It never ceases to amaze me how much of a character will “spring” from finding the perfect name.
In writing the book I’ve always wanted to read (somebody help me with the credit on that line), I knew I wanted to have at least one family whose child-bearing pattern would actually match that of a pre-birth control era.
You ever notice how few children are in most folktales?
As a storyteller/writer I can appreciate trying to keep things simple for the sake of the story, but I feel that (especially in the space a novel allows) the reality of the era ought to overshadow a bit our subconscious expectations.
So I planned for two of my major (not main) characters to be siblings from a big family, then I sketched out time line that would have their mother pregnant at intervals reasonable for the era.
This allowed me to set them into the birth-order in ways that explained some of their behavior (very fun) but left me needing to create at least names for all these other children.
I finally did that today, and I was surprised at how much I could get from nothing more than a name/birth-order combo. A short sampling of new “extras”:
- The stolid oldest son of average intelligence who enjoys working with his father
- The “joker” younger son who embraces the role of “village idiot” and uses what he learns (his part looks like it’s definitely going to grow— another spontaneous creation)
- The “invisible” middle child (even his name is boring)
- The sweetness of a little girl who becomes her brother’s first failed rescue and undeserved guilt. (This sets up a whole character arc).
This all falls under background work, and may never see the light, but (especially the bit with the little sister) it clarifies a major character’s background and motivation and clears the way for better writing.
I love playing with names.
Oh, and remember the event/age matching I mentioned before? A very kind friend did make me a custom Excel program, and it’s been awesome.
I’m still working at entering formulas to calculate dates (rather than dates themselves, in case I end up needing to move something), and adding events and individuals.
This program allows me to include more characters in the calculations (since I don’t have to iterate everything out for each minor player), and helps me better keep track of everyone.
It enables me to seriously juggle this huge family and quickly compare where new people fit in.
One of my favorite parts of writing is coming up with names. I bought my first baby name book when I was 14 years old. It’s a sickness. That’s probably why my husband and I have given all of our daughters the same first initial: to narrow down my choices!
As for writing, the challenge is getting my characters (who are so REAL to me) to do what they must do. I’ve found that a slight name change can make a huge difference in the story. Strange, but true.