If you’re like me, your characters go one of two ways: they either come with a name, or you spend hours or sometimes days trying to find them names. A name is–usually–only one or two words, but sometimes it can be the hardest one or two words you’ll ever right. Names come with enormous pressure: you have to pick something pronounceable, something that’s culturally appropriate, and something that suits your character. Since I’ve struggled with this many times myself–and am currently trying to select a name for the main male character in my Nano 2012–today I decided to share some methods for finding names.
The first thing you should try is a basic mindmap. Put “names” in the center and brainstorm as many names that are phonetically similar to the name of your character’s locale/society as you can. For example, my Nanovel this year is centered around a secret society named the Valshaari who live within the Volthraki tribe. My main female character’s name is Valtessa, and some names I’ve considered for her male counterpart include Morthal, Korvak and Kaltek. These names all use harsh consonants. I did a similar brainstorm for Valtessa, and considered names like Malthi, Kaima and Torcha. These names are a little softer than the boy names, but still fit within the culture. I decided from these options that Valtessa best suited my character.
If you aren’t satisfied with any of the names you thought up during your brainstorm, there are plenty of other ways to find names. You could consult a baby name book or a website like behindthename.com, or try combining already familiar words together in ways that sound cool. I’ve known several writers who used either or both of these methods with great success, and I myself have grabbed many names from Behind the Name. The latter option allows for more creativity, but using a naming website or book gives you a name that already has connotations which you can use to help readers familiarize themselves with your characters.
What if you try all these methods and a random name generator besides and nothing works? Don’t be afraid to use a placeholder name until you can find out the proper name for your character. Sometimes it’s easier to build the character first through exercises and the story itself and to worry about names later–especially when you don’t have a lot of time, like this Nanowrimo season. Try writing a couple scenes from their PoV and see what happens. You might even want to have another character describe them. Eventually you should stumble upon a name you like.
This weekend, try to find proper names for as many of your characters as possible. Whether or not you do, stop by Monday and we’ll talk a bit about worldbuilding.
How do you create character names?
Today’s author is debut novelist Robin Burks, whose novel, Zeus, Inc. began as a Nanovel. I hope you’ll give her a warm welcome and enjoy her thoughts on character development.
* * * *
What makes a good character in a story?
Character development is something every writer has to think about. A good character is key in readers enjoying your work and a good character will keep readers coming back for more of what you write. But where to begin when creating a character?
I tend to look at my own personal characters from an actor’s perspective because of my background in theatre. I ask myself about their motivations and I put myself in their shoes and try to react to situations in a way that I would if I were them.
But there’s so much more to character development than just that. As an actor, the character is already formed by the writer. In writing, you have to create that character from scratch and then continue painting on its various personality quirks, moods and physical traits.
So where does that come from?
When I sat down to write Zeus, Inc., I had to ask myself that very question. Initially, my protagonist, Alex Grosjean, was a young woman, fresh out of high school. I wrote three chapters before I realized that I could not relate to her.
After several more attempts, I made Alex older, closer to my own age, and I started adding personality traits that were similar to my own. Perhaps this was cheating, in a way, but I made her an idealized version of myself. And once I started, I found the character easily enough. As I wrote, I put myself in her position and asked myself “What would I do if I were a private detective being hired by my best friend to find her dad?”
And from there, Zeus, Inc., was born.
But I also had to make Alex flawed because in real life, we are all flawed. And reading about someone who is perfect is also rather boring, right? So I had to come up with something in her background that made it difficult for her to take her friend’s case. Alex needed something personal that she had to overcome. I do not entirely remember where the missing girl case in Alex’s history as a police officer came from, but it gave her that much needed thing to overcome.
As an actor, motivation is key, but so also is conflict. And Alex was written with both in mind.
But Alex wasn’t the only character in Zeus, Inc. There were also a host of other characters. Again, I cheated by writing everything from Alex’ perspective (first person), so I wrote those characters as Alex (or myself) saw them. I ended up basing many of them on people I knew or television characters that I had come across. For example, Aleisha Brentwood is based on a relative of mine, someone that I hold very dear to my heart, as Alex did Aleisha.
