How to Create Unique Character Names

One of my favorite things to do as a writer is to create character names. It’s one of the first things I do to start a new story. Names can say a lot about a person and finding just the right title for your characters can really help the story flourish.

Firstly, there are a few types of names in the story world, and I’ve come up with five different categories, just for fun. We have: bland names, overused names, hard-to-pronounce names, principal-character names, and side-character names. Now, let’s talk about them in a little more detail.

These are the names that don’t really stand out, the names that we have to go back through the book searching for because we forgot who “that guy” was. Go through your memory and try to think of some dull character names from stories you’ve read. The characters you’ve forgotten about entirely, just because you forgot their name.

Yet another thing to consider, for characters that don’t really matter to the story, people who don’t need to be remembered at the end of a book, bland names are perfect! If you’re looking for a name to fit someone who is insignificant to the storyline, bland is just fine.

Okay, we’re talking the kind of names you can find in basically every young adult paperback sitting in used bookstores from here to Timbuktu (perhaps an mild exaggeration, as I often exaggerate things with ease). Think “generic.” Of, course, different genres are going to have different overused names. For instance, open a historically set book and you’ll probably find a John, a James, a Henry, a William, a Mary, etc., because those names were very popular in history. Something from the 1990s might have a Jessica, a Brittney, an Ashley, a Chad, and a Michael. So, yes it will be historically correct to use these names, but not necessarily unique, since they can be found in many other books. If you’re looking for highly accurate names for the time, go with those even if they’re overused. If you feel you could be a little more lenient, gather uncommon and unique names, ones that are still accurate yet rare.

I think overused names can be found more frequently in surnames, like Smith, Jones, Brown, Johnson, etc. Yet, there’s nothing wrong with using any of these names, first or last. Indiana Jones is a world-wide known name, because the ordinary surname is overridden by a very unique first name. Another example, Luke Skywalker: very common first name, very uncommon last name. So you have the freedom to choose whatever arrangement sounds best for your character. There are no “rules” here, play around with the names, generic or unique! You can also take a popular last name and use it as a first name, and visa versa.

(Side-note: Jane Austen often used the same name for many of her characters, like Jane, Fitzwilliam, Anne, Fanny, Mary, Robert, and John, and it obviously didn’t hurt her writing career because of it, so do whatever you may!)

Most certainly more than once, I’ve read a name over and over again throughout a book without knowing how to correctly pronounce it, mumbling it in my head, and hoping I never have to read it aloud. It could be a name from a different language, or completely made up, like “Poigly” or “Maigdor” (how did you pronounce those; I’d like to know?) We can go through an entire book and simply skim over actually understanding that one name, because we’re unsure of how it’s supposed to sound. Perhaps using one or two hard to pronounce names is perfectly harmless, but an entire book of it could easily hurt the flow of the story if the reader is fumbling through every other sentence. Imagine reading Genesis chapter 10 in a consistent flow. Yeah, impossible.

Secondly, a name can just be too long. It can get tiring for the reader to sound out 2 four-syllable names every time the character is mentioned. So maybe give them a nickname!

This is your main character’s name, the one that you want everyone to be able to remember, with a unique ring to it, and some sort of tie to their personality. A nice blend of easy to remember/catchy, yet unique. You can pick a name that reflects the traits of the character. Wise people would have intelligent sounding names, untrustworthy people, a suspiciousness about their names. If you have several main characters, make sure they don’t sound strange when put together (since they’re probably going to be mentioned together often), like Will, Bill, and Jill (unless it’s important to the storyline).

These are the names that lay somewhere in between the bland names and the principle character names. The ones that don’t really have to stand out, but have to sound realistic for their character, time period, and location. Any name that doesn’t make the principal-character cut, move it to the side-character list. A great sidekick needs a great name!

Where to find unique names?

  • A physical phone book – if you can find one. It’s always fun to do the random flip and point trick to create names. It never fails to give me unique and creative titles.
  • Cemeteries – This is my secret place for gathering names, shh don’t tell anybody. I’ve filled page after page with rare and interesting names that sounded fascinating to me, from several different cemeteries. If you’re looking for historic names, look at the older headstones. (And no, I don’t consider this morbid in any way, these people would have most likely been thrilled to find out that a writer from the future had included their name in a story.)
  • Your family tree – Look back into your own history and write down some of your favorite names, and of people who have been an inspiration to you from your family. It’s a good excuse to research your ancestry in detail, and you can even use some of the information and tales you find to include in the story.
  • Old censuses – this might be your last resort. If you can find an old census in the library or online, you can pinpoint the date and general location when and where a certain name was in fashion. But reading through document after document, you may find it easier to try the other methods first.

