Solving the Name Puzzle: An IWSG Post

Good day, my fellow bloggers.

The first Wednesday is here, which means it’s IWSG post time. In case some of you are new to my blog, I’m part of a group created to encourage and support writers of all levels. The first Wednesday of each month, we share our stories, or we answer a question that the group provides to us. If you want to know more about the group or believe you can encourage fellow writers, go to the IWSG website to learn more and sign up. You won’t regret it. I promise.

So, let’s get to the meat of the matter.

Like I said, fellow bloggers can either share their experience with writing to encourage struggling writers, or answer a question the group gives us to answer. This month, I’m going to answer the question. This month is about christening names. Specifically, book titles and characters.

What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

If you ask many writers, giving names to books and characters can be a maddening part of the writing process. There’s so much to take into account. So much in creating the “perfect” name. Even harder when you do your research and find what you think might be the perfect name for a book is taken, or the name of a character too closely resembles another character. It can make or break a story.

Let’s start with book titles. I’m sure many people have heard the saying, “You can judge a book by its color.” Unfortunately, when it comes to books, the cover can determine whether or not a book is even worth buying. And the title of a book is just as important as the cover design. I can’t tell you how books I’ve considered buying or borrowing or neither because of the cover. And the title is a big factor. There’s no scientific method of choosing the right title. Some base a title on a significant factor, like a theme or an object; some titles come out of left field. Some title are sentences; some are just a word or two.

There’s no way of knowing if the title will attract your audience. But there’s more to a book than just a catchy title. The book needs to have a compelling story and characters that are memorable. And that leads to the next factor when crafting what you hope will be a masterpiece. Naming your characters is just as important as if they’re flat or substantial. Like book titles, there’s no foolproof formula, but I think more than titles, character names have to stand out, especially with the main characters.

There are plenty of resources when it comes to creating character names. Baby name books and websites are clear cut favorites. They can also come from just observation and eavesdropping. You may overhear a conversation where names are recited. Or go to a place like Starbucks where the baristas slap stickers on their products and they display someone’s name. In any case, make a note of it. You may not use it in the story you’re working on, but you have it in case there’s another story where your character might “speak” to you his or her name.

Now, in my experience, I find giving titles to stories more difficult. I write short stories mostly, so I have to be more deliberate, yet creative. It’s not like naming characters where I can pull from a list from Evernote that I believe will be a good fit for my characters. And while it may be easier, that doesn’t mean it can’t be maddening putting names to faces. I may decide on one name, then decide another name is better. With story titles, it’s a lot more complicated. I don’t go into writing a story with an idea for a title right away. I usually will wait until I finish the first draft to come up with a title. And it gets more difficult when, after editing, I take the story in a different direction. But there are exceptions to the process. I may be in the middle of writing a draft and there will be words that set off a spark of inspiration. I make sure to take note of it on my notebook. And sometimes when I’m editing, a title will come to me. It may take a few rounds of editing and reading, but I do find a title that speaks to me.

Names, whether we like it or not, carry more weight than we care to believe. Book titles, characters, places. Anything with a name attached to it has some significance. And choosing the right name can be a factor in how a book does in so many ways. It’s a daunting process, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be rather fun.

What about you? Do you find it harder naming books or characters? Let me know in the comments.

Until then, write on, my friends. Write on.

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9 thoughts on “Solving the Name Puzzle: An IWSG Post

  1. Listening in at Starbucks–that’s an interesting suggestion for naming characters. But then, everyone in my family always gives “Elvis” as our name at Starbucks. Frankly, my name is none of the barista’s business! (Stuffy old lady much?) I do jot down interesting names in my journal sometimes. Most of my characters name themselves, but sometimes a quick Google search is needed for a popular name for this or that age group, ethnicity, national origin, etc. When I needed to name an obnoxious female antagonist, I listed her characteristics on a Facebook author group, and everyone chimed in. Fun game!
    Happy writing to you in June.

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  2. Someone today said it right when they pointed out that the title is totally a marketing/branding tool, and the characters are completely different. Basically, the better you know your audience, the better off you are.

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  3. Inspiration can come from anywhere and that’s true of finding character names. I don’t think I’ve ever tried the Starbucks trick, but it’s something to keep in mind. I do find (so far) that naming my books is way easier than naming the characters.

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  4. I’m a cover buyer myself, and honestly, am not as concerned about the titles as that and the blurb. In my own writing, I find character names more difficult than titles. Except I agree with you about the titles on shorts—those taking a little more time in the thinking pot.

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  5. Coming up with short story titles is definitely hard. I tend to have a working name that changes multiple times until it’s time to submit. And with some stories I’ve changed the name after submitting them a few times.

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