But I will admit that the handsome and mysterious Pip was an idealized version of a television character I tend to have a major crush on.
The best thing that worked for me with Zeus, Inc., was to write what I know, and that’s exactly what I did. And it’s probably the best advice I could give to other writers. Take things from your own life, people you know or other characters you’ve seen and use that to create your own characters. Picasso famously said that great artists steal, and I believe that’s exactly what he meant. Let the things around you inspire your characters.
Robin Burks is not only a novelist, but also writes for RantGaming.com, Syfy Network’s DVICE.com and as well as her own blogs – FanGirlConfessions.com and Robin-Burks.com. Robin’s first novel, Zeus, Inc., is now available on Smashwords, BN.com, Amazon.com and in the iBookstore. She also occasionally speaks French and loves Doctor Who.
You might have already gotten a few ideas for characters during your brainstorming last week. Or you might be scrambling to figure out who might fit into the plot you’ve been trying to plan. Whether you’ve got a host of characters and are trying to figure out who will be your main character or you’re just starting to delve into character, there are a few simple questions you can ask yourself to create the best characters to match your story and your world.
But first, a warning. The best characters take on a life of your own, and will do unexpected things, occasionally drastically changing your plot. This can happen even in later drafts. If this starts happening–or you realize during this line of question that the person you thought to be your MC is actually just a sidekick–go with it. Don’t fight it; fighting the wish of the characters will only make your story fall flat.
Consider yourself warned. Now on to the questions!
1. Who has the most to lose in the scenario I’ve created and why? The reason you ask yourself this is to find your main character. The best main character is generally the one who has the strongest need and is willing to go the furthest to get it. Figure out who this is, and you’ve got your MC. If there are two characters with opposing but equally strong needs in relation to the story, you’ve got both your MC and your villain. See how easy that was?
2. What is this character’s prized possession? This is good to know because it adds depth. Sometimes you learn more than just what the object is when you ask this question. For example, my female MC Valtessa’s most prized possession is actually a hand-carved family of soapstone elephants given to her by her mother. By figuring that out I learned both that elephants do exist on her world–although nowhere near her–and that in spite of locking her up when she was a child, her guardians let her keep something to remind her of her mother. Often, even if you know nothing of your world yet except as it pertains to the story, you’ll learn more about it when you ask this question.
3. Has this character ever been in love before? This question will give you some background on the character. If they haven’t, find out why–maybe they’re from a religious order where love is a sin, or maybe they’ve never really been exposed to other people. Of course, they might just be incredibly cold and have difficulty with their emotions, both having and understanding them. If they have been in love, try to find out with whom, when, and what happened. You might discover there’s another character–a lover, lost or recent–waiting in the wings.
4. What does this character think of themselves? This is an important question. Everyone’s always telling you how important your self esteem is, so why wouldn’t your character’s be, too? You’ll probably figure out a lot more about this when you get into the world and figure out how they fit into society in terms of class, religion and gender roles. For now you’re just looking for a basic answer–do they like themselves or hate themselves? Perhaps they like their talents or their personality, but hate their body. Figure out how they feel about themselves, and you’ll have lots of fodder for introspection and an easy way to create a character arc.
These questions should help you figure out a little bit about the characters you’re creating and give you an idea who your main character should be this November. Over the course of this week we’ll discuss character arcs in more detail and go over a couple exercises designed to help you figure out more about your characters.
What questions do you like to ask your characters?
Character is for many writers the driving force of their fiction. Knowing your characters thoroughly is just as important as knowing your plot. Sometimes, it’s even more important. When character comes second to plot, characters often seem stereotypical and dialogue becomes wooden. In order to make your fiction come to life you must bring your characters, especially your main character, come to life for the character.
I’ve compiled a list of exercises to help you develop your characters. You can do one of them or all of them for any and all of your characters. How much work you do to prepare for Nanowrimo is really up to you, but it’s good to have a basic grasp of your characters, setting and plot before you begin. It helps to make for less rewriting.
So how can you develop your characters?
