As a writer, it can be difficult to name your characters. When I’m plotting a book, it’s rare for the main character (MC) to reveal his/her name right off the bat. Sitting on it is okay but only for a while. Eventually, you’re chomping at the bit to start your character’s story, but that’s impossible to do when you don’t know what the hell to call him/her.
In a recent blog, I expressed my sheer delight in having plotted a new YA novel called Elsewhere. Elsewhere is going to be an absolute blast to put together, but guess what? My MC has no name. In my opinion there are usually two reasons a character has no name. One, you, the author, don’t know enough about who they, where they come from and what their motivations are for them to have formed a fitting title. The second reason is tragic but simply true. Lack of originality on the author’s part.
I know; I know. Those three little words are offensive and something of a curse. They cause every writer to shudder, cringe, sweat and worry because we don’t want to believe we could ever suffer from such a demeaning affliction. But we do, and I’m here to tell ya drawing a blank isn’t the worst thing that could happen when you’re starting a story, but it isn’t the best either.
Big problem or little problem the fact of the matter is having a no-name character is a problem, so I came up with a solution: the name list.
The name list is in a handy spot near my desk in a folder of its own. Whenever I see a name that I think is sexy, intriguing, funny, dorky or just plain different, I jot it down so that the next time a MC, or any character really, is refusing to tell me their name I can refer to the list. This cuts down on pondering time which is beneficial if you’re looking to start your story sooner rather than later.
I don’t need to stress the importance of naming a MC, but it can be a struggle. Sometimes they just don’t want to tell you and other times I think they don’t know. Naming a MC isn’t something you should rush, but the Name List can help eliminate possibilities. Actively seeking an outcome is always better than doing nothing. It’s why the AIC approach works so well. (Ass in Chair.) Even if everything you’re typing is shit, there’s bound to be something in there you can use and it wouldn’t have come about if you hadn’t been plugging away.
There will come a point when all you’ll want to do is wrap your hands around your characters imaginary throat and scream “TELL ME YOUR NAME!” Push through. You never know what epic realization is just around the corner. Maybe it won’t be a name for the MC of that story; maybe it won’t be a name at all. Some of my best story ideas came to me while I was ironing out other creative issues. My point is this: don’t let a stubborn no-namer get you down. Try, try and try some more. Eventually, that nobody will become a somebody. I promise.