Character Names & Other Vital Stuff

Character Names & Other Vital Stuff

A Lesson by N. C. Matthews

What's in a name? A lot of backlash if you aren't careful.


Character Names & Other Vital Stuff

Ethereal - a short, red-headed and hot-tempered half-fey/half-human.  She can manipulate the elements, although doing so can send her into a coma for days on end.  She's an orphan, she has a smart mouth, she's perfectly happy being on her own and thinks she can do anything she sets her mind to.

Requiem - black-haired and blue-eyed vampire, tan skin, a smart-a*s in his own right.  Arrogant to the point of being a complete a*****e at times, he's smart and wants others to know he is smart.  As the Prince of the City, he runs his household with an iron fist and takes advantage of his power whenever he thinks that doing so will give him an advantage of the situation or person.

Stealth - of Japanese descent, long black hair and eyes so dark they appear black and glittery.  He was trained at young age to be a warrior, later recruited by the Vampire Council to be an assassin.  His origins and subsequent embracing are shrouded in mystery.  Incredibly smart but distant, seemingly to be cold-hearted to those who have not gotten to know him.

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When it comes to creating characters, everything about them, from their name right down to their personalities and dislikes, counts towards making them seem real and three-dimensional to your readers.  If you are going to introduce a character, even if he/she only has a short cameo spotlight in the story, then you are going to have to think about several things in order to make this character feel real.

1.  Feature Characteristics:  We all know that it is vital to know what your character is going to look like physically.  But try to go beyond the usual hair color, eye color, height and weight.  Is this person's nose slightly too large for the face?  Are they lean, athletic looking, heavily muscled?  If the character is female, is she curvy with rounded hips or does she look more like a young tom-boy?  What about their skin?  Is it soft or coarse, light or dark, are there prominent scars or freckles? 

2.  Personality Characteristics:  How does this character think, act, and speak?  Is he/she intelligent, a bit dim-witted, careless, arrogant, happy, depressed?  Is he/she obsessive, avoids human contact, or likes being around people?  How does he/she speak?  Does he/she use complete sentences, run-on sentences, fragmented sentences?  Does he/she have a large vocabulary or does he/she use slang terms?  How would they act in a specific situation?  Would a specific situation make this character angry, cause him/her to have a melt-down, or would he/she just take it in stride?

3.  Biography:  One very important thing that a lot of authors do not think about when it comes to creating a character is the history behind the character's life.  A biography is basically the "why" a character acts, speaks, and thinks the way that he/she does.  If the character is arrogant, there has to be some reason for this arrogance.  Perhaps the person was spoiled as a child.  If the character is depressed or withdrawn, maybe he/she was abused as a child.  Thinking about what happened to this character as he/she grew up will go a long way in helping to decide how he/she thinks, acts, speaks, and reacts in certain situations.

4.  Likes and Dislikes:  Another important concept that sometimes gets overlooked in character development is what the character likes and dislikes.  Thinking these things through will help determine how a character may react to specific situations and help the author avoid discrepancies in the storyline.

5.  Names:  Perhaps one of the most important things when it comes to character development is the names that the characters end up with.  Why?  Because a name is what gives the readers the very first impression of a character.  Whether you realize it or not, people have come to associate certain names with certain characteristics.  For instance, when you see the name "Lisa," what immediately comes to mind?  Often people will think of a tall, shapely blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman with full breasts and rounded hips.  If you want to contradict what people automatically think about when they see a name, you are going to have to work very hard at either making your character have a memorial personality or come up with such a unique name that it does not have any type of stigmata already attached to it.

One of the main problems that I encounter as a writer is my choice of incredibly odd names for my characters.  Since I write in the erotic fantasy, science fiction, and Gothic genres, I have a tendency of giving my characters really over-the-top names such as those at the beginning of this article.

If you are going to take a gamble on giving your characters some really unusual names, then you are going to have to be prepared for the backlash of opinions that will no doubt come from your readers.  The best way to head off a bad rap for your creativity is to have a reason why your character(s) got saddled with his/her/their name(s).  For instance, with my vampires, I already had the reason behind the vampires' names written into the storyline.  However, this reason was really only hinted at in the first novel.  I originally had planned to not fully disclose the reason behind their names until the second novel.  But I had such a huge backlash of people calling the names "stupid" and saying that I was "trying too hard" and using "clichéd" names that I went back and wrote in a section in the first book that explained how the vampires in my novel ended up with such over-the-top names. 

(For the record, the Vampire Council names them and they get their names according to what job they held while they apprenticed with the Council.  Stealth, for instance, was an assassin and "Stealth" had been a nickname given to him by his fellow assassins because he was so quiet.  When he was embraced, the name stuck and became his name even after he was embraced.)

Thinking your characters through as completely as possible will go a long way in making them seem real and three dimensional to your readers.  Even those characters who are only making a cameo appearance needs to at least have definable feature characteristics and personality traits that will set him/her apart from the other characters in the book/novel/story.  Bottom line, the more real your character feels to you, the more information you can give your readers and ultimately the more real the character will feel to your readers.

Read more articles on writing from an author with over twenty-eight years of writing experience.

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N. C. Matthews
N. C. Matthews

My pen name is Nicola Chey Matthews. I have been writing for over 28 years now. I first began writing when I was only five years old. I wrote my first novel at the age of 13, and had attempted 2 ot..