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Name That Character!

This post was inspired by a post on the Second Wind Word Press page, by Pat Bertram.  In it, she talks about how a character name shows a lot about the character.  I started this as a comment to her, but it got too long, so I moved it here.  Dellani

I believe a name tells a lot about a character.  One can be as obvious as “Young Goodman Brown” or as subtle as Duncan Chandler.  The reason I cite the latter as an example is because he is one of my characters whose name represents two distinct facets of his personality.  Duncan means “Dark Warrior”.  He is the son of the protagonist, himself a dark warrior (both in aspect and action).  Duncan is looked upon as a warrior, the next generation.  Chandler means “Light Bringer”.  The reason I chose this name is because he is also looked upon as the new hope, the one to fight the darkness and evil that threaten.

That got me interested in other names that I’ve used in the same series:

Matilda (Duncan’s mother) “Fierce in Battle”

Wilhelm (his father) “Determined Protector”

Marcus (his paternal uncle) “Of Mars – Warlike”

Rebbecca (Marc’s wife) “Enchantingly Beautiful”

Benjamin (his older brother) “Of the Right Hand”

Emmelia (Ben’s wife and Chairman of the Board of the Mining Guild) “Work”

Except for Duncan’s name, which I looked up and chose carefully, all these names were given by chance.  But looking at their personalities, the names fit them incredibly well.  Matilda, his mother, is a warrior and as fierce as her husband in a battle.  Wil protects his family, friends, and those who fight with him.  Marc is also a true warrior and his wife, Rebbecca, is beautiful.  Ben is his father’s right hand, his wife Emmelia is one of the hardest working women in the galaxy.

My readers will probably never know the meanings behind the names, nor why I find them significant, but I found it an interesting way of fleshing them out.

Creating a Character Sketch

Writers new and old sometimes have trouble finding a place to start. We are full of all kinds of ideas, and jot them down in an effort to keep track of them. Getting these ideas into a cohesive whole can be trying. As an A.P. English teacher, I had to take high school students into the unstable world of creative writing. It was a scarey trip for all of us! I used several exercises both for these journeys and for less creative projects.

One thing I had them do was a character sketch. Sometimes the character was from a book we were reading, others were character types I gave them and they had to write a description. I do not claim to be an expert at anything but my own little world, but I have found a few ways to get fourteen through seventeen year olds to write. I’ve incorporated the same exercises for myself, so I know they work for adults as well.

Pick a character you want to develop but are having trouble getting hold of:

Start by giving him or her a name.

Decide on his age.

Hair color. (Include facial hair)

Eye color.

Skin type and color.

What he wears.

What he carries.

His voice and manner of speaking.

Does he have pets? Do animals even like him?

Does he live alone? Where does he live?

Is he healthy?

Is he a good person or an evil one?

Does he like people or does he shun their society?

How does he travel?

Habits

Example:

Tom the Magician -all right it’s not very creative, but he’s got a name! None of this is written in stone. A better name can be given to him later.

Age: He is ancient.

Hair color: His hair is pure white and he has a long white beard.

Eyes: His eyes are piercing blue.

Skin type & color: His skin is pale and like parchment.

Clothing: He wears a black woolen robe that is in tatters.

What he carries: He carries a gnarled staff.

Voice: His voice is a deep baritone. He tends to stutter.

Does he have pets: He has an old Greyhound and an Irish Wolfhound who share his cave.

Does he have family: He has no family.

Where does he live: In a cave in the mountains.

Health: He doesn’t take care of himself and tends to cough a lot.

Good or Evil: He’s a good man, but not a terribly good magician. He has a bad memory and makes mistakes in his spells.

How does he travel: He doesn’t travel because he’s made himself so unpopular with his botched spells that he doesn’t dare go far from home.

Habits: having been alone so long, he talks to himself.

Once you have gotten the sketchy details you can flesh him out and think about where he is, what he’s doing, where he’s going, who he’s with. Do a basic Who, What, When, Why, How like a journalist, only you don’t use journalistic jargon. Read through your character sketch and make changes until you are satisfied with it. This process can be done for any character you create.

One thing I always keep in mind, my characters have an existence of their own. They make their own decisions, go their own way, and do what they want. Remain flexible, today’s villain may be tomorrow’s hero!