Whenever I give my workshop on word choice to a group of writers, I’m almost always asked about how to name the various people in a story. With that in mind, here are a few tips when christening your characters.
Character Names are Seen, not Heard
Remember that the majority of your audience will first encounter your character names visually, rather than audibly. Choose names that looks like your characters. Think about the combination of letters and what they suggest when they are seen together on a printed page. Does “Devon” sound more dangerous than “Lloyd”, or does “Natasha” sound more mysterious than “Joan”? What sort of first impression does a name give your reader?
Don’t Overuse Starting Letters
Be wary of giving names that begin with the same letter to multiple characters in the same book. If your book is really gripping and fast paced, readers may resort to a form of speed reading by glancing at the first letter of a name to identify who is speaking. Having a cast of characters that includes a Roger, Richard, and Ryan may simply be inviting unnecessary confusion.
Avoid Naming Unimportant Characters
Think of the way Hollywood decides how to pay its extras and bit-part actors. Basically, if a character is mentioned in the screenplay, then the actor playing him is considered a cast member with a spot in the credits and a healthy paycheck. If the character isn’t mentioned in the screenplay, then the actor is an extra, and might get a free lunch out of the experience. Just remember to ask yourself, does this character deserve a spot in the credits for his contribution to your story?