How to Name Characters

I can’t start working on a piece of writing until I have the right names for my main characters. Characters are, after all, like your children, and you need to take the time to find the perfect name. And once you do find the right name, the character becomes real.

I love scouring my baby name book when I start working on a project. These are the methods I use when trying to find that perfect name.

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This is the baby name book I use to find the perfect names for my characters.

Naming Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t use names that look or sound the same.
    Nothing confuses readers (or me) more than having several character names in a story that look or sound the same. If you have a Jon, Don, and Ron all in the same story, readers are very likely to mix them up.
  • Don’t use too many names that start with the same letter
    Likewise, don’t have names that all start with the same letter to avoid confusion. When we read, our eyes move across the words quickly and our minds fill in the blanks. So if you have a John, a Jake, and a Jack all in the same story—three names all the same length and starting with the same letter—your reader is likely to ix them up as well.
  • Do use names a reader can actually pronounce and remember.
    This is mostly a problem in speculative fiction. To make their science fiction or fantasy stories interesting, writers will sometimes come up with names that look and sound really cool. But when readers encounter these made up names, they have no idea how to pronounce them and thus have trouble remembering them. The point of all of these first few tips are to make things as clear as possible to your readers.
  • Don’t use the names of people you know.
    It’s best when writing to just stay away from using the names of people you know well. Even if the character is portrayed in a nice way, it can still cause a lot of problems with you and the person the character is named after.

How to Choose

  • Name Meanings
    Using the meaning behind names is definitely my favorite way to choose the right name for a character. You can use the meaning behind a name to convey a certain trait about a character or to add irony by making the character the opposite of the meaning. You can play with name meanings in the story itself like I did in Somewhere Only We Know. Or you can not mention the meaning at all and leave it up to the reader to look up if they choose. However you use a name meaning, it can add another level of depth to your story.
  • Sounds
    Don’t only play with the meaning of names, but take into consideration how they sound. You don’t want to have a soft character with a harsh sounding name or vice versa. Or maybe you do. Sound is another way that you can play with your character names to find the perfect one.
  • Keep a List
    Finding names takes a long time, time that should be used for actually writing the story. To save time for when you start your next project, you can keep a running list of names you like. I’ve come across many names over the years that I’ve saved in my mind to use one day in a story, but it’d be nice to have an actual list. Then you can organize it by gender/genre/sound/etc to help you easily find the perfect name the next time you have a new character.
  • Time Period/Age/Setting Appropriate
    Lastly, keep in mind when writing historical fiction or older characters in contemporary fiction that names should be time and age appropriate and that characters from other places should have names appropriate for their settings. You can look up online where and when baby names where popular. That way you can make sure you don’t give your character in your story set in England in the nineteenth century a modern American name.

Resources

  • Baby Name Books
    There are so many baby name books out there that list names by meanings or other categories. I use the one in the picture above.
  • The Internet
    I prefer actual baby name books because when you go online you have to have an idea of what you’re looking for instead of just flipping through, but you can still find name meanings and time/places of popularity online.
  • Scrivener
    If you use the writing software Scrivener, they have a name generator! Just go to Tools->Writing Tools->Name Generator (for the Windows version) and you can search for names by gender, origin, meaning and letter. It comes up with first and/or last names and will generate any number of names. You can also save your favorites.

What tips/methods to do use when naming characters.

A Book I Turn to When…

Books can be friends and reminders. We turn to books to learn and sometimes to escape. Books can hold special memories and can be comfort to turn back to.

If you’re like me, these are your favorite books—the rereads you keep coming back to for different reasons. Today I wanted to share with you some of the titles I read over and over again, and why I turn to them.

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Some of my favorite rereads: Everlost by Neal Shusterman, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Selection by Kiera Cass, and Somewhere Only We Know by Bri Marino

A book I turn to when…

…I want to go on an adventureThe Skinjacker Trilogy by Neal Shusterman

The Skinjacker Trilogy—Everlost, Everwild, and Everfound—are incredible books about the world between life and death. The series follows Allie and Nick as they journey through Everlost, and it’s full of so much adventure and imagination that I love turning back to these books.

…I want to escapeThe Selection Series by Kiera Cass

I think I’ve read the original trilogy more times than any other books. I’ve written on here many times how much I love these books. The Selection is simply a fun, swoon-worthy, light read that still packs an emotional punch.

…I want to be inspiredSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak is probably my favorite book ever. This is such a powerful story about rape and healing and finding your voice, and every time I read it I feel so inspired.

…I want to enjoy a classicFahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is my favorite classic novel, and one of only a few classics I actually like. I love turning back to this older book from time to time because it is science fiction at its best.

…I want to encourage myselfSomewhere Only We Know by Bri Marino

Writing can be discouraging work, and if I need inspiration to keep going, what better work to turn back to than my own? Rereading my published book reminds me that I’ve done it before and can do it again.


What are your favorite rereads and why do you keep turning back to them?

5 Tips on Starting a Writing Project

Writing a novel is a daunting task.

