Thursday, November 9, 2017

Guilt-Free Procrastination

Zestful Blog Post #237

No day in history has provided humans easier or more plentiful ways to waste time than the one we’re living now. I don’t have to begin to enumerate. Writers, I believe, are more vulnerable to time-wasting opportunities than other tribes, because OMG, blank pages. Therefore, anything we can do to save time and make life more efficient, we should do. And an easy way for a fiction writer to save time, have fun, and even procrastinate guilt-free (!), is investing an early chunk of time on character naming.

When you’ve got a fairly solid idea for a story or novel going, and you’re starting to flesh things out—either with an outline or just a bunch of pages of stormwriting—that’s the time to create a list of ready character names. Because it’s no good to keep writing ‘Cop A’ or ‘Politician B’ or even ‘Ingenue’ or ‘Hero.’ For one thing, it’s boring, and for another, there’s no personality to it. It’s like eating a handful of flour along with a raw egg and a little sugar, instead of cooking up a nice little pancake. Sure, you might create a name for a character only to later think of a better one. But at least start with some semblance of a usable name.

[This is what I think a Norwegian Elkhound probably looks like, or should.]

A name with a little possibility to it helps you visualize the character as you write. That’s valuable, because it helps you bring that character to life with more verve and efficiency. And for the same reasons it’s so easy to waste time these days, it’s never been easier to quickly come up with appropriate character names. You can search on popular Latino boys’ names, traditional Irish surnames, popular Norwegian Elkhound names (yes), American female names of the 1920s. Of course, if you want a character who is 25 years old in the 1920s, search names given to babies in the 1900s. You can get a surprising lot from just fifteen minutes’ worth of research. Which will stretch easily to half an hour. Come up with twice as many names as you think you’ll need, because minor characters. It’s a good investment.

The benefit is, when you start to write about a fictional person, you’ve got a list to glance at, choose something from, and keep going. No more discomfort with a generic non-name, and no more interrupting your flow to hurriedly think of a name to plug in, over and over. Then when your story is more firmed up, you can dig deeper and toy around with character names. And needless to say, any names you don’t use this time around might prove worthwhile the next.

Do you have any favorite strategies on character naming? To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

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9 comments:

  1. Hi, EZ! Hmm...is that what an elkhound looks like? Anyway, another great idea. Although I'm sure I could waste several hours looking at fascinating names and then wondering if someone in my Ancestry family tree has that name and then looking up what the names mean. You get my drift. Names really are fascinating, and you're right, having a nice list of them to choose from while writing would be a good idea.
    Thanks again for another lovely drawing, as well.

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    1. Yes, it's my understanding that's what an elkhound looks like, BJ. Thank goodness for my outstanding artistic abilities... And thanks for stopping in.

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  2. On recent roadtrip our GPS took us home via backroads instead of to the interstate. The winding drive was fairly scenic, but the country setting provided some very interesting street names. To keep things fun, my husband jotted down the names on the street signs and we randomly put them together for first and last name matches. It was funny, but it also generated a great goto list of character names. Now I just have to find out where I put it.

    Take Care!

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    1. Oh, gosh, that's great, Liz! Would love to see the list, but you might want to keep it close to your vest...

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  3. I have two volumes of "The Dallas Social Directory" from 1978-79 and 1984-85 that I use for name ideas! The surnames Dinwiddie and Diggle are real winners! Along with surnames Groth and Hurlbut! Very entertaining to glance through these books. No, my family wasn't represented on those pages, but the Wasko and Funk families sure sound fun!

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    1. Books like that are great, aren't they? And unless you come upon a copy for your own, you can find them in libraries--but not on line.

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  4. Even more important is to have appropriate last names for your first named characters. You have to be concerned with cultures and nationalities and tribes that would likely be in the time and setting you are using for your novel. I recently found a book in the library of typical English last names and what they mean. Wow, who knew? I then researched other names in other books for Irish, German, Indian (of India), or Japanese names too. This made me realize how important names are to creating authenticity in characters.

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    1. Yes, very true, Patricia, and good on ya. I'm still bummed that I gave a Japanese character a Chinese surname in one of my books... The mistake got by me, my agent, a line editor, and a copy editor.

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