Sunday, July 17, 2011

Smells the Same to Me

A few weeks back I touched upon the task of naming characters. I think this deserves a little more exploration.

Basically, what’s in a name?

Not much, I think. At one time, I experimented with not naming my characters at all. Interesting enough, but technically a nightmare if the story deals with more than one characters. Make two of them men, and suddenly you’re trapped in a series of “he” this and “he” that and no one knows what’s going on.

Yet, on the other end of this spectrum, is a project like George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones in which there are dozens (hundreds?) of major and minor characters that not only have full names, but titles and nicknames and fathers brothers sons who share part of their name. It’s massively impressive but so easy for the reader to get a bit lost. Even though I’m in Book 2 of the series, there are still times when I have to pause and say “Huh?” because I don’t connect the first name with the kingdom or banner or whatever.

I suppose my writing falls somewhere in the middle, but more likely leaning toward the minimal the name the better. For example, in BoTS Part 1 & 2, I’ve only used first names. Oh, I have last names for all my characters. I even have family history and schooling and jobs and sibling names. Little of that is used in the story, but I’ve found it helps me a lot in writing. Takes the randomness out of my characters.

Yet, at the same time, I find a certain comfort in using first names only. Sort of the “everyman” scenario.

That said, the names I use for E2 are different. They are far from random. In fact, they are crucial to the whole structure of the story. So crucial that I can’t divulge the name format here in this blog (yes, it’s a format!) because that would give away one of the underlying themes. Not ready for that. Not even sure it matters, but still this is unique for me. E2 has changed a simple process into something far deeper. I like that.

It is a big change. How big? Well, I’m struggling with naming minor characters now. It’s kinda stupid, I know. But still … I need even these passing characters to have specific backgrounds and that means the name matters.  At the same time, I find myself a bit irritated that I’m wasting energy on this.

Of course, there are the big questions: Does a name really matter? Does it affect the story arc or the reader’s acceptance? Would Romeo and Juliet still smell as sweet if their names were changed? I think Shakespeare would say “Who gives a shit?” Yeah. He would.

I’d have to answer: Um … I do. I think I do.

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