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quote by Stephen King

Starting with nothing but an idea and a blank page, you have to come up with thousands of words to tell a story. Hours of brainstorming, world-building, drafting, and editing are before you, and it’s one of the scariest places to be.

I’m at the beginning right now. I’ve had my idea for a few months and have been researching. I feel like I’m getting very close to the point when I can actually start writing the novel. And I’m remembering just how scary the beginning can be.

So today I wanted to share with you my tips on starting a writing project. These tips are what seem to work for me at the beginning of the daunting task of writing a novel. I hope something in here resonates with you and can help you tackle the beginning of your own writing project

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I don’t think anything is scarier or more exciting than a blank notebook.

1. Let the idea simmer.

I don’t like to jump in right away once I have an idea. I always find that letting the idea sit in the back of my mind for a while helps it develop. It’s also important when you first think of a story idea to not talk about it to anyone. The story idea will never be as special and exciting to you as when it’s new and only yours, and talking about it with someone else can make it lose it’s specialness, thus making it less exciting to you.

2. Read/watch all of the comparable titles.

After thinking through my idea for a while, I make a list of every book and movie related to it. These comp titles help you see how other authors and filmmakers take on a similar topic, and these titles will also be used down the line when pitching your work to be published. I then spend a month or so watching all of the movies and reading all of the books to help me further develop my own story idea.

3. Immerse yourself in research.

The next crucial step is to immerse yourself in the necessary research for your project. A lot of the advice I see out there is to just start writing and make a note to come back to it later when you need to research something. That might work for some genres, but when you’re writing something more research-intensive like historical or science fiction, I find it best to do all of your research up front. Doing this will help you be better-informed about your topic and I’ve found it helps me come up with story and plot ideas as well.

4. Get to know your characters.

This is probably the most important step before starting a writing project. Stories are all about the characters. And if you don’t know your characters well before you start writing, you will feel lost and the story will lack direction. Of course, characters will surprise you and you’ll get to know them better through writing the story, but you still need to learn about them before you start.

5. Breathe.

Lastly, take a deep breath. You’re about to spend weeks/months/years with these characters and this story. So take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you can do this. And start writing.


What tips on starting a writing project would you add to this list?

I Liked the Movie Better…

I like to stay out of the book vs. movie debate.

Book-lovers everywhere love to argue about how accurately film versions portray their beloved stories, but I’ve never thought it made sense to compare books and movies. To me, it’s like comparing a painting to a song. Books and films are two completely different mediums in which to tell stories.

Books of course can contain many more details and story lines than can be included in a two-hour movie, but movies are a chance to see a story truly come to life. And in some cases—even as a book-lover and as a writer—I like the movie versions even better than the books.

This past month I watched the new movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and thought it was amazing. Since I liked it so much, I picked up the book from the library. While I thought both were good, I definitely liked the movie version of this story more, and so I wanted to write about it and the other movies I like better than their respective books.

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Some of the books of which I like the respective movies better

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Over the past couple years, I’ve been getting more and more into the romance genre, and this story is just too cute. I saw the movie first, and was smiling the whole time because of how fun it is. I really enjoyed the writing in the book, but I thought it didn’t have a good ending. The movie wrapped up the story in a much better way, in my opinion. I’m waiting on the other two books in this series from the library.

The Hunger Games Series
As I’ve wrote about before, these movies were made for the screen. The author was a screenwriter, and I think that just comes through in the writing of the books. I think the essence of the story just works better in a movie.

The Harry Potter Series
It’s not that I don’t like the Harry Potter books, it’s just that they’re so long. I have trouble sitting still long enough to read books that long. I read the first six Harry Potter books a few times when I was in middle school, but I haven’t read any of them since reading the last book when the final movie came out. I love the films though because you can see all of the magic come to life.

Stardust
The book Stardust is on my favorites list because of the excellent writing and cool story. The movie is actually pretty different than the book, but I love it even more because, again, I love seeing all of the magic come to life on screen.

Cloud Atlas
Like Harry Potter, this book is long. I’ve only read it once, and—while I think it’s amazing and I put it on my favorites list—I don’t think I have the patience to read it again. I thought the movie version was very well done, and I love what they did with the actors playing different roles in each storyline.

Les Miserables
I’ll confess, even though Les Mis is my favorite story ever, I’ve only ever read the first page of the book. It’s written like a history book, which I find boring. But I love both the movie and the musical of this story.


How do you feel about the book vs. movie debate? Do you like any movies better than the book versions?

Favorite Book Feature: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Last year I featured some of my favorite books each month with special posts saying why I love these books. You can check out my favorites book page to find links to my reviews of all of my favorites. But because I’m always adding new books to my favorites list, I thought I’d do new features each time another book makes the list.

Ask any book lover their favorite book, and they’ll find it nearly impossible to name just one. I have over fifty books on my favorites list, if you count all the books in series. If I absolutely had to say one book, it would be Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. But there are so many books that resonate with me for many different reasons, and so I call them all my favorites.

The newest addition to the list is a novel-in-verse (the first poetry to make the favorites list!)—Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough.

