How The Heck Do You Name Your MC?

So, you have a great story. A plot that’ll throw readers out of their seats. A main set of characters that are relatable and funny and unique. A twisted villain that straddles the line between true darkness and having a reason why they’re doing their evil deeds. You might even have a title for this masterpiece. But then you stop and realize: you don’t have a name for your main characters. What are you supposed to call them? What name would hold the mantle of the story? What should the minor characters shout as they claim victory?

Some authors have no issues finding the right name for their characters. Some authors spend days or months trying to find the right one. I belong in the “days or months” category. It takes me ages to figure out a name that I like, but because of that I’ve developed a set of tools that helps me. Maybe you could use those tools, too? Here are three ways I discover my character names like the ones in my Cicatrix Duology:

Try To Determine What They Represent In The Story
This is an old technique but I use it all the freaking time. Is your character brave? Strong? Shifty? Honorable? Scary, maybe? I used this for both my Across the Stars business owner Cassidy Gates and the big baddies Acedians (not a single character but are important enough they are a single big-bad entity). I knew Cassidy would be smart and independent and more clever than Mia, she’d be able to see through Mia’s ruse in a way no one else could, so I researched those traits and found her name. For the Acedians, I wanted to reflect their last stage, where the human part of them is taken away and they’re basically a shell for Donavin’s use. Adecia means “apathetic” and worked perfectly.

Pick Them Because Of An Inside Joke
Now don’t walk away from this or scoff. It’s a weird way of thinking, but my spaceship captain Mia Foley falls into this category. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to name her, and originally it had been Maria but then I kept on thinking of the song from Sound of Music and kept humming “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria” in my head whenever her name came up. (Spoiler: In the two books, her name comes up a lot.) It wasn’t working out. So I thought about her story, about her past, her capture, her running, her always trying to stay one step ahead. And then it hit me, she literally tried to be M.I.A. (missing in action) after blowing up every ship. I realize it’s not the standard military way of using it (where it explains a missing person after a battle) but she tried to disappear. It made me chuckle and when I wrote her name in the story, it just worked.

Try One Of Those Name Generators
I really enjoy combing through the random name generators to find unique names for my characters – like Nin, who you’ll meet in Losing Hold. I never use the actual names that pop up but I like combining certain vowel sounds I see and figure out if it works, especially for last names or fantasy names.

Those are my tricks of the trade. What are some of yours? Leave a comment!

Hope you’re having a lovely Easter (if you celebrate) and a lovely Sunday (if you don’t)!
Warm regards,
Kellie

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Holidays (and what they can teach us)

Time slowly draws near to the holidays, decorating the trees with ornaments and tinsel, the houses with lights and colors, and the hearts and souls of people with that special kind of joy. Personally, I celebrate Christmas, but my friends celebrate in many other ways ranging from Hanukkah to Yule and not one is type of celebration is more important than the other. What is important, though, is family. Spending time with family, friends and loved ones is what this winter season is all about. I honestly believe that.

Another thing I believe is that in order to create a truly believable character you need to incorporate friends and family. You don’t need to invent a new holiday in your story to do so (although, who would say no to a Beat the Bots day or a Moon Gathering?) but you should, at the very least, introduce your readers to the presence of family and friends.

Family can be involved in the character’s life in many different ways. It can be something as vague as mentioning them in passing, as simple as a flashback, or as direct as having the readers encounter them in person at some point. But regardless if the main character’s parents are dead, living, or something in between, they have structured your character, they are important to them, and they should be addressed as such at one point or another.

Friends should also be involved in the character’s life. Even that stereotypical loner guy has one person (or animal or being of some sort) they call a friend. Side-stories and subplots can come from these friendships – the quest for the girl or guy, the fight breaking out in the corroder, the brunch in the café. It’s good to round out your main character with the people who regularly surround them.

