What’s in a Name?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If there is one thing I struggle with more than anything else in writing, it’s naming my characters. I can’t explain it, I just get a mental block. With very few exceptions, I don’t think I’m ever fully happy with the names I give them. Sometimes it just falls into place like it did with Henrietta Hedgekin. BUT, what people don’t know (and I am about to reveal) is that originally, Ben was called Billy. I was about half way through the story when I decided to change it. Billy and Tilly just didn’t seem to work like I wanted it to. I mean, if you have twins, you’re unlikely to call them something like that, right? And yes, I get the irony in talking about realistic names in a book that includes a shapeshifting broom with with handlebars. It does kind of highlight the point though. In a world containing the fantastic, you need the regular, everyday things as well. If you do decide on a name change halfway through though, make sure you pay extra attention when your editing after the first draft. A find and replace function will help with what you’ve already written, but it won’t help with what is still to come. And after using the original for so long it is very easy to slip back without realizing.

So going back to coming up with names. I’m going to stick with Henrietta because it has a good blend of regular names and completely made up names. In fact, there is a naming convention that I decided to put in place which has helped a great deal. All the witches in this world have pretty regular first names. The magic comes from their surname. Hedgekin is a reference to being a Hedge Witch (I’ll let you guys look into that). In book 2 we meet Henrietta’s friend, Amanda Moonstar. Regular, everyday firstname; magical based surname. Having a convention such as this can be a huge help when world building. Remember, it’s your world and your rules.

The naming problem isn’t just a thing that plagues the rank amateurs like myself. And having a naming style is definitely nothing new. Probably the most famous comes from Marvel comics and from the late, great Stan Lee himself. Notice how many Marvel characters first and last names start with the same letter:

  • Peter Parker (Spider-Man)
  • Steven Strange (Doctor Strange)
  • Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic)
  • J Jonah Jameson (Oh come on!)

The reason behind this, as admitted by Stan Lee himself, is that he is terrible with names. Both coming up with and remembering. By creating a simple rule of having the first letters be the same, it makes the creation of names a lot simpler.

So the next time you’re struggling with naming characters in your WIP, try coming up with a naming style that works for you. Even if you only use it for that one story, it will make things a lot simpler and be one less hurdle to overcome.

Hook, Line and…Stinker?

One of the most important jobs we have as writers is to make sure that we grab the readers interest right from the get go. The second, of course, being that we keep that interest throughout. But without that initial hook, the latter becomes redundant.

We really, really want to avoid this.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

So how quickly do you need to get that hook in?

Some schools of thought say it should be the very first sentence. That’s when you need to grab the reader. Personally I’m not a big fan of this method. Yes, your opening line is important, but should you rely on that one sentence to carry the burden of everything that follows? In my opinion it’s too much pressure. It also increases the chances of the dreaded purple prose.

It was a dark and stormy night.

Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

We all know that one. It is probably one of the most derided openings in the history of literature.

My own preference is that the first page should be the hook. Maybe even that entire first chapter or the prologue if that is how the story is structured. But that first page will allow you to set the feel of the prose. You can go into more detail and give your audience a richer insight. What we want them to do is to want to look beyond that opening. To turn the page and become invested. You can have the greatest opening line ever penned but if the rest of that page doesn’t match up to that standard, they will lose their interest very quickly. A narrative is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember, no one turns the page after the first sentence.

You have the space to build your opening. Use it wisely.