Picking a character name

At the launch of my new book Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill a member of the audience asked “How does a writer choose character names?”

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Although the question could apply to any genre, my answer was specific to my science fiction writing. I think of a name fairly quickly and, unless there is a compelling reason to reject the name, I usually keep it. Once I have written a bit of action and dialogue, done a character sketch and drawn my character portrait, I cannot change the name or I experience a sort of writer/character dissociation.

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'Eu-hom' Nov 11 2016 (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC)
The Slain … his name, Daniel, is not known until Book 2

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Some of my characters have ordinary names — Daniel, Vicki, Kathryn. I  choose the names of characters from cultures-not-my-own by looking at lists of popular names for specific years in the country of origin. My Asian character Ning and my Indian character Aisha got their names in this way.

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Aisha paperback.jpg

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I also have alien characters and put lots of thought into these names. My Argenops (gentle furry folk) have names like Wen-le-gone, Gar-le-gnoss and Ban-le-kin. The Gel-heads (transparent green humanoids) tend to have names beginning with ‘W’ — Waglan, Wenda and Wrall. Dock-winders have complex names of no particular pattern — Dressor, Bar’ma, Garg and Don’est. Human characters with Gel-head names (Sen-eth, Fell-eth) have an ‘-eth’ added to the name since ‘eth’ is the alien word for Earth.

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The book I am writing at present has a character with an odd name — Rist. The name is a shortened form of Tristan, but Rist suits him. I did not want to ‘mystic’ him by calling him Rhyst. However, his name means some phrases are unlikely to be written — “Rist’s wrist” or even “Rist’s hand”.

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Rist paperback.jpg

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I have a few thoughts on choosing names that may help other writers:

  1. Try to choose names scattered through the alphabet. I once read a book with a Mary, a Marie, a Michael and a Mark. I referred back to the front of the book so much, the cover fell off. The ultimate similar-name novel has to be Wuthering Heights — Cathy and Catherine left me too confused to really love the book.
  2. If you select a strange name for a character, make it pronounceable and try to have it make sense to the reader. For example, my main female character is called Odymn. She explains to the Slain that her father named her for the rare earth metal Neodymium because it was the colour of her hair (red). This will help the reader remember a strange name.'Odymn'.jpg
  3. Hesitate before naming a character after a well-known character in another story. When I named a new character Tagret, I considered if it was too close to the Game of Thrones character Ygritt or the Harry Potter character Hagrid. I would not call a character Luke (Skywalker) or Leia.Tagret paperback2018.jpg
  4. Consider the meaning of the name. Some readers are attuned to this. Many common names have a biblical origin and an associated story. My Slain’s name is Daniel and the image of a good man in a den of lions comes to mind when I see his name. Darth Vader’, which means ‘dark father’ in German, was an obvious spoiler for the reveal that Darth is Luke’s father.
  5. Think before naming a character after someone you know well. I named a minor character in my stories after a friend I like well. However I wonder if my friend may feel uncomfortable about this. At least, the character I named Zachary is a good guy, through and through!

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Character names matter. My favourite book is by Daphne Du Maurier. Strange that in a book called Rebecca, the main female character is not named (Rebecca is the name of Max De Winter’s first wife). In the book, the main character’s husband says,

You have a very lovely and unusual name.

My father was a lovely and unusual man.

A point among many to make me love this book!

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I hope you have fun naming your characters and find helpful ideas in the thoughts above!

My best always,

Alexandra

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series complications – time-lines

I have published four books in my science fiction series Meniscus. The fifth book (Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill) will be released on April 14, 2018. I have four other books in DRAFT. Keeping them straight has become a bit of a nightmare!

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'Odymn falls' final
in ‘The Town at Themble Hill’, Odymn breaks her leg … not a happy time for a girl who loves to run in the Themble Woods …

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The planet Meniscus, with its interesting landscape and biology, suggests many possible adventures. A while ago, I began to think about a ‘spin-off’ featuring the stories of different main characters. I also wanted to include characters from the first books, to give them more background and a better chance to ‘speak’.