See, instead of focusing on one or two (or five?) characters, you need a whole world of them. You don’t need to introduce them all, of course, but, just like I would never know everyone in my world but I do know a few, your characters should know a few as well.

That’s one thing I’m missing in my NaNoNovel – yes, I’m still working on it! Almost complete actually, with the first draft at least.  – I couldn’t believe when I got to the 5th chapter from the end and had not yet added a solid friend (or even a peripheral one) to one of my main characters.  My entire work had shrunk into three people. Three people! There is an entire world to work with and my focus narrowed down to my main characters. Hence this being only my first draft.

It’s okay to do that, though, okay incorporate more characters later, just as it’s okay to slash characters later too. As long as the end product is something that makes sense, something that you’re proud of, and something that reflects the realities (or your world’s realities) of life, you’re golden.

I have always loved the holiday season, spending time with friends and family, just enjoying their company and enjoying life. Your characters – no matter how old, young, solitary or social they may be – should have that circle of companions in their life too.

May the holidays treat you well and see you next Friday!

Warm regards,
Kellie

Red Hair? Blue Eyes?

Ever since I was little I have been fascinated with the process of creating characters – or characterization. Much like editing, creating characters is one of those necessary processes that every writer must do. However, unlike editing, characterization is a fluid process, one without many rules or restrictions to speak of. Your character can be a 10-inch tall donkey with pink wings who captains a ship shaped like a whale but as long as it’s relatable to the readers in some way, you’re golden. Plus, there’s no condensing of ideas when it comes to building a character, like many other aspects of writing, it’s actually better to know more about your character than any reader would. (Of course with a winged 10-inch donkey it might be best to have some back-story within the narration as well.)

As some of you know I’m currently working on two projects: 1) a novel, 2) a novella. The novel idea is completely fresh but, with the novella, I’m taking a character I loved from my first attempt at a “novel” – a 100 page piece that deals with green lava and too much bosom I wrote when I was 13 – and plopping her down in a newer world. Because of this I’m going through my older work to find traits I can use. As I’m sifting through, I find that the character I built within the piece when I was younger is quite similar to the character in my novel I’m writing about now, 10 years later. They have red hair, blue eyes, confident demeanors, a fiery/fighter attitude and are kind and complicated. So much for being a ‘completely fresh’ idea, right?

But why is that? How can both characters – one from my youth and one from my adulthood – be so similar?

Then it struck me. I have a one sibling – an older sister who has naturally strawberry red hair and ice blue eyes. We used to fight a ton when we were little – as siblings tend to do – and she confused the heck out of me. Yet she was always confident (a trait I admired) and kind to others. That’s where the inspiration came from! As writers we naturally draw inspiration from the world around us. I pulled elements and aspects that were interesting to me and incorporated them into my work.

I like creating characters because I can do just that, pull elements from the “real world” and then fiddle with them, change an attitude there, alter an eye color here (though, looking back, it’s interesting that I didn’t originally when writing my novel). It’s fun for me and quite easy too.

If you have trouble creating characters though, and some of the best writers tend to get stuck every now and then, here’s some things to think about when building a character (you can use one of those “personality charts” but I like my way better, ha!):

1) Name – First impressions are everything, if you don’t have a good name, or at least a lovable nickname, then readers will put the book down. (Sounds snobbish, but I know I have.) Chose something easy to pronounce or have a nickname, both first and last at least. If you’re stuck, go on various ‘What to Name my Baby’ websites, they have plenty of choices. I usually fall back on Irish names since they’re pretty and I’m half the green stuff.

2) Appearance – These are the everyday aspects of your character, the simple outward appearance that allows your readers to “see” the characters. Male/female, eye color, hair color and length, tall/short, body type (aka: ‘fit’, ‘overweight’, or somewhere in the middle), clothing usually worn.  Be sure you have this one down, as a freelance editor I’m always shocked when the author mixes up blue and brown eyes on their main (or secondary) characters.