So whenever you’re in need of names, grab your trusty notebook and make two categories, first names and last names. Gather anything and everything that catches your attention. Mix and match to created hundreds of different names. You’ll know a good name when you see one. Sometimes a name alone can spark the idea for a whole new story!

You can also use your list of newly gathered names for streets, towns, and establishments. There’s no limit to what you can use your research for, and the good thing about doing all your own research is that no other writer is going to have the same list of names. It will be completely distinct.

All this to say: you don’t have to use the internet name-generators that everyone else uses. You can be unique and special by finding them yourself, in the world, in your hometown, and in your ancestry. So have a ball gathering wonderful names and watch your characters come to life!

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What’s your go-to way of naming characters?

Do names just come to your head, or do you go out and search for them?

Have you ever created a great name, only to then discover it’s already a famous literary character’s name and you can’t use it anymore, or is it just me?

12 Ways Get Your Book Started

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Writing a book means being inspired by something and then transferring that inspiration into words, sentences, and chapters. There is something that sparks our imagination and urges us to begin writing in fury, typing down the story that we so much want to tell. However, what happens when you’ve no idea how to begin your story and have no inspiration to get started?

Now, I’ve never had trouble starting a book, but instead my dilemma is with finishing them. I write out the plot, get more than half way complete, and suddenly a new story pops into my head. It seems as though there will never be enough time to write down all the stories I want to tell! Nevertheless, I do get stuck in my writing sometimes which calls for inspiration. So here is a list of twelve ways to find inspiration when you want to begin writing a book (or finish one!).

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Go on a spontaneous walk or plan out a long adventurous trek. Either one is sure to spark your inspiration. Let your feet take you to an unknown destination and enjoy your time venturing.

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Sometimes, reading a classic work of fiction can help pull us into the world of writing. It inspires us to mold our own stories and put together a plot of our own. Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and The Secret Garden are some great classics to read.

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Yes, I’m sure we can all go back into our distant memories to recollect a time when to find someone’s phone number, you had to look it up in a book that was mailed to you once a year, called a telephone book. If you still have one laying around today, you may not be able to use it as it was originally intended, however it is very possible to extract some inspiring ideas from it. Open it to a random page and point to any last name. Turn to another page to find a first name to go with it. Do this over and over, and soon you’ll have a whole book’s worth of characters to write about!

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Playing a musical instrument can be so inspiring; whether it be a piano, violin, guitar, flute, ukulele, or yes, even a harmonica or recorder. Go outside and play; see if the birds sing along. Listen to nature and hear what it says! You’re bound to have something to write about when you come back inside.

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Create a story-inspiration board and pin any photo you come across that looks interesting. The pictures that urge us to know the stories behind them are the ones that give us inspiration for writing, so be on the look out for those. Also, you can always make those boards private if you don’t want to share them with your followers.

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Get onto Spotify and play your favorite instrumental track. Listen to your favorite movie scores or find something new! I’ve found it helpful to create a separate playlist for each of your stories; it definitely helps to get you into the world you’re writing about.

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It doesn’t matter if you aren’t an artist. The point isn’t to create a masterpiece, but to create something that will get your mind flowing and open to new ideas. Draw a mountain, a dog, a person; it really doesn’t matter!

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Pack snacks, pens, and a notebook, and take a trip into the nearest bustling city. Roam the streets, people watch, or find a little café to write in, and just take in everything that you see, and use it to propel you into your writing.

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I’m not kidding about this one. Not only are you doing something profitable but cleaning out your closet or work space can also provide you with tons of inspiration. You could come across old letters or memorabilia hidden away that spark ideas for writing. If not, the cleaning will bore you so much that you begin daydreaming about anything other than cleaning, giving you ideas for a book!

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Visit any thrift shop and look around. I’m sure you’ll find something inspiring. Go with a list of things to find, like a book dated before 1900, a vintage jewelry box, or old ice skates. Anything you find that interests you can be the starting point for a book.