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To weave the stories together, I realised I would need to create a time-line for my books. This would help me to situate the new characters in time and avoid character collisions. I did not want characters who were supposed to be in Prell to show up in Sintha. I did not want dead characters to live after their demise.

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The time-line shows the books in the series, the number of days covered in each book, the seasons and the years. The first eight books are consecutive, flowing from one to the other.

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time line

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In my next book, I want to introduce some of the Human recruits to the Village at Themble Hill and tell about them when they were still captives of the Gel-heads. So I knew the next book would start before the end of book Four and continue until the beginning of Book Six when Don’est’s continuous, banshee scream splits the air of the Themble.

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'Don'est'paperback
Why is Don’est screaming? You’ll have to wait until Book Six, ‘Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod’, to find out!

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Plotting the time-lines helped me know what characters I could include, the seasonal components of the setting and how to merge the stories.  It also suggested to me that I should re-number Meniscus Six, Seven and Eight to better reflect the time-line.

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time line 2

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If you are writing a series, I suggest you add time-lines to your process. Think of your story in terms of time. Determine how many days pass during the story. Plot the sequence of your stories with respect to one-another. This will help you to avoid inconsistencies and incongruencies.  It will also help you be accurate if your setting has a seasonal component.

If you are dealing with time-travel, causality and paradoxes, considering time-lines is essential!

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Hope this helps you with the writing of your series!

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All my best,

Alexandra

 

 

building a character for science fiction

When I first began to write my books about the planet Meniscus, I had my main male character firmly in my mind. I knew I wanted a character who would be strong and attractive, but one who would be very quiet. I wanted his motivations to be difficult to understand. And, I wanted him to look like this:

'Eu-hom' Nov 11 2016 (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC)

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The idea for my book came from a piece of writing I did in 1990.  The protagonist was a biologist, responsible for cataloguing plant species on an alien planet. One of the characters she encounters is Niober, a genetically-modified human, part man, part energy.

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Scan_20170731 (5).jpg

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When I returned to the writing in the fall of 2016, the name of the biologist (Odymn) and the modified human were all that I kept of that early writing (oh and the last line about being Odymn’s lover and friend). Niober’s name and the planet Kara and the energy beings all went to the bin.

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When I started writing in November 2016 and drew the image above, I was still calling my character ‘Eu-hom’, a very terrible name. That went to the bin as well.

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If I look at other books in the category science-fiction/romance, most covers have an image of a broad-shouldered, bare-chested man wooing a woman with long flowing hair. I immediately did Odymn’s hair up in a braid and covered the Slain’s chest in armour.

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The genetic manipulation idea gives me a lot of scope for making the Slain a bit strange. What really helped was providing some background for the process of genetic manipulation, in the description of another character in my book, Garg, a Doc-winder (tall, long neck, ruthless) (see here to learn more about Dock-winders):

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Garg – A Dock-winder; Head Geneticist at the Human Property Grow-up Facility in Sintha; most of the 49 tattoos on his neck were earned for Human genetic innovations, including energy armour, the nictitating eyelid, metabolic slow-down, thermal-imaging night vision, smooth-muscle vibration and disarticulating thumb and forefinger.

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The Slain’s motivation continues to be a bit of mystery in my books. When he is first introduced, he is a trader in sentient beings, kind but single-minded (take the Human from Point A to Point B). He is the product of his background, brought to Meniscus from Earth when he was eight years old and genetically manipulated to become ‘the Slain’.

I think of him, without home or family, invincible and independent, roaming back and forth across the woodlands and deserts of Meniscus, taking life as it comes his way. And, as a writer, it is easy to decide what he would do in any particular circumstance.

And then, one day, he intercepts a young woman, fleeing from a slear-snake.

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Meniscus Crossing The Churn cover painting (2)

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So, there you have him. The Slain.  A trader in sentient beings. A shrewd negotiator who is sparing with words. Fit, strong, silent in conversation. Not very flexible. A little calculating. Bare-chested except for his armour (and in winter when he wears a tunic). Critical of Odymn’s impulsive nature. Hard to figure.

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All the best,

Alexandra