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Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Blood Water Paint is based on the true story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th century Roman painter. Artemisia had incredible talent and was one of the most talented painters of her time, but no one knew because her father would sign his name to her paintings. And despite how little women were valued in her time, Artemisia chose to speak the truth in her art and take her rapist to court, no matter the consequences.

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The afterword in Blood Water Paint

I’ve been trying to branch out a bit more in my reading this year, and one of the things I’ve been trying to read more of is verse. While I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy regular poetry, I am loving all of the novels-in-verse I have read. There is just something I love about reading the bare bones of a story along with the poetic language.

I also love that this book is not entirely in verse. Throughout Artemisia’s story, McCullough intersperses prose narrative stories that Artemisia’s mother told her when she was young. These stories are about Susanna and Judith, heroines who end up being the subjects of Artemisia’s most famous works and who inspire Artemisia to not be silent.

The best part about Blood Water Paint is its strong take on violence against women. This book takes place a long time ago, yet not much has changed in how charges of rape are handled. Artemisia struggles to have her voice heard and risks everything to stand up for the truth. And she also finds healing through her art, which is a theme I love to explore in my writing.

Blood Water Paint is Joy McCullough’s debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what else she does!

A Writing Resource You Should Be Using: Hoopla Digital

A while back I wrote about falling in love with audiobooks and how listening to books is a great way to fit in more reading in your life. At the time I had just discovered the app Hoopla Digital—a resource my library lets me use for free—and I had no idea how life-changing this app would be.

You can sign up for Hoopla with your library card, and then you have access to thousands and thousands of titles. Hoopla has ebooks, comics, movies, music, and—my favorite—audiobooks. And the best part is that you don’t need to wait for books like a traditional library or even some digital libraries. There is a limit to how many you can titles you can borrow per month, but you can download and enjoy right away!

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This is what your Hoopla library looks like. I always have a bunch of audiobooks checked out.

As writers we’re supposed to read as much as we write. This lets you know what’s out there so you can keep current in your genre. Reading also inspires you and shows you how to write.

But it’s hard to find time to read that much. And when I do sit down and read, I sometimes feel guilty I’m not using that time to write.

Even though it’s difficult to fit in all of my reading hours, Hoopla makes it so much easier with their vast library of audiobooks. I can read books by listening to them so much quicker than if I sat down and read print copies. And Hoopla lets me fit in reading easily throughout my day. Some of my favorite times to listen to audiobooks are when I’m:

  • getting ready in the morning
  • getting ready for bed
  • cleaning
  • crafting
  • doing puzzles
  • coloring

I’ve been able to read so much more and I love it.

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Some of my favorite books-the Selection series-are all on Hoopla. And my favorite part of the app is that I can listen to books at different speeds, like 1.5x.

This is a writing resource you should definitely be taking advantage of if your library provides it.

How to Get Ideas: Sermons

Writers are always asked how they come up with their ideas, but it’s often hard to know exactly where a story idea comes from. Ideas seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, and they sometimes come when you’re not even trying. But for those who are newer to writing and for those who are having trouble figuring out what to write next, ideas can be hard to find and you might have to force yourself to come up with them.

That’s what this blog series is all about—how to get ideas and how to develop stories from those ideas. So far I’ve written about what if questions, titles, prompts, and first lines. Today I’m going to take a look at sermons.

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How to Get Ideas: Sermons

The Bible is full of so many incredible stories, and many writers have drawn inspiration from it. Some of my favorite books inspired by the Bible have been C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series and Kiera Cass’s The Selection series. The Bible can be an amazing resource to find inspiration for your writing.

But I’m also inspired every week by the sermons I hear in church.

If you go to church regularly, every week you get to hear amazing sermons that explain the Bible and share incredible stories. Sermons expand on different stories in the Bible, then connect them to your life and something you can be doing to follow Christ.

I don’t want to be a Christian fiction writer, but I do want my faith to infuse everything I do and I want to use my writing as a way to serve the Lord. To serve God with my writing without making my stories overtly about God or Christianity, I like to take themes from the Bible or sermons and infuse them into my stories in a more subtle way.

For example, the book I had been working on for the past couple of years was a science fiction book set in a world without written language. The whole book stemmed from my what if question of What if there was no written language? I was really intrigued by this question. However, the story just lacked passion for me because, while I was growing in my faith every day, I couldn’t find God in my story.

That changed when I heard a sermon about making your life about God, not you. My pastor talked about how we live to serve God, nothing more. And it’s not about you but it starts with you. And suddenly it clicked: my two very selfish narrators who only wanted to help themselves and not their world were going to learn this lesson in my book. And by doing that, even without mentioning God, my book was going to share my faith.

I’m always going to infuse my faith into everything I write because I want to serve God with my writing. And the sermons I hear every week in church are a well of ideas to draw from.

You can use things you hear in sermons to supplement your ideas and help you show God in your writing, like I did, or you can use the things you hear to spark new ideas. The best part is that you get to hear a new sermon each week, and so there will always be something new to draw from.

How do you infuse your faith into your writing? Do you get ideas from the sermons you hear?