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One of the many smaller pleasures of writing fiction is the fun to be derived from choosing the names that your characters will carry with them from the cradle to the grave - and in some cases, beyond the grave.  There’s a lot of joy in nailing down the perfect name for your maverick cop/cerebral private detective/vampire overlord/super-soldier from Planet Zap, and just as much amusement in bestowing the names of people you dislike upon the seedy/degenerate/evil characters currently paddling around in the shallow end of your WIP’s gene pool. 

But the truth is that the more you write, the more characters you bring into the world, the more difficult it is to satisfactorily name them.

You could use any name at all, of course, but it’s always better to find the right one, isn’t it?  In the first place, a character without an appropriate name is a character without a face, and in the second, it’s difficult to write clearly or well without the handy peg of a name to hang your narrative on − all that ‘he/she/him/her’ business can get confusing for a reader, especially if there’s a few characters involved and a lot of action.

So sometimes, while waiting for inspiration, you just have to plough on through with a handy working alternative in order for the book to move on, and for those moments when the names don’t come easily, I have developed several strategies that have served me well over the years.

I have, for example, written stories where the members of criminal gangs have been named by letters of the alphabet until almost the final draft:

‘A turned the gun on B, and while B was turning this alarming development over in what passed for his mind, C came up behind him and kicked his legs away.’

I have also assigned characters names according to their function in the story:

‘THUG#1 pushed DOC#2 back against the wall and NURSE#1 started to scream.’

In yet other stories, HARRY, RON, and HERMIONE became involved in a steamy ménage à trios that resulted in an orgy of blood, mayhem, and death, while getaway driver TOM experienced a phenomenally bad trip on experimental drugs as his partners in crime, DICK and HARRY, burgled a rich man’s house.  Elsewhere, married suburban couple LAUREL & HARDY decided to wage war upon their hated rival neighbours, ABBOT & COSTELLO, while spooky LARRY, CURLY and MO did something unspeakable with BARBIE, SINDY, and KEN.

I have also been known to turn to outside sources for inspiration – chiefly I’m referring to those august publications, the phone book and the TV guide.  Pick up the TV guide, flick through the pages, stop at random, choose a forename at random – then pick up the phone book, and repeat the process for the surname.  This approach has a double benefit, in that not only is it quick and easy, it can also throw up some really unexpected combinations, and, occasionally, startling and poetically apt ones, too.  Try it and find out.

Naturally, it doesn’t always work out quite as well as it might, and then you tend to write stories where the characters have names like BRAD H PREPARATION and ANGELINA WALMART, but one way or another it all works out.

Anyone have other ideas on naming characters?


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