1. Interview your character. This is a fairly common technique in which you interview your character as if for a magazine. Ask your character what their favourite colour is, what their childhood was like, and what made them who they are today. If your character is well known for some reason before the story begins, ask them specific questions about what it is that makes them so well known. Write what you learn down on a separate fact sheet afterwards. Fact sheets are very valuable resources to have when you’re in the midst of writing the book. It’s easier when you don’t have to look through pages and pages of prose to find a useful piece of information.
2. Write about your character’s first love. How somebody acts towards somebody they love, or at least claim to love, is usually a pretty good indicator of their personality in general. Focus on how your character feels about this person and how they express their feelings. If they’ve never fallen in love before, write about a very close friend or mentor who they are no longer connected to. By examining how they think about the person they love and how they communicate with that person, you can figure out whether they are trustworthy or not, whether they tend to obsess over people or things, and how they react to loss. Knowing how your character reacts in a number of different situations is vital to making them come to life on the page.
3. Map out your character’s family. Create a family tree for your character. Figure out at least who their parents and siblings are, and whether or not their siblings have children. I prefer to begin with their grandparents. As you’re mapping them out, write down one sentence about each person in the family. When you’ve finished, write a paragraph or two about how they all get along. Take as much or as little time as you need, and write it from anyone’s point of view–a random stranger is fine here, too.
4. Write about the first time your character meets someone–from the other person’s point of view. It’s important to know your characters very well: what they do for entertainment, how they see themselves, and how others see them. Sometimes writing about one of your characters from the point of view of a stranger tells you a lot about that character. It’s good to know how they are when meeting new people and how they come across to others when you’re in the thick of the book. The more you know about how your character interacts with people, the more realistic you can make their interactions throughout the book.
5. Write about what your character does on an ordinary day. Think of this as a Dear Diary post. It’s really up to the character and how they live what is said and how many words it’s said in. If your character lives a boring life or isn’t very wordy, this exercise might only be a couple of sentences. If your character likes to describe things intimately or lives a life of constant adventure, you might write a couple hundred words. Focus on what they do on a normal weekday, whether it be farming, bartending, or running a large corporation. It’s always good to know what your character does when they’re not saving the day in your novel.
I hope these exercises work for you. I’ve done each at least once and I’ve always learned something. Some characters are easier to learn about than others. Just like real people, some of them are shy and others are mean. Some have hard exteriors but are really all gooey on the inside. Some are waiting to kill you in your sleep. Some exercises will work better with one character than with another. Figure out what works for you, and figure out those characters.
If you liked this blog post and you’re looking forward to Nanowrimo too, please sponsor me this Nanowrimo season.
How do you develop character?
Today, September thirtieth, marks the end of this month and with it the end of this year’s Dear Diary Project. Hopefully today you’ll be able to give your Dear Diary Project an ending that will tie it up nicely. If not, don’t worry too much about it–after all, it’s not like your character’s life is ending, so why should their diary? If you have the time, you can even keep going with your Dear Diary Project. I won’t stop you, but I will tell you that now is probably a good time to move on to a new project, and unless you have the time to do both, I’d suggest ending your Dear Diary Project now.
What should you do once you’ve finished your Dear Diary Project? First, give yourself a pat on the back for finishing it. Then join me on Wednesday to talk about how to make the most out of your Dear Diary Project. Start something new–a short story, planning for a new novel, a new blog, whatever strikes your fancy. And don’t forget that it’s October now, and Nanowrimo is right around the corner.
Me, I have to work on Moonshadow’s legal code, but I hope to get a little bit more editing done before November starts. And I’ll be pulling out a binder with notes for a story idea I had last year but which I never ended up writing, blowing the dust off of it, and making sure it’s ready to be my Nanovel.
There are going to be some big changes around here, which I’ll talk more about on Monday, but right now what I can promise you for the next month is information on making the most out of your Dear Diary Project, how to prepare for Nanowrimo, and a couple of writing exercises I hope you’ll find useful. In the meantime, there are a couple questions I’d like to ask you:
What did you like about the Dear Diary Project? What do you think would make it better for next year?
