What’s in a Character’s Name?

How do you go about selecting names for your characters?

In a short story, flash fiction, quick piece of poetry, or example, a name can be just that: a name. It might not even be a full name. Sometimes, the reader will not even learn the name of the character at all.

In longer pieces of writing, such as novels, names are a much more important element. They do not always have to have deep significance, although they could always portray a hint of what their character is like. Think of Remus Lupin from the Harry Potter books, whose first name references Remus and Romulus, who were raised by wolves, and whose surname is a form of the Latin word for “moon”. His name is one big clue to the secret that he is a werewolf.

Names can be a significant part of our characters in other ways, too. Sticking with the Harry Potter theme, let’s think about Albus Dumbledore. It would have made no difference to the story if his name had been Jack Smith, but there’s no denying it would have robbed the character of some of his power. The name alone is designed to impress upon the reader a certain sense of awe about the character – in the same way that calling a character Judas will give the reader a distinct impression.

In the same sense, silly or ridiculous names can distract readers from a serious story. It can be amusing to give a character a quirky name, but think carefully before you do – you may be giving them this name forever, and you do not want a bad name to stick.

It is important, therefore, not to simply pick a character’s name out of a hat at random. It is a careful decision to make, even more so when it is an invented name. Having a list of words and names – real, invented, or both – is always a good idea for an eager writer. Many of these may never amount to anything – but when you find the right name, you will be thankful you took the time to make your decision.

The Bore

Having a conversation with Geoffrey was kind of like watching a foreign movie without subtitles in slow motion. He was not dull per se, but the longer that one spent in his company the less they wanted to be in it.

He had a tendency to lose his listeners when he went off on some obscure, metaphorical tangent. That was when their interest began to wane. They would start to look around the room in the hopes of finding something else to distract them. Eventually, if they nodded their head every now and then, they could drift back into the one-sided conversation without Geoffrey showing any sign that he knew they had gone off for their own private mental wander.

Geoffrey would fiddle with the sleeves of his shirt as time went on, then push the sleeve of his right arm away so that he could check his watch, as though he was the one who was eager to finish their conversation and leave. Still, hours could pass by of him talking, until eventually the listener would remember an important thing that they needed to go home and do immediately.

‘Oh dear,’ Geoffrey would say, his voice a little too exasperated for his expression. A trickle of faint relief would be seen in his eyes for a few seconds, if one looked closely enough to spot it. ‘Well, next time, then.’

Then both of them would go their separate ways, each promising themselves to ensure that the next time would not be for a long while.

Characters: Understand Your Character

At the beginning of this month, we thought about how much writers should know about the characters they have created and some ways in which writers can get to know their characters better. Today, I want to take this one step further by discussing how writers can understand their characters in order to both connect emotionally with them and develop them into more striking and memorable characters.

We have been thinking about our characters this month. So far, as well as their basic characteristics, we have thought about getting to know our characters, how we can maintain stability when writing about our characters (which gets harder the more characters you have), and how we can create distinct, individual characters within the same piece of writing. Now let’s think about understanding our characters.

Knowing your character may help you to write about them better, but it may not be enough for you to see the world around them as they experiences it, from their point of view. You may need to go deeper than this to know what your character is thinking, and how (or even whether) they can justify their own, or someone else’s, actions. You may not agree with how they look at the world, but you as the author should still be able to see how they reach the conclusions that they reach.

Understanding is a step beyond knowing. The writer has to put themselves into the mindset of their character – who may be a wildly different person. How can this be done?

  • Begin with the basics. Think about what you would do in the situation that your characters is in. Then, think about how you might react if you had the history or a prominent personality point of your characters. Why do you think you would react in this way? Why is it similar or different to your own reaction?

  • Go through your character’s thoughts one at a time so you can examine each logical or illogical step in their thought process.

  • If you have any similar experiences to your character, use them. If you know anyone who has been though a similar experience and is comfortable talking about it, then discuss it with them to try to understand what they went though and how they felt. Alternatively, look for documentaries or interviews on radio, television, and the internet.

  • If you are lucky enough to get the opportunity, put yourself in that position to experience it first-hand. You can do this as a mock-up or a real life situation.

This month’s theme is CHARACTERS. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of characters, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Characters.

Characters: Individuals

Think about your favourite book. Who are the main characters? What makes them different from each other? They might be angry, happy, sad, polite, rude, intelligent, dumb … the chances are that each character will have their own set of personality traits that makes them distinct from the others. They are, each of them, individual.

We are thinking about our characters this month. Characters are a key detail in our writing that can either make or break what we have written. So far, we have thought about the basic elements of our characters, knowing our characters inside and out, and maintaining our characters’ key features, including their personalities. Today, we’re going to think about creating distinct and individual characters.

It can be hard to build clear differences between two characters who are together in the same story. Of course, if you know your character and focus yourself on their key features, then this should make it easier to distinguish one character from another. Try to pick up on personality traits – bravery, cowardice, hatred, love, and so on – and demonstrate them when you get the opportunity to show exactly who your character is and how they tick. No two characters will ever react in the same way or say the same thing.

