A response to today’s daily prompt of Tender
I’ve been giving some careful consideration this week to the creation of characters, and the advice I could share on this.
Tender is a lovely word isn’t it. The tender loving care, devotion and gentle hands are conjured by its appearance on a page. It’s a beautiful description for a character and perhaps embodies a characteristic of personality trait we’d like to explore. However, I think it’s also how we tend to treat our characters – with caution. Your characters, once fully fledged start leaving the metaphorical nest and it’s hard to let them go. Harder still to let them crash to rock bottom. I for one, try to protect my characters. That doesn’t mean that I don’t let anything happen to them, but I always write in an escape hatch – a way out. A way to mitigate the dark circumstances. I can’t help but feel that maybe I shouldn’t – that they would be stronger characters with me hovering around with a parachute or eager to pick them up when they fall.
Enough musings for now – onto the serious business.
Character Creation – Names
(Because I’ve just realised how much there is to discuss around this topic – oh my)
I have a feeling that this part of my ‘writing advice’ series is going to take more posts than intended. That can only be a good thing – right?
Let’s start with the basics
Who is this character? Is it your main character, a supporting member of the cast, or a background extra?
If your answer is ‘Main protagonist,’ then carry on reading – if not, then I’m sure one day soon I’ll have information about the other types of character creation. Although, a lot of my advice is going to be very very similar…
Now, I struggle with names for my characters. Always have and probably always will unless I dive into a Tolkien-esq exploration of language and development. The problem with names, is that they mean so much!
Take Bob Brown as a name. What does it make you think of? It makes me think of someone maybe a bit boring, steady. I think of a middle-aged man and Brown – well it’s not an exciting colour is it. Those two simple words, two simple names come packed with associations we already have stuffed into our minds. What’s more, Bob Brown is alliteration, and when I see names like Bob Brown, Matt Murdock, Peter Parker – I think superhero.
Bob Brown – tax accountant by day, crime fighter by night?
Now transplant Bob Brown into a fantasy setting and hang on a minute. Do those two words have different associations in the world I am building? Brown – is it a colour of power? A symbol of status high or low? What if this is a civilisation where castes are allocated a colour. Brown could be the lowest of the low, Bob Brown could be rebelling against the absurdity of having your life mapped out because of your name and perhaps that is why he’s a super hero in this context?!
What if Bob is short for Roberta? Bob is a woman trying to gain her shield as a knight.
Looking at the history of the name, Bob from Wikipedia- It most likely originated from the hypocorism Rob, short for Robert.
According to Wikipedia – Robert is a Germanic name.
Now if Bob comes from Robert, and Robert is Germanic, and Bob is my main protagonist in this story – then how closely do I centre the rest of the names in the book on Germanic language? If Bob is the only Germanic name, and the rest has a basis in Hebrew or Polynesian culture – then there might be some jarring.
There are some very very useful name finders online. Baby name search tools are wonderful – and I love forming new words and names from a selection of meanings and finding a name that utterly embodies the personality I’m aiming for.
My advice is to investigate current languages and to play with them for your fantasy worlds. Once you get the name of your protagonist clear in mind, you’ll be naming cities, towns, forests, gorges and everything else that they encounter. If Bob is a stranger to those lands, then it makes perfect sense for his name to be of a different sound and origin. If this is where he was born and has lived his entire life – then his name should possibly be more common in the surroundings.
In The Poisoned Well, I have a character called Redston – A baron. Now, this has raised several questions, are the names of my nobility based on geological features, or is Redston a one off? What I’ve developed is Redston’s backstory, which may never feature in the book, but he is a man of the Northern Mountains. Mountains that are rich with Iron deposits which make them (surprisingly) red. His ancestors were born in the mountains and they carry the name of their heritage with pride. He is proud to be Redstone. However, times move and his own Barony is further to the South in Golden Fort. This may be a fairly simplistic way of naming and world building, but I feel that this small snippet of history has given Redston a feeling of Authenticity. There has been a change in his life, an arc of development that he has undergone – off screen or off page as it were.
What does Redston as a name tell you as well? Red – firey, passionate, red-headed? Stone – stubborn, forceful, slow to move? But the Stone is shortnened – meaning that there has been a development in his history, this is an old name because it’s been corrupted over time. Just like places called Little Town might now be Littleton.
What are you thoughts? How do you find names for your characters?