3) Personality –This where your character should start taking form. What does the character like/not like, is your character kind, caustic, depressed, overly sexual, does your character wave at people or stalk on by? does she like ice cream (the end all question, of course)? does he always roll his eyes? Does she twirl a ring? Play with her hair? Does his hand shake when he’s nervous? Personality traits unique to each character make the characters more believable.

4) Back-story/history – Essentially this solidifies the character, this is why your girl or guy (or animal, or spirit, or pinked-winged donkey) does the things he or she does. What does his home look like? Where did he grow up? What’s her family like? Did she have a pet? Where did he go to school? Why did she decide to go to that school, or take that job, or go off-planet? Think about yourself, what makes you… you? Your past, your choices, your life up until this moment and this exact moment defines who you are. So figure it out for your character too!

5) Items – This one is my personal favorite. If your character had one thing always in her/his pocket, what would it be and why would he/she carry it? These two questions come last, always, and they help me learn about my character. Not memories, not attitude, a solid item. It can be a slip of paper, a picture, a pin, anything! It sounds simple, but trust me, this will allow you to figure out who your character is, who your character was, and who they will become later on too.

Building characters can be fun, entertaining, exciting even. If you get stuck, look around you, there’s plenty of elements if your world waiting to be used. Remember to have your character relate to the readers and then, well, have at it! Make a 10-inch pink-winged donkey! It’s your character, create anyone you’d like.

Warm regards,
Kellie

Holy Hannah, I had one!

So I was reading a lovely book last weekend called Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott, we were on our final camping trip of the season – Hence why I didn’t post last Friday, sorry! – and I had brought the book along for a tryout. (It had been one of my assigned readings in college that I really didn’t *ahem* have time to read.) Turns out, I should have read it back in junior year because it was amazing! Such a wonderful book about writing, it was a how-to without being a “how-to,” written in a clean friendly style with tons of writing humor in it. I highly suggest it.

Anyway, while reading the book, I discovered a chapter on characters. It covered the usual points of interest: how you should always know about your characters, find everything out about them even the smallest of details, but it also went into detail about how you should let them go their own way, let them grow, how sometimes they might surprise you. Well since then I never had a surprising moment with my characters, usually I knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing and saying, how they acted and reacted, what they wore to bed at night and why. Everything was pretty much set in stone.

Yet (not to sound too overly dramatic… but here I go anyway), everything changed for me that afternoon. I actually had a revelation concerning novel’s my character! She’s not trying to “just survive,” no one is trying to “just survive,” she’s actively trying to survive so she can be a part of a group, a family of sorts, a love-interest to someone else. She’s trying to survive so she can belong! It was monumental for me because up until that point I was just making her survive the events. Not in order to belong anywhere, for real, just to survive the hell she was in. It was such an obvious motivator that I haven’t the faintest idea why I didn’t see it before!

Then, as if that wasn’t mind-boggling enough, I had another one! This morning, at around 12:30 at night, it was pitch black in my room, I was laying on my bed attempting to go to sleep and I blinked. (I literally remember blinking and *poof*) There it was, the reason why my main character is so troubled, the theme/message/whatever you want to call it that I want portray to others in my novel, heck, the revelation I want my girl to go through within the novel and the means to make her see it. It was amazing. I spent the next forty minutes scribbling madly on post-it notes, praying that the mechanical pencil wouldn’t run out of lead, and cursing wondering why the heck I didn’t have actual sheets of paper beside my bed like usual. It was pretty intense.

The crazy thing is… I went from reading a book about surprises and wishing I had some with my characters, wondering what it would feel like and kind-of doubting it ever happens to anyone, to having two in one week and being really really excited about it. Honestly, I don’t know if they will pan out but I’m so glad that I experienced those moments of clarity.

So I highly recommend this book, it is now my good luck charm for writing. I don’t know if it’ll work for you, but it’s certainly a good read.

Warmest regards,
Kellie