Your readers need to see that your characters are different people who have different hopes, dreams and agendas. Not every characters has to be a favourite, or a perfect creation, but they should be distinct enough for you as an author to build an interesting and memorable combination of personalities that interact with one another in believable ways.

How do you make your characters differences clear in your writing? Here are a few ideas to help:


  • Different characters will react differently to the same situation

  • Different characters will interact with other characters in different ways

  • Different characters have different histories

  • Different characters have different outlooks on life, e.g. their idols, their faith, their wishes

  • Different characters will view different things as important

Most importantly, remember:

  • No two characters are ever the same!

This month’s theme is CHARACTERS. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of characters, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Characters.

Dialogue Can Make a Character

A great tip to remember on the theme of Characters! There are some really good examples in here.

Writer's Forge

Dialogue is a simultaneously overlooked and much appreciated part of storytelling. It is through dialogue that characters relay information to us, be it how they are feeling, or how a story is developing, or just summing up a particular plot point so maybe we don’t get too confused. It’s through dialogue that the detective reveals to us just how he solved the case, or that a great hero gives a big motivational speech to a waiting crowd.

Dialogue is one of the most important elements in traditional fiction, from novels, to plays, and even to film which is generally a visual art form. Since many of us assume we know dialogue very well (we do after all exchange it every day), it can be easy to take it for granted and not do it quite right, but this is a mistake. Dialogue can make or break a character.

One of the…

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Characters: Maintaining Stability

One of the most agitating things for me as a writer is keeping track of the descriptions I make. Things will jump around, change colour or disappear completely depending on how detailed my descriptions are and how often I refer back to the original design. This is why I find it extremely handy to take notes on key features and store them in an easily accessible place.

This month, we are thinking about our characters. We have so far discussed the basic elements of our characters, and the need for writers to know their characters inside and out (and how we can achieve this). Today, we’re going to examine the key features of our characters, from looks to personality, and how we can maintain them throughout our writing.

It is, in my opinion, easier to maintain my character’s physical appearance than it is to maintain their personalities. Yes, you might have an eccentric character who changes the colour of their hair every other day, but most of the time your character will look pretty much the same throughout your piece. Ensuring the consistency of their personalities, reactions, and voice (among other traits) is more difficult, not at least because these are in themselves more complicated elements of a character.

There are different ways that we can regulate our characters. Here are a few things that work for me:

Keep a Journal/Record of your Character

Make sure you have it close at hand so you can refer to it to check your character’s personality/relationships/feelings, etc. I find this one especially useful when my characters have complicated relationships with a number of people in a large universe.

Make Notes for yourself in the Text

Either write these notes in the borders, footers, or in comments at the side of the page next to the first/most relevant mention of your character. Use different colours for different characters to make them easier to sort through. Keep them separate from the main body of the text, so you can delete them when you’ve finished with them.

Go Through Each Character Individually

Write your first draft. Then pick out a character and their key features, and go through every single mention of the character to check that they match up. When they speak, can you tell it’s them? Do the same with the other characters. Then move onto your next draft.

If you focus your attention on your character in one of these ways, you should be able to create a more distinct personality. What do you do to keep your character’s key features consistent?

This month’s theme is CHARACTERS. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of characters, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Characters.

Characters: Know Your Character

The most memorable characters in fiction are memorable because they are well-written, well-designed, and distinct. Character building may seem like a simple task at first. When you were young, you probably just threw your characters together (I know I did) with a physical description, a name, and a jumble of characteristics familiar to you or that you admired. Perhaps your characters were based on someone you knew – or even yourself. Of course, creating and developing characters involves much more than this and will very probably involve personalities or traits that you know next to nothing about.

We are thinking about characters this month. It is a very interesting subject, because writers constantly need to be able to create new characters or develop their existing ones. I have so far discussed the basic characteristics that we need to remember to include for our readers. Today, we are going to think about how much we should know about our own characters.

The short answer is a lot. Some people might say everything, but at the very minimum you should know more about your important characters than your readers will learn (or discover directly) through your writing. Take Albus Dumbledore, for instance: J K Rowling never inserted the fact that he was homosexual into the Harry Potter books, but she knew that he was anyway. In the same sense, you as an author should be aware of things about your characters that your readers may never come to know about them. This will help you to build a more rounded and realistic character.

This is not a fast process. While you can stockpile characters, names, backgrounds, personalities, and the like, the right character has to fit with the right plot. You should spend time designing, building and rebuilding your characters in order to bring them to life.

In this sense, you should not merely know the “hidden facts” about your character, but also how they would react to certain events and what makes them tick. In short, you, as the creator of this character, should take the time to get to know them on an intimate level. Here are some ideas that could help you to do this, a few of which I have already mentioned:

  • Write 10 facts about your character that nobody else will know.

  • Write about something that would make your character cry.

