Wednesday, January 21, 2015

You Named him What? Crafting Character Names

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of reading a savvy blog post listing the do's and don’ts for the romance writer. The blog was serious but presented in a tongue in cheek manner. It had me busting a gut with laughter because I’d seen those very things done in the romance novels I read.

There was one thing missing from this list that not only needs to be brought to light but needs to be put at an end. Authors, can we please, for the love of all that you believe in, stop coming up with outrageous names for your characters? In most instances, the names are annoying but a few days ago I stumbled across two male character names that were so off putting I set the book aside and haven’t resumed reading it.

Somewhere along the way, authors got the idea that every character needs an exotic or unique name. No doubt they picked this advice up from some writer’s assistance book or website that said giving characters outlandish names would make the readers remember them as well as the book and the author. Maybe it will, but is that a good thing?

I don’t recall the name of the book or the author where I recently saw such offensive character names, but the names are burned into my memory. For some reason, the author named her male lead Tox and his best friend, Coin. These men were firefighters living in California both of whom were born and raised in the United States. They weren’t from another planet or another country. They were intended to reflect men you might meet in real life.

What’s wrong with giving your characters normal names? I’d much rather read about Ben and Jessica caught up in the throes of passion than Tox and Luby. And no, the author who named Tox didn’t have a female named Luby in her books. Oddly enough, the women were given nice, normal names of Grace and Samantha, making me wonder why she felt the need to brand the men with such terrible monikers.

The only time I want to see characters with obscure names is when it fits the story. If the characters live on planet Zargon then I would expect them to have exotic names. If the strange name is key to the plot then by all means use it. For example, if the guy is named Coin because his grandfather was a coin collector and found a rare coin the day he was born and thought it was a good omen it would fit. If the story is set in the 1800’s Hunter and Tanner are not likely to be names popular during this time and should be avoided.

Naming the characters is up to the writer, but writers please do us all a favor. Stop worrying so much about giving your characters far out names and concentrate more on the plot and storytelling. As long as the story is well written and engaging, I’ll be fine with reading about plain old boring Joe Smith.

Anytime I stop reading a book to say, 'His name is what?', I'm likely to set that book aside in favor of another.

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