I finished the first draft of a book this week. I love to be able to say that. Finishing the first draft is my favorite part. It’s a big step toward the next book and gives me a satisfying sense of accomplishment.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that I’m totally stuck on names. Again. Naming characters is getting harder because now in addition to all the other considerations I feel as though I can’t reuse names I’ve already used. At least not for main characters. Let’s talk about some of those considerations.
Names need to fit the characters. Most of the time, a name is one of the first things we learn about someone. Then as we come to know that person, their character traits become associated with that name. Characters are the reverse. First I imagine what the person is like and how he or she acts. Then when I try to assign a name, I can’t help but call to mind all the real people I’ve known with that name and how they are nothing like the character. I rule out that name because it doesn’t fit. And the next one. And the next one. Then I think of one I like and rule it out when I remember I already used it. (Except when I named someone John after I already had a Jon. Still not sure how I convinced myself that was okay.)
Age is also a factor. If I’m writing about a bunch of people in their 20s, I can give one or two of them an old-fashioned or unusual name. Not everyone names their kids from the top ten list. But if they all get names that were popular thirty years before they were born, something will feel off. I do have the social security baby name lists bookmarked.
The names need to be realistic but not too realistic. Truth is allowed more leeway than fiction. My Jr. High gym teacher’s name was Jim Schwartz. Really. I could never get away with putting that in a book. I have in real life known married couples named Chris and Chris and Daniel and Danielle. But when I named a couple Jack and Jill, more than one person criticized me for being too cutesy. Those are not terribly uncommon names. I didn’t think it was that far-fetched that they might find each other.
What about last names? There’s a balance between common and uncommon here, too. I can’t give them all names like Smith and Wilson. But they can’t all be Tecczyt or Dofsteadder either. I have read a phone book hunting first and last names. Many times. There are few things more boring than reading a phone book. Though scrolling ancestry records is close.
Now let’s talk about why there are so many characters to name this time. In my previous two series – Stories From Hartford and Coffee and Donuts – the main characters were unique to each book. The stories were tied together by the settings and a few familiar minor characters. The protagonists rarely appeared in each other’s stories and were usually unnamed when they did. This new series will be more traditional in the sense that minor characters in the first book will become main characters later in the series. That means I need to put more thought into those characters’ names than I might if they were only ever going to appear in one scene.
This is why I’m a little stuck. I need to know who is going to reappear. I need to make sure I like those names before I can edit the first book. I’m not sure I like the names. And this thing I’m referring to as the first book… I’m not trying to be secretive. I can’t call it by name because it doesn’t have one. I haven’t named the series either. There’s not even anything boring I can read for ideas.