Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Writing Tips- Naming Characters and Story Excerpt

Naming characters can be one of the most frustrating things to do. To us it is like naming our own kids. The names have to fit the time period and character, have to be believable, and likeable. They are in short, a nightmare.


I remember for my first WIP (Death is Passing) I ended up with almost every male character's name starting with "J". I'll give you a list:

Hero- John
Friend- Joe
Mentor- Jackson Johnson (not kidding)
Others- Jeremiah and Jason

This was a problem. The "J" names became repetitive and often ended up alliterating: John and Joe followed close behind Jackson as they moved down the hall.

So I came up with a simple way to overcome this. I printed out a piece of paper with the alphabet on it and wrote names next to the letters. With that in hand, I would look to see what letters I had not used and picked any new names to go with those. I have since found it to be a great help in any WIP. When I coupled that with a baby naming website, it all became so much easier.


Then I started a fantasy (Bonded Souls) and wanted to use either made up names or ones that no one I had heard of used today. I found that in making up names, I tended to use a lot of the same sounds:

Heroine- Lan
Father- Atan
Father-in-law- Kan
Rider- Lantac
Trainer- Tintak

So I had to remove those sounds from any new names. New sounds gave me new names to play with:

Rider- Malok
Rider- Drenda
Baker- Rabulus (minor character)

Still, the name of my hero eluded me. What could I call him that would at once be knew, unlike any other character's, yet not be too weak or too strong. I spent a couple days freaking out about it and racking my brain for a name. Then one night, I was reading my Bible and came across the story where Caleb offers his daughter in marriage to man who can remove some enemies (don't remember who they were at the moment). The man who did it was Othniel, a man who later became a judge of Isreal.

Artist rendition of Othniel
I loved it. It was a name I had never heard of anyone having and it had belonged to man neither loud nor overbearing (I don't think that he ever said a word in that chapter and at one point his wife, Caleb's daughter, bosses him around) yet who saved a nation in time of need.

My hero had a name and it was O-t-h-n-i-e-l. Since then I have made a list of names from the Bible that I liked for similar reasons and plan to use them in later WIPs.


And couple months ago, I began a WIP for Five Glass Slippers and had a new challenge. I was writing a historical retelling of Cinderella, set in Ancient Rome. I needed names from the period and ones that meant something.

First off I will tell you that Roman names are very difficult, because they have a lot of rules based on gender and order of birth that we don't use. In this, I learned something the hard way. After naming my character with the baby naming website and my alphabet list, I did more research and found that my male characters all had last names as first names! I had to change them, though I didn't want to.

After all of this, I have learned that I have to live and learn and not be afraid of change. I also need to research before hand so that I don't have to change every character's name.

Now, because I have yet to reveal anything about it, I give you an excerpt from my WIP for Five Glass Slippers....


   The soggy black mess squished in Cardea’s hand and slided across her fingers. She fought back a gag and glanced away so she could cover her nose with her elbow. Any other chore would be preferred to picking leaves out of the garden fountain. Even going to the market with her stepmother and two stepsisters.

   Her stomach once again under control, Cardea looked back to the circle opening in the middle of the fountain from which she was removing debris. She pulled out her hand and lifted out a large clump of leaves, stems, and a number of other things that she did not want to contemplate. Dark water ran in rivulets down her arm and in disgust she flung the mess away. It landed in a small pile of other muck.

   Each time Cardea removed the congestions from the fountain’s pipe, a noxious smell found its way out. Like fish and mildew. She took a deep breath through her mouth and stretched her hand down in the pipe as far as she could. Her efforts were rewarded with a slight gurgle of water. A last yank and the water flowed freely, soaking the hem of Cardea’s tunic.

   Sitting back with a sigh, Cardea pushed her hair back with her wrist and glanced around. Now done with the fountain, she still needed to clean off the statue of Juturna and the stone benches of the grime they collected from the storm the night before. Then she would need to remove broken limbs from the tree set in the corner of the garden and rake debris out of the flowers.

   Resigned to her full day of work, Cardea climbed from the fountain. Each step sloshed green water. Feet returned to cold stone tiles, she could feel the dirt from the crevasses on her soles. She grimaced. Those would need to be scrubbed as well.

   “Cardea.” Surrounded by flowing silk curtains, Latona, Cardea’s stepmother, stood with her hands resting on the rail of her balcony. She stared down at Cardea, her face set in a practiced calm. “What are you doing?”

   “I am cleaning the garden, Latona.”

   Latona scanned the area from her lofty height and puckered her lips. “Be finished by noon.” She turned away and then stopped. “Once you are through, come to my room.” Expecting an affirmative response, she left without an answer.

   Water dripped from Cardea’s tunic and she gathered it to her hands to ring it out. She stared at the work before her and felt her shoulders droop. How could she finish in time?

I would love to hear of anything you may be writing for Five Glass Slippers or your challenges with nameing characters!


  1. Oooooo, what a great setting for a Cinderella story!

    1. Thanks, Hannah! Are you writing anything for the contest?

  2. I love that you're writing it in Ancient Rome--that's such a creative setting! Currently I've written two first drafts, both settings based off of France and Germany, where the Perrault and Grimm versions originated. Though now I wish I could rewrite the story in Ancient Egypt, but that's already been done, I think. Or Russia....But I'm terrible at research, so I prefer fantasy inspired by certain places. I can then pick and choose what to include. Man, I sound lazy, don't I? XD

    My first story combines the story of Cinderella with Moses and the Burning Bush, and my second one tells the story from the eldest stepsister's point of view.

    1. Thanks. I have never heard of one in ancient Egypt, perhaps you can do that one later. It would be an interesting read!

      My story actually is not completely historically accurate. I got as close as I could, but one thing I had to make up because no one really knows how it worked (what it is, is a secret for now...). I enjoy fantasy, but my major in college works with history and I find that sometimes it has stories that just insist on being told.