Whether or not you planned it, some sort of structure and story arc has probably appeared throughout the course of your Dear Diary Project. With only a few days left in the month, it`s time to start thinking about how you`re going to end your Dear Diary Project and finish your story arc. It`s important to write something which will tie up a couple of loose ends and feel satisfying as an ending to both you and your character.
There are lots of ways to end your Dear Diary Project, and what is most effective depends on you, your character, and what you`ve written so far. You should spend at least a little bit of time during the next few days planning and setting up hints for the end of your Dear Diary Project, whatever that is going to look like.
Here are some ideas for ways to end your Dear Diary Project:
1. A New Journey– Over the last thirty days, I am sure your character has changed, and so have the people around them. It can be surprising how rapidly people change, and how rarely somebody you met a month or two ago is the same person when you meet them again. The changes in your character’s life and psyche can be leading them down a new path at the end of your Dear Diary Project. It may be that your character leaves home now for the first time, or that they choose a career path they’d never really thought about. Whatever it is, the introduction of something completely new will both end the story well and show that the character’s life goes on.
2. A New Friend/Lover– Another interesting way to end your Dear Diary Project is with a meeting. Your character might meet someone new, or they might suddenly realize that a person they’ve never talked to is actually really nice. They might have been waiting for something like this to happen all month, but then again, maybe they haven’t been. Writing down the moment in which they truly gain the new friend or lover, and showing their emotional reaction to it both in the moment and afterwards, also rounds off the story nicely.
3. A Great Loss– We’ve all lost somebody at some point in our lives. Your character is much the same–and if they haven’t lost anyone yet, they’re sure to lose someone eventually. Loss can be a powerful moment in your character’s life, and their reaction to it can show you so much character. As a bonus, this ending gives you extra depth, and an opportunity to let your character really grow. What if they actually stop writing their own diary when you do, because they are so depressed from their loss? It happens to lots of people. We all react to grief differently, and from the point of view of characterization, this is one of the best endings.
4. Something Completely Different– Really, you can end your Dear Diary Project however you want. It’s up to you and your character to find the best ending for your Dear Diary Project. Just make sure that the ending makes sense considering your character and the story you’ve been telling.
Personally, this has been the easiest Dear Diary for me to write, and it will be the easiest to end as well–I decided on the ending more than a week ago. That said, I think it’s also the one I’ve learned the most from. I hope you’ve learned a lot so far. Next week I’m going to talk about how to get the most out of your Dear Diary Project, but in the meantime, enjoy the last few days of your Dear Diary Project.
Have you thought of an ending for your Dear Diary Project yet?
Today I would like to share with you one of my own Dear Diary Entries, which I hope you will enjoy. My Dear Diary Project is written by Riana, the main character of Moonshadow’s Guardian. At this time she called herself Naomi, and she lived at Home, the gloomy red caverns where demons are sent when they hit puberty and gain access to their powers. She’s just begun swordplay lessons.
Today began with a long run all around the town. I’m slowly getting used to the atmosphere of darkness, what with almost all the stone being black and the gargoyles hanging onto the corners of every building, and the sick, twisted plants growing in the narrow spaces between houses. I still don’t like it, but I’m getting used to it now. The sights don’t horrify me the way they did when I first arrived. Even though it’s only been a couple of months, I feel like I’ve aged a hundred years—I was just a scared little girl when I got here, but now I’m becoming a woman.
A woman who feels like she is always being watched. I swear sometimes I see yellow orbs like eyeballs lurking in the shadows. Sometimes when I’m going to sleep I hear movements outside the door, but if ever I go to check, there is nobody there. The door is thick and wooden and protected by powerful spells—all the doors here are, to keep demons from being killed in the middle of the night. We like to die in a proper fight, around here. But I suspect that the people who are watching me will never actually seek a physical confrontation. If I am to be punished by them, it will be in the official way, and I’ll never get a chance to truly fight for myself. People aren’t really given trials around here. A ‘trial’ around here is really the Family deciding how to punish people they don’t like.
