Thursday, June 18, 2009

Character

I love to write. It’s my passion. It’s what I do when I’m bored in class. It’s what I do when I should be listening in church. It’s what I want to do when I’m doing homework. To me it’s even more than a passion, though, it’s a calling. It’s something that I was made to do.

I live and breathe books, but even more than that I live and breathe story. I love everything about story. I love to read story. I love to watch story. I love to live story. And as a part of that I love character. My mom constantly tells me, “You know it’s not real, right?” but to me it is real. I love to look at the psychology behind why characters act the way they do and I love to think about how they would react in different situations. To some they may just be words on a page, but to me they’re actual beings with feelings and emotions and if those feelings and emotions are unrealistic, I end up disliking the book.

I recently read a book in which the main character was a real odd-ball and at some points there was some hinting that there was something in her childhood that made her that way, and I kept waiting to find out what it was, because if she didn’t have an excuse for being weird I couldn’t accept that she was weird. And when the excuse never came I found that I resented the character because she was just weird for no reason and I was disappointed.

Naming a character is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and one of the easiest. Sometimes characters come with names—like the character Michael Roe Waves, whose father thought it was funny to name his poor unsuspecting child after a household appliance—and other times you have to hunt one down. I recently discovered that a character I’d spent eight months writing didn’t have a last name and now I’m in trouble because I need to give her one, but picking last names is even harder than picking first names.

You want your name to reflect the character of your character, but if it’s too straight forward, e.g. the hard hearted landlord who is going to throw out the poor single mother of four unless she agrees to be his mistress being named Clay Stone borders on being allegorical, not to mention a bit ridiculous.

And then sometimes you find the perfect name and even then you’re not able to use it. I have a character who is a former stay-at-home-mother of two (or three – I don’t remember at the moment), who finds all of her children have gone to college, leaving her a bit at loose ends. She finds a job as an office manager helping two twenty-something women in their business. I had a very specific character in mind and not just any name was going to work.

I thought long and hard and finally decided that Janine was the perfect name for this character, that is until I was 150 pages into the book and realized that in my main characters alone I had Jenna, Jake and Jordan and adding another fairly prominent “J” name was just too much for any poor reader to try to keep straight. So I had to go back on the name hunt to try to find another non-“J” name for my wonderful secretary that gave off the same impression that this name did. I finally settled on Dorothy (probably because that was the name of the office manager where I worked and she was pretty much my inspiration for the character –Thanks Dorothy!).

I also like my names to mean something sometimes, so I find baby names websites really useful. My favorite is BabyNames.com. It’s cool because it has lots of names from lots of places and the names are coded: pink for girls, blue for boys and green for unisex. You can also save names that you want to use later and things like that.

2 comments:

  1. I love when you discover the motivation for a character! It's the best and really is necessary for proper development of the character and story alike. In the case of Brennan she just wants to belong to something in society and you get that every episode between her and Booth.

    p.s. thanks for not naming her Janine, that would have not been fun :P

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  2. For those who don't watch Bones... that's what show GG's talking about :P

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