What’s in a name?

Please name your characters.

Maybe that sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how easy it is to go into “movie mode” around minor characters, so that you have “Man in the Street 1,” “Man in the Street 2,” and “Woman with Shopping Cart.” Naming characters is dual-purpose: it breathes more life into your characters, and it makes it easier to write about them.

When you’re writing, the setting is an important part of what makes the story live and breathe for your readers. Minor characters are part of that setting. Sometimes, all we need to know is that there are people on the street–and that’s fine, you don’t need to name each and every one. But if your character is going to stop and talk to someone she knows, we should learn that person’s name. If your character is going to stop and talk to someone she doesn’t know for any length of time, it’s not unlikely that there would be introductions. Every little detail about minor characters gives them greater dimensionality; you don’t need to give them the same status major characters have, but you don’t want your setting populated by cardboard cutouts pretending to be people, either. A name is a really easy detail to give.

By naming your minor characters, you also make your own life easier. There are only so many times you can say “the man,” “the man in the blue jacket,” “the old man,” etc. before it becomes very awkward in narration. It’s far better to give the character a name as soon as is realistic within the parameters of the story, because all of a sudden you’re not fumbling for a description for that person. You can just call her by name.

As an added tip, if you think we might see the character again later in the book, put the character’s name into a list or a spreadsheet so you don’t accidentally change it halfway through the book. For bonus “make your editor happy” points, consider adding her distinguishing characteristics to the list–especially if you’re one of those writers who has written so many books you start to lose track of who has blue eyes and who has brown. *g*

originally posted at The Editor’s Pen


About April L'Orange

April L'Orange is a hard-working editor and author of science fiction and fantasy. She began life as a terribly serious little old woman and has been growing younger ever since. When she's not writing, she can often be found painting bits of her house or beating back the yard with a machete. She and her husband currently live in upstate New York, where they are owned by three cats and the Squirrel Mafia. She's published short stories in anthologies available from Escape Collective Press and Pink Narcissus Press. For more information, please visit aprillorange.wordpress.com.

Posted on October 3, 2011, in continuity, Mechanics. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Excellent post, April!! It’s amazing how someone is becomes alive when you give them a name 🙂

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