  • Write about your character’s faith, belief in the supernatural, or lack of these.

  • Write about something something your character would be willing to die for.

  • Write about what your character would do if they were lost in the desert. Would they survive?

  • Write down your character’s favourite food, drink, song, place, etc. (you may get a chance to slip these things into your writing)

What do you do to create interesting and memorable characters?

This month’s theme is CHARACTERS. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of characters, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Characters.

Characters – Basic Characteristics

This post was originally not going to be a post at all. I was going to dive straight in and start discussing some of the problems that I, as a relatively inexperienced writer, have faced when creating and developing my characters and methods that I have used to overcome these problems. However, the more that I wrote, the more that I realised I needed to go back to something far more basic than this: the actual creation of the character themselves.

Designing a character is not easy. They do not come together in a short while, just because the writer bids them to do so. Patience is key. We will think about some of the more complicated elements of character design later in the month, but for now let’s focus on the simpler parts of character creation and design that authors should remember to include in their writing.

  • You may have an idea of what you want your character to look like. It may reflect the personality you want them to have, for example a snobby character will probably work hard on making themselves look perfect. Your readers won’t know what that character looks like unless you tell them, though, so give them a good, clear picture of the character’s appearance.
  • Similar to appearance, a character’s style may reveal a lot about their personality. A character who wears long, heavy coats and hats that obscure their face probably doesn’t want people to know who they are. A character who goes out in mismatched clothes or without make-up will probably believe there are more important things than material objects.
  • General characteristics. The real world is a mixture of countless different personality types. We will think more about individuals later in the month, but in the beginning it is handy to consider general characteristics such as whether a character is naturally positive or cynical, happy or unhappy, kind or unkind, etc. This will allow you to begin with a general overview of your character, which you can demonstrate to the reader through their speech and actions.
  • Basic background and desires. Why does your character do what they do? Why do they say what they say? What is it that motivates them? In the beginning, you won’t know the details of these things – but in order to start building your character, you will need a general idea of their drives and motivations. Do they believe they are doing what is right? Are they seeking revenge?
  • Relationships with other characters. Unless all of your characters are going to meet at the beginning with absolutely no ties to one another, some of them will have relationships before your writing begins. Make it clear to the reader who knows who, and how.

It can be all too easy to miss a key basic element of your character because you, as the writer, know it already. These things – for me, in particular, the appearance of the character – can seem so simple or obvious that we can dive into more complex parts of them without giving the reader the basic information they need to picture the character.

This month’s theme is CHARACTERS. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of characters, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Characters.


Theme for September: Characters

Each month, this blog will feature posts discussing writing tips and prompts on a specific theme. This month’s theme will be CHARACTERS. I will be discussing how you can build your characters up from a basic idea into a fully fledged part of your writing.

If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of characters, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Characters.

Don’t forget that this blog is still accepting submissions, so hop on over to the Submit page if you are interested in having your writing featured here.

Emotion: How Would Your Character React?

One of the key things that we as writers need to be able to do is get into the mindsets of other people. This is how we can create our characters and their experiences, from the experiences of the lonely character in a short poem to the experiences of a fantasy warrior in a novel. When we think of how our character reacts to situations, these need to be realistic reactions that reflect their background and knowledge. One way that we can do this is by tapping into our character’s emotions.

The theme for this month is emotions. We have thus far considered the importance of emotions, by thinking about how we can identify the important emotional parts of our writing, how we can show emotions instead of telling them, and how we can use the scene to boost emotions. Today, we’re going to think about how we can apply emotions to our characters.

The most important thing to remember here is that your character is not you. Just because you would react in a particular way to an event does not mean that your character would react in the same way. Think about it like this: when some people find out that their partners have cheated on them, they can forgive them (for various reasons); others will call off the relationship (again, for their own reasons). Neither person is necessarily stronger than the other. If your character is in that situation, then you need to figure out how they would react to it and not how you think they should react.

A good way to establish how your character might be likely to react is to look at their history. For instance, if the character’s parents betrayed one another when they were a child but somehow managed to make their relationship work afterwards, then the character may be more likely to try to make their own relationship work following a betrayal, too. On the other hand, if they have moved from friend to friend throughout their life without looking back and have become used to packing their bags and moving on with their life, then they may find it easier to leave.

You can also establish the personality traits of their character that may affect their emotional reaction (remember, how they react on the outside may not be how they feel on the inside). A character who wants to look strong may leave their partner even if it breaks their heart. A character who is aggressive may approach their love rival and attempt to “get rid” of them. A character who is family focused may stay with their partner even if they know they are being cheated on.

The emotional reaction of your character to a given situation needs to feel genuine to the reader. You can practice getting into the emotional mindset of your character by putting them in different situations and using their background, life, cultural history, personality, and other traits to establish how they are likely to react. It’s not always easy to let your character lead the way – but it results in a smoother, more natural reaction.

This month’s theme is EMOTION. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of emotions, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Emotion.