Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What's in a name?

So, I haven't been one to offer up much advice to budding writers out there due to the fact that I still have a hard time remembering that I am now on the other side of the coin. I have reached publication. Book two will be out soon. I have done what many are trying to do or are doing.

They may be curious as to some of what I think on the subject of writing.

And when I do think of doing a blog about writing-how-to's, I tend to want to give links to some of the other fantastic sources I have found over the years. There aren't many topics that haven't been covered beautifully by other authors, editors and publishers.

One that sticks out and suddenly bugged me in books I am reading is the use of characters names.

I realize if you give your character an amazing name like Chyna or Bartholomew or Epicurious (okay, that last one was sort of silly, but stay with me) you want to use it. In your head he is that, she is that and that is that.

But in real life, people don't work that way. We tear names apart-- Into tiny shreds.

I was discussing this with my friend Sarah today and she has gone by many variations of her name and even been called Dani. I looked at her curiously... "Dani?"

It is her middle name.

I have been, and this is not an all inclusive or organized list, Virginia, V-dawg, Vinnie, Ginger, Ginnie, Vinnie, Virg and Turkey. I have been Miss Shallenberger, Mrs Nelson and Ms Nelson. I have been babe, toots, sweetie and ladybug. I have been many things to many people.

Only a few consistently call me Virginia. Most, at some point or another, bring up that Santa Claus bit.

I call people strange things. I know JuJu, Jolly Sue, GooBob and Turtle.

Some people are never even named. There is that 'bald guy' and 'that fast talker' and then there is 'thathotguythatmakesmelosetheabilitytospeak." I like the last one. Yum.

So if you have a seven foot tall angel waving a blazing sword... someone is going to call him Barry. Another person is going to call him Bart. Someone is going to say, "Duuuude."

Few are going to call him Bartholomew.

Especially those who interact with him with any consistency.

Using nicknames, terms of endearment, shortened names can help your reader fall into the story. Become one with the characters.

I never use contractions. So let me tell ya, this is not coming from someone who never has to edit. I don't think in contractions so I rarely write in them. So they get added after to make my people sound less cardboard. I am being honest. Sometimes I remember to put them in... more than not I use full words.

In dialogue, people talk in contractions. People shorten up names. People from the south speak with a twang that is not only noted by a modifier tag. If you aren't sure if it sounds right, read it out loud. Treat it like a play and say the words. Can you hear the richness of the south in that man's voice... almost smell honeysuckle and taste the salty sweetness of a watermelon on a hot day just in the way he drawls, "Sun don' shine on the same dog's tail all the time..."?

So names are like my contraction issue... it is something you may have to double back to catch. But in the back of your head, while you are writing, let the characters speak. Don't try to speak for them.

And listen. To the people around you. To the conversation in a restaurant. All fodder for the writery brain.


  1. Great post, Virginia. Coming from someone who has edited your work, I'd say your dialogue is fantastic!