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For me, some of the most inspiring moments happen when watching a really good movie. If you want to write a story set in the 1810s, watch Sense and Sensibility; not so you can copy it, but to draw ideas from it; how they spoke, dressed, and acted. There’s something so motivating in seeing a movie set in the era in which you intend to write!

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Talk with other writers and aspiring authors in person or through blogs. Sometimes just reading about what others are writing, will get you thinking about forming a plot of your own! It’s always fun to know what others are doing in their writing. Below you can find a list of writing blogs to visit for more writing tips and stories!

Reveries // Ruffles and Grace // Once Upon an Ordinary // Charis Rae // Invisible World // Claire Rachel // Liv K. Fisher // The Writing Writers // Forever and Everly // Peeking Beneath

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Do you enjoy writing?

What are you working on right now?

Do you think any of these 12 ways would be helpful?

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Megan Joy

Poems of Old // Afton Water

This poem by the Scottish writer, Robert Burns, was composed in 1791, and later put to music as Flow Gently, Sweet Afton in 1837, by Jonathan Spilman. By what I’ve been recently told, I may be in some way related to Robert Burns the poet, so I feel a special connection to the words I’ve been singing for years. I love the words Burns chose to rhythm together; it’s such a lovely piece to read.

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Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,

Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise;

My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,

Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

 

Thou stock-dove, whose echo resounds thro’ the glen,

Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den,

Thou green-crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear,

I charge you disturb not my slumbering fair.

 

How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills,

Far mark’d with the courses of clear winding rills;

There daily I wander as noon rises high,

My flocks and my Mary’s sweet cot in my eye.

 

How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below,

Where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow;

There oft, as mild Ev’ning sweeps over the lea,

The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me.

 

Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides,

And winds by the cot where my Mary resides,

How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave,

As gathering sweet flowrets she stems thy clear wave.

 

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,

Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays;

My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,

Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

Robert Burns, 1791

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Do you know this as a song or a poem?

Did you ever find out that one of your ancestors is well-known?

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Megan Joy

Quote of the Week // 43rd Week

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Beverly Cleary, born in 1916, has composed nearly fifty fiction books for children and young adults. Though most commonly known for her “Ramona” series, she has written two other crowd favorites, “Henry Higgins” and “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.” During her long life, Cleary was given The National Book Award, The Newbery Medal, and The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Today, at age 101, she has retired from writing, though she still hasn’t lost her good humor. During an interview for her 100th birthday, she was asked if she was excited about her age, to which she replied, “Well, I didn’t do it on purpose!”

After Clearly learned to read in the second grade, she found that she wasn’t interested in many of the books she found at the library. She thought of them as boring and drab. She wanted to read something with character and spunk! Forty years later, she published her first book, one that checked every box of what she would have wanted to read back in grade school. She was determined to write something that would change the options children had when choosing a book to read, and she succeeded!

To every writer; one of the reasons we write is because we want to tell a story, not just any old story, but a different story. We write the books that we want to read, something that is unique, special, and inspiring! Like Beverly says, if you don’t find the story you’re looking for, write it.

This doesn’t just apply to writers. It’s good advice for every musician, filmmaker, artist, and designer. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, create that thing, enjoy it, and share it with others. Sing a new song, shoot a new movie, paint a new picture, or design a new room. We shouldn’t be bound by what others have already created! Make something new yourself, and use it for good. If you can dream it up, you can create it!

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Do you write fiction books?

Have you ever realized that you write the books you want to read?

What is your favorite Beverly Cleary book?

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Megan Joy

Five Writing Misconceptions

Five Writing Misconceptions

Being a writer, I’ve gone to seminars and conferences, read countless writing books and articles, and was given advice by real authors on how to make my books the best that they could be. I, at one time or another, believed what I was told, and altered some of my work to fit with “the right” criteria. That was a mistake. Here’s a list of five writing misconceptions that I was told to believe.

 1. “You must begin your book with an exciting scene.”

