Sam Blake is a bestselling author who crashed into the No 1 slot in the bestseller list in 2016 with her first Cat Connolly book Little Bones. Every one of her books have hit the bestseller list – from the Cat Connolly crime trilogy to her psychological thriller standalones. Two have been shortlisted for Irish Crime Novel of the Year (Little Bones and The Dark Room) After seven books, she has created an awful lot of characters, and we asked her for her thoughts on character names.
You can read Part 1 of this article here.
This week she’s back with some more things to think about:
Avoid hard to pronounce names
Your job as a writer is to convey story; for your reader to be so caught up in what’s happening that they are transported into your characters’ world. If they are continually snagged on names, for any reason, they will be jerked out of the story and the magic will be lost, like a bubble popping.
Your job is to make their reading experience as easy as possible, for them to become immersed. If your reader struggles with how to say a name, or with an unusual spelling, you could lose them. Try not to make things difficult.
If you have a lot of Irish names, will an English reader be able to remember/pronounce them? If they are fantasy names, the same applies. If the name is a tricky one, would it help to have another character struggle with it so it can be spelled out? JK Rowling does this in Harry Potter, with Hermione’s name explained to another character phonetically.
Avoid reader confusion
Names that are too similar in sound, length, or which share an initial letter can mix up your reader. We like to think that someone is going to pick up our book and read it in one breathless sitting, but life isn’t like that and readers, sometimes, need to sleep! If they read at night, and have a busy week, it could be a few days before they get back to your story – you want them to pick up where they left off, not having to go back a few pages to work out who Jack and Mack are, or Tess and Bess. See below for my note on a character bible.
Even if your character has a nick-name, try and stick to one name for each character, and make sure the right people use it. In Remember My Name, her close friends call Brioni O’Brien, Bri, but only certain characters use that term. Try not to have too many versions of a name or you’ll confuse your reader.
Avoid celebrity names
I do this all the time by accident. I’m subconsciously giving my character all the attributes I associate with Clarke Kent or Anthony Quinn without realising why, usually because I haven’t realised that this perfect name that has jumped into my head belongs to someone else entirely. Apart from the possibility of getting yourself into legal hot water, your reader may have completely different associations with the celebrity that are alien to your character. Be creative, build your own celebrities!
Don’t waste time
If you’re struggling with getting a name right, don’t worry – you can change it! I have often changed names completely after the first draft. Don’t let trying to find the right name stop you writing, use a place-marker name knowing you will change it later. You can use ‘find and replace’ to change a word in any document, BUT make SURE you go to the advanced option and ‘match case’, and tick ‘whole words only’ or you’ll end up inserting your new name into the middle of ordinary words and have a lot of unscrambling to do! (We have ALL done this!)
Create a character bible
Story bibles are used mainly in TV when many writers can be working on a group of characters over many episodes and they need to keep the threads of continuity going – if you’ve forgotten the name of Aunt Nell’s dog who threw up on the carpet in season 2 episode 3, it’s going to take someone a long time to remember which show to check in a long running series. AND if you change the dog’s name, you can guarantee some eagle-eyed viewer will call you out on social media.
Story bibles are REALLY useful for fiction because they keep track of all your characters – make a list of all your characters names, the locations they frequent if they are fictional and any other biographical detail that might be useful.
A list of character names in your story bible will show you if you have character names that are too similar, or just plain silly – at the end of one draft I changed some names and when I read it over, I discovered that I had a Bess, Tess and a Jess (AHEM, true story *shakes head*) – and one of them was a dog. I’ve also ended up with three characters (unrelated) with the same surname in a draft.
Your story bible will enable you to see if initials are the same or the sound of a name is too similar and will confuse the reader.
Chose names you can spell – if you’ve got Rachel spelled four different ways through your first draft they will be VERY hard to track down, (I speak from EXPERIENCE!)
Naming characters is like christening children – it’s important to get right, but the joy is that you can change names easily in a draft – much more easily than you can in real life!
(c) Sam Blake
About Sam Blake’s Remember My Name:
‘This is an incredibly taut thrill with a tense undercurrent of threat rippling through every page. It’s compelling, modern thriller writing at its very best, combining sharply drawn characters with a dark, gripping plot. Utterly addictive!’ Victoria Dowd
If she’d turned off her phone, instead of listening in, perhaps no one would have died…
When Cressida Howard catches her entrepreneur husband playing away from home, she hires security expert Brioni O’Brien to get the evidence she needs for a speedy and financially rewarding divorce.
But what Brioni uncovers goes beyond simple infidelity. Because Laurence Howard is also in bed with some very dangerous people.
Bribery and blackmail are the least of his worries as someone comes after the women in his life – someone who is out to destroy Laurence and his empire, whatever the cost. And Cressida and her teenage daughter could soon be collateral damage, if she and Brioni don’t act fast.
Find out more here: https://www.samblakebooks.com/books/remember-my-name/