Weekly Writer Wisdom: July 18, 2017

(Look for this week’s #WeeklyWriterWisdom questions after the jump.)

This Week’s Questions: How important are names of characters, locations, etc. to you in your writing? Do you choose fitting names as soon as you begin, or use temporary ones until the right choice(s) come along? Do you like to choose symbolic names? Which books have you read that highlight the importance of names?

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13 thoughts on “Weekly Writer Wisdom: July 18, 2017

  1. I mostly adapt place names, many in and around where I live. So if I become famous my fans can guess where I live. And steal the street signs with the names of their favorite characters…

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  2. Names are incredibly important to me – though I have had to change some in the past when I’ve got them wrong – thank goodness for FIND & REPLACE! Also placenames – I put a lot of effort and thought into those and they normally mean something special.

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    • Same here. I like it when names not only fit the place / culture / time period, but also the character in a symbolic way. The same goes for names of places, too.

      I’m having a little fun with some names in the new WIP, though. Since the setting is a fictional place based on a real-life location, I’ve decided to throw in some “Easter eggs” by naming certain streets, character surnames, etc. as appropriate after musical artists or songs I’ve been listening to while writing it. Example: There is a Leland Street in the story, named after Guilt Machine’s song “Leland Street.” 😉

      And I agree – I don’t know what I’d do without “Find and Replace,” because I’ve run into similar name changes before, too. It’s a godsend, isn’t it? (F&R, not the name-changing. *lol*)

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  3. The name becomes part of the character, so no, I never change it once a character makes it to the page. I have had a name change from the planning stage to the writing stage. In my current novel, my protagonist’s name during planning was Kaitlyn, and it’s not all that different now. But from the first time I wrote it in the story, her name had an extra n at the end. I realized the error after a short time but also realized that the second n was right for the character. And the handful of times I’d written it up to that point it were spelled the same. My characters refuse to be defined by me. They write their own story, and the second the initial misspelling occurred she took on a personality and became a vivid, lively character. I understand why some authors change character names, but for me, changing the name or even the spelling would change their identity and I feel the new name would no longer fit the character in the story.
    I like to keep two lists, one for first names and one for last. When I hear a name or read a name I like, I add it to a list, never taking both someone’s first and last name. It prevents me from getting stuck when it comes time to name a character.

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    • I won’t change a character’s name after a certain point, too. It’s typically in the beginning, as I’m still getting to know the character, that I might go back and forth on the first or last name (or both). That’s happened with a couple of the supporting characters I’m still acquainting myself with in my new WIP. I put in “placeholder” names temporarily, then when I started asking questions about each girl, I realized their original names no longer fit. Now I like their true names so much, I wouldn’t dream of changing either one again. Like you said, those new names have become part of their identity, especially now that I’ve gotten to know each girl better.

      I like your story about Kaitlynn’s name. (That’s how it’s spelled now, correct?) It’s funny, what our characters teach us about themselves as we follow them, right?

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      • Yes, that’s how you spell Kaitlynn’s name now. Characters always surprise me with the strength of their presence when I’m not expecting it. Sometimes they come on the page quietly and develop through the story, but when they come on strong from the beginning that’s when they catch me by surprise. Or when they become something other than what I’d planned. In that moment, I realize it’s so right, but that my plan has been blown out of the water.

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  4. I named my young protagonist and his younger brother Jimmy and Charlie Fort, after James Fort and Charles Fort, which are 17th-century forts in Kinsale, about 20 miles from where I live, and named after James III and Charles II, also brothers, the last Stuart kings. Place names often seem to have a natural ring to them.

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  5. Sometimes I change names later on but often it’s the first one because I usually search for a name until I get an instinct that it sticks. Though I have had one character that’s had several name changes. -_- He’s indecisive.


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  6. I pretty much always feel I need to have the right names. For some minor characters or short stories, I don’t care that much, but for novels the main characters have to “sound right”. I usually don’t go for very symbolic meanings, though I do sometimes sneak in a bit of fun, especially with Polish. In one of my short stories, the sea witch’s name is Morska, and in Polish it means “marine”, “of the sea” (or “sea” as adjective: sea water, and so on). In one of my novels, the main character’s name is Veelk which would be pronounced the same way as Polish “wilk” (wolf). I don’t do that often, but every now and then I have fun with it. Same for my contemporary fantasy set in Ireland: I wanted a “strictly Polish” name for my Polish immigrant main character that at the same time would be easy for English readers. “Kaja” (in Polish it’s pronounced “kaa-yaa”) seemed a good choice.

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    • I like the name Kaja. 🙂 And your methodologies for naming different characters, and how they differ depending on the story, make a lot of sense. It’s important for names to be culturally fitting, but also relatively easy for an English-speaking audience to pronounce.

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