Tag Archives: character

Naming a Character

The most unforgettable fictional characters begin as a glimmer in the author’s mind. Only in writing the novel does the character go on to acquire the dimensions that will make him or her live in the imagination of the reader years after the book has been read.

Sherlock Holmes, Captain Ahab, Huckleberry Finn, Jo March, Dorothea Brooke linger in our memories as if they were real people we have known.

These examples are all from the English classics, but even the writer whose ambitions focus on something less monumental than Moby Dick or Middlemarch needs to give adequate thought to the principal character/s who will carry the story, whether it’s a light mystery, a romance, or a middle school adventure.

The place to begin is with the character’s name.

Some writers, in a hurry to start that first draft, will tack the first name that comes to mind on the main character, intending to come up with a better name “later on.”

Bad idea.

A purely practical objection is the danger that the substitute name will creep into a few paragraphs in the completed draft, creating embarrassment for the author and confusion in the reader.

A more important reason to begin with the most appropriate name is that the name is part of the character’s persona and can inform the developing action. The right name can also send a subliminal message to the reader. Take the name Atticus Finch.

The antique Roman name Atticus suggests formality and is imbued with connotations of law and justice. Finch is the name of a harmless bird and, as such, reflects the title of the book, To Kill a Mocking Bird. Harper Lee may or may not have been aware of the useful qualities of the finch as a destroyer of weeds and harmful insects, but Atticus Finch lives in our memories as a dignified representative of the law doing what he can to protect the social garden from destructive influences.

The very letters in a name can connote characteristics. The k sound suggests strength and courage. Consider: James T. Kirk, Kinsey Millhone, Alex Cross, Brother Caedfal, Kate Beckett.

Other sounds, like those of h and r and the vowels, can suggest such characteristics as weakness, hypocrisy, and—sometimes—evil. Consider: Iago, Humbert Humbert, Professor Moriarty, Dorian Gray, Uriah Heep.

A combination of strong and weak sounds can produce a name that suggests a multi-layered character who possesses strength and courage, together with a willingness to use others to their advantage. Consider: Becky Sharp, Scarlett O’Hara.

The sounds of l and n may suggest sexiness or feminine weakness: Ulalume, Lolita, Annabelle Lee, Anna Karenina.

And, finally, it’s possible to incorporate a suggestive word in the name of a character. Holly GoLightly’s name contains the sexy l ‘s, together with a word that conveys her unconscionable view of life. Bigger Thomas, born in different circumstances, could have had a bigger, better fate. Edward Murdstone has a heart of stone and a murky disposition. Sam Spade digs ploddingly for information, while Mike Hammer gets what he’s after by any means necessary.

Before you get too far into that first draft, take the time to give your protagonist the right name.

 From: Daily Writing Tips

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Book Talk vs. Book Review

A book talk in the broadest terms is what is spoken with the intent to convince someone to read a book. Book talks are traditionally conducted in a classroom setting for students; however, book talks can be performed outside a school setting and with a variety of age groups as well. It is not a book review, a book report, or a book analysis.

The book talker gives the audience a glimpse of the setting, the characters, and/or the major conflict without providing the resolution or denouement. Book talks make listeners care enough about the content of the book to want to read it. A long book talk is usually about five to seven minutes long and a short book talk is generally less than a minute long.

On the other hand, a book review is a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review. Books can be reviewed for printed periodicals, magazines and newspapers, as schoolwork, or for book web sites on the Internet. A book review’s length may vary from a single paragraph to a substantial essays. Such a review may evaluate the book on the basis of personal taste. Reviewers may use the occasion of a book review for a display of learning or to promulgate their own ideas on the topic of a fiction or non-fiction work.

There are two approaches to book reviewing:
• Descriptive reviews give the essential information about a book. This is done with description and exposition, by stating the perceived aims and purposes of the author, and by quoting striking passages from the text.
• Critical reviews describe and evaluate the book, in terms of accepted literary and historical standards, and supports this evaluation with evidence from the text. The following pointers are meant to be suggestions for writing a critical review.

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Seven rules for writing fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them, so the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

– Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.


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What Is a Character Arc?

A character arc is a fancy way of explaining how a character changes throughout the course of a story. The arc can be physical or emotional, and it doesn’t have to be major, but you want your main characters, especially your protagonist, to experience some sort of change along the journey that is your novel. If your readers get to the end of your book and think “She didn’t learn anything! He’s still so selfish! No one matured at all!” you probably didn’t tell a very interesting story. You want your readers to think the opposite. “Wow! She finally grew up! He learned that hard work does pay! They got what they deserved!” Character arcs satisfy readers, and satisfied readers come back for future books – and tell their friends.

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