I was once told that my book had to begin when everything is changing for my main character: “when their world is turned upside-down” so you can grab your reader’s attention. I found a few things wrong with this advice, the first being, if we all started our books the same way, they wouldn’t be special or unique. It would be pretty boring to read the same kind of introduction in every book you open, wouldn’t it? The second problem I saw was, if we began our story when the character’s world is turned upside down, how would we know what is normal for them? Without any background story on our character, how could we distinguish oddities from their ordinary life? We wouldn’t know their everyday standards. The reader must connect with the character before he or she can care or worry about what is going to happen to that main character. Creating a subtle backstory first can help the reader to recognize abnormal happenings from ordinary ones. Beginning your book with a calm opening about the character’s everyday life is absolutely fine; there are so many famous classics that begin with a simple scene, like Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, and Sense and Sensibility. These authors didn’t follow the rule of the “dramatic opening scene” yet they have all have become enormously popular, selling a few million copies of their book!

2. Your book should contain 70% dialog.

A published author once told me that I didn’t have enough dialog in my books. I went on to learn that publishers sometimes determine your book’s success by the amount of white space on each page. Having a full page of dialog will provide more blank spaces than a full page of narrative, therefore, I was told that more “talking” is always best. So I decided to test out this theory and wrote a short book mainly full of dialog. It was choppy and not well explained, might I say. I couldn’t elaborate on descriptions or explain the surroundings without having someone speak it aloud. This idea of “lots of dialog” is a modern concept, so I can see how it would work for books taking place in the modern world, but if you enjoy writing historical fiction like I do, then this “all dialog” theory probably won’t work. It’s just not realistic.

3. Tell your reader instead of showing.

I’ve heard this one a few times. Some say that a writer should tell the reader about something, not show them, to keep the pace moving. I however, disagree. I find it much more interesting if I am actually shown something and not just told about it. The difference can have a lasting impact on the reader. Here is an example I made up:

Telling Version: “The boy told his dog to stay. The dog stayed.”

Showing Version: “He held out his thin little hand like a fireman stopping traffic as he slowly backed away from his fur-matted friend. Oh, how those four dirty paws wanted to bound across the space between them and gift the boy with a thousand slobbery kisses, but being the keen and obedient dog that he was, he planted his feet in the dewy grass and vowed to keep as motionless as the statue he had seen in the park.”

Both versions were each made up of only two sentences, telling the same story, yet they are both extremely different. Which one provided the most information? Which one would you be more likely to continue reading if it were the opening of a book? Which one do you find more interesting? Probably, the second one is the answer to all of these questions. The second version let us know that: the boys was small, the dog was scrawny, the dog loved the boy, the dog was obedient, it happened in the morning (dewy grass), and they take walks in the park together. The first version didn’t tell us any of that!

4. End each chapter with a cliffhanger.

Many say that to keep your readers flipping pages, you must create a cliffhanger at places where the reader is most likely to put the book down, like at the end of a chapter. I find that this strategy just isn’t realistic. Yes, cliffhangers are exciting and can add a bunch to your book, but one in every chapter is a bit excessive. Besides, if you have to bait your readers with a constant strand of dangerous and uncertain situations to stay seated and continue reading, it may not be a very interesting book in the first place.

5. Reading will make you a better writer.

Now, parts of this phrase are true. Reading other books can definitely help you with writing your own book. But when people give this advice, they forget to mention that it depends on what you read! If you read a lot of terrible books over time, you may find that you morph into having those same writing habits and write terribly! While at the same time, if you read many great books full of beautiful words and brilliant plots, your writing is more likely to improve. It is like that saying, “You are what you eat.” Instead it’s, “You are what you read.” If you want to write inspiring things, read inspiring things!

Bonus misconception: The publisher is always right. 

This is quite far from the truth! Many people I’ve met dream of the day when their book is accepted for publication. When they get turned down, they revise their work to fit the publisher’s standards. Then if their book is accepted they allow the editors to change whatever they see fit, slap a generic unenticing cover on it, and ship it out. Sadly, this happens a lot and many just accept it because they want their book published. But the publisher is not always right and you shouldn’t have to be forced to alter your hard work to please someone in order to get published. You don’t always have to submit to what publishers say, because they’re not always right! You’re the author, it’s your work, your special creation that no one can take away. Self publishing is a good way to ensure that your story is published the way YOU want it.

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Do you like to write fiction?

Were you ever told to believe one of these misconceptions?

Do you have any other writing myths or misconceptions to share?

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Megan Joy