Then again, in the Magi Plains, people don’t usually get trials either. They just get their limbs or titles removed. Sometimes they get banished to some far away place. If it’s somebody really important, or if the crime was really drastic, they might get a trial. The four families don’t like to kill innocents, so if it’s a crime that people are usually executed for, they like to enforce trials. Of course, the judges are all cousins of one of the four families and they usually rule against the poorer party, but at least it’s some kind of trial.
I suppose I shouldn’t be too worried about it. I’m not Merrique’s lover right now, and they won’t actively try to harm me until I am. For now I just need to focus on my training—several hours of repetitive motions, trying to make each one faster than the last one. I’ll fight those battles when I have to.
Today, or sometime this weekend, I would like you to do something completely different–something I’m trying for the first time, too–and write two Dear Diary entries. The interesting part? One will be the character whose diary you’ve already been working on this month, and the other will be a character of your choosing. It doesn’t have to be somebody who will be in the main story you’re working on. It might be more beneficial to you if it can be, because you’ll get more used to their voice as well, but if it’s not plausible at the time you’re writing in, don’t force it.
On this particular day in your character’s life, they’ve met somebody new and intriguing. Have them describe in as much detail as they usually would the moment in which they met this person. Notice the way that your character describes their clothes, and pay particular attention to how they feel about the person and why. You can make the meeting as simple or as complicated as you want. Focus on the emotions of the moment. Don’t forget to have some fun with it.
Then you’re going to write an entry about the exact same meeting from the other character’s point of view. They’ve just met your character for the very first time–how does that character come across? Odds are, what your character thinks about themselves and what other people think of them will be pretty different. Pay attention to what they think of your character and why. It’ll come in handy when writing about them from other PoVs in the future, and when writing interactions between them and other characters in the future.
Have a great weekend, and please share the first sentence from each of these entries.
In order to more fully develop the characters in Moonshadow’s Guardian, I’ve written up a list of writing exercises and I’m going to work my way through them. Some of them are meant to be scenes, and some of them are meant to be internal monologues. All of them are meant to help me develop my characters and the relationships between them. I want to spend some more time writing out Riana’s childhood. I also want to develop some of the smaller characters-the king and a couple of the soldiers travelling with Riana-further. My first few exercises are going to hop from character to character, focusing on developing each individual. Then I’m going to start working on developing the relationships between the characters, writing off-stage dialogue scenes.
Each week I’ll be posting one of these exercises. I hope you’ll come with me on my journey to discover my characters. By writing a few carefully chosen moments in our characters’ lives, we can learn a lot more about them. Our voices will grow with each new exercise, and hopefully we’ll have some fun too. These exercises aren’t supposed to be a big deal though, so don’t let them get longer than a couple of pages.
This week, I’d like you to write an internal monologue for one of your characters. They should be talking about their first love.
And here’s part of my exercise:
I leaned forward. “Did you mean to kiss me last night?”
“I did.” His expression remained unchanged; a true king rarely showed his emotions.
“Do you mean…” Here I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. “Do you mean to kiss me again?”
Now he smiled. “I do.”
“Does that mean you love me?” I asked. I covered my mouth as soon as I’d spoken; I didn’t mean to be so up front about it.
“It does.” He stood up and began to pace. “I shouldn’t, though. It’s bad for my reputation, you know. I’m a king and all that. I can’t just love whoever I want. She has to be noble, the marriage has to be politically advantageous, and she has to be human. And I have to marry her.”
“You should be able to love whoever you want,” I said.
“I should be, but I’m not.” He stopped and leaned close to me, lifting my chin until I was looking into his eyes. “Only the poor get to choose their brides.”
“All kings are corrupt in one manner or another,” I said, “loving somebody inappropriate is one of the lesser crimes.”
He sighed. “I suppose.”
“And if we’re careful, nobody will find out until long after you’re dead.”
“I doubt we’ll be that lucky,” he said, “but maybe, for once in my life, I shouldn’t let that stop me. Maybe I should just love, the way I want to love.”
Please post your favourite paragraph from your writing exercise.