"At times I think my coffee and tea addictions truly drive my artistic energy. It’s a small sacrifice for the greater good."

Character Naming Further Explination

Posted: 5/4/09 | Written by Jeannie | Labels: ,

Over at Fivedotnerds there has been a lot of talk about my viewpoint on character naming. Apparently I don't do things that are normal. Who knew! Well as a counterpoint I'm filming today the rebuttal. But I thought I would put up the transcript here for you all to read.

Almost everything I write is character driven. They are the tools that move the story forwards, backwards, sideways – whatever direction that the story needs to go. Bottom line, characters make the story. Though, I personally don’t feel that names in the beginning of crafting a story matters mainly because the writer is creating the individual. Yes in real life people are named usually before birth. We are given a name that is filled with hope, imagination, or nostalgia by our parents. And yes, dependent on how we are raised our brain chemistry we could become either a good or a bad person. However, when we as writers create we have an idea of who the character is. What they are going to do, are those things dependent on the name of a character? Could Miss Parker from the Pretender be Peter Parker’s mother? Would Spiderman be different? As writer’s we have the unique opportunity to change people’s perspective by creating characters that are memorable and well rounded.

In college we had a writing exercise that I loved and really it influenced my thought process now on character building. We would have to write a 500-1000 word description of an individual without using a name. When we used real people, at the end the class had to guess who the person was. It was amazing how by just describing actions, personalities, environment, temperament, all the external factors that influenced the person – the class could guess who our person was.
Take for example the second son born to a Joseph in Brookline, Massachusetts. His mother was the oldest child from a prominent family in Boston. He attended public school continued on to a catholic school, but had to withdraw from catholic school after having an appendectomy. This description could be 100’s of children but once you append the initials JFK, it changes. Would it have made a difference if John F. Kennedy was never president? If he was never shot? The initials JFK are only memorable because of the character he became. Writers are trying to craft characters that are memorable to start with.

I am by no means downplaying the importance of a character’s name in a story. After all without memorable character names there would be no Juliet, no Jane Eyre, no Margo Spiegelman. What I am trying to say is that if a name is blocking you from writing the story that you want to tell, put in a place holder. Once your story is completed, or your description of the character is done – you will have a name. It might be the same as your placeholder, or it might be something completely different. But in the end, you will have a character that is a fundamental tool in your storytelling; a character that is flushed out and complex that really, you couldn’t see them being named as anything else.