I ran across ‘Finn’ by chance. He actually has two names because he is a writer. His pen name is Jack Finnian.
I normally think of my principal characters first and let the story evolve from there. In fact, Fitzduane existed for years before I found Hangman (literally, as you will know). However, I’m now working on a book where I have had the story for years, but not a lead character.
How is that possible?
Now I am working to remedy that rather fundamental omission. Of course, I have long known what my protagonist does—he is an Army general—but now he is beginning to have a name, the story is leaping forward—almost of its own volition.
I say “beginning to have a name” because I have come up with a surname I’m happy with, but not a first name.
If all this sounds like a fuss over nothing—after all any telephone directory (remember those?) will give you a list of perfectly good names.—all I can say is that it’s important to me. Further, I suspect the process of thinking of a name helps me with the development of the character.
The trouble with using the name of a real person is that there is a danger of confusing the real person with one’s fictional character. In fact, that is what led me to evolve Fitzduane. That said, I seem to be over that hump now. I guess my ability to focus on a story has improved.
When I first started, I used to forget the names of my subsidiary characters which could be damnably confusing. Hugo’s girlfriend would start off as ‘Mary’ and then by page 93, she would have become ‘Diana.’
Talk about an identity crisis!
Now, I still forget names but am a little more disciplined and organized so I keep a master list and, if in doubt, I look it up—if I remember that I have a list.
A really good name should be”
- Be pronounceable in only one way
- Be evocative.
- Not be that of a real person.
- Be no longer than it needs to be
- Have no dominant associations.
- Not be too generic
Do I always follow my own rules?
Of course not. I’m a writer. We’re not exactly known for following rules unless they involve either spelling or grammar.
VOR words 748.