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.

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?

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 (and if your pastor is as awesome as mine), 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?

Give Yourself a Break

Are you burnt out from trying to reach your goals?

Last week I wrote a reflection about how I’m falling behind with my 2018 goals. I discussed how I was going to refocus, since focus is my word for the year. I realized I needed to focus on God and what he is doing in my life in order to accomplish my writing goals. And I took a deep breath so that I could refocus.

But first, I’m giving myself a break.

I’m burnt out from struggling to reach my goals for this year. I felt like I should be a lot further than I was, and I was beating myself up because I wasn’t. So this week I’m resting. I’m taking a step back from my writing work to give myself a reset.

Breaks like these are necessary to keep going with writing. Writing is hard and lonely work, and it’s so easy to get burnt out. It’s especially easy to get burnt out if you’re struggling to reach goals that maybe aren’t the right goals for you or if something happens in life that gets you off track, like dealing with a medical issue.

I switched writing projects recently, and so am only starting to begin the research on this new book. So of course I’m not going to reach the goal of writing a draft of my book this year. And that’s okay.

Taking this week off has helped me to reset my mind. It’s helped me to relax and refocus, which is exactly what I need to do if I want to write this new book.

However, just because I’m taking a break from most of my work, it doesn’t mean I’m not working at all. I’m just doing relaxed work. Some things I did this week are:

  • Build a 1000 piece puzzle while listening to audiobooks, both fiction and research books for my work-in-progress.
  • Kept up on social media, but only spent half as long online as usual.
  • Had coffee with a writer friend and discussed the themes in my work-in-progress.
  • Not write out my normal daily to do lists on my white board.

I still managed to work this week, but I did so in a completely relaxed, no-pressure-to-get-things-done way.

And because I did this, I feel ready to get back at is next week and refocus.

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The bookish puzzle I built this week.

Are you feeling burnt out too? Give yourself a break. Keep your mind active, but rest. Build a puzzle. Go for a walk. Talk over ideas with a friend. Relax. And get back at it next week.

How to Get Ideas: First Lines

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, and prompts. Today I’m going to take a look at first lines.

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How to Get Ideas: First Lines

The first line of any story should hook your reader into going on and reading the rest of the story. In order to hook the reader, that first line has to be interesting and get the reader curious about what’s going to happen next. The first line should have an inherent question to it that makes the reader keep reading to find the answer.

K. M. Weiland’s book Structuring Your Novel goes into detail about every aspect of story structure. I loved her chapter about hooks and first lines because she helps you understand what exactly makes a first line great. Weiland discusses the five elements a first line can have: an inherent question, character, setting, a sweeping declaration, and tone. The first line should set up some or all of these important story elements in order to make the reader want to keep reading.

Weiland also makes an important observation—that most first lines aren’t that memorable. First lines don’t have to be super-memorable, amazing lines. They simply have to make the reader want to read the next line and the line after that.

I love first lines. First lines can convey so much. They can show you the main character and setting, set the tone for the book, and ask a question that the story will answer. When I write a story, I spend a lot of time on the first scene. I love taking my time on that first scene and first line, working to make them perfect. But I also love creating stories from first lines.

With the very first full-length novel I wrote, I initially thought of it by thinking of the first line: I’ll never forget the day he came. Looking back I know that that isn’t a great first line—it’s vague and not that interesting—but that line just popped into my head one day and it got me started.

You can always change your first line later on when you edit, but you can take a line and use it as your launching point for a story. A seemingly random line—a random sentence, a piece of dialogue, and interesting description—can all be a starting point for you to write from and build a story around.

For me though, first lines usually just feel right. I had the idea for Somewhere Only We Know rolling around in my head for years, but it wasn’t until I thought of a new first line that I was able to write the entire book. I love my first line. It introduces Frankie and Susan, explains what happened to their mother, and asks the question of why Susan is boxing up her books. It piqued my curiosity and made me want to keep writing. I hope it makes readers want to keep reading

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The first lines of Somewhere Only We Know

What’s your favorite first line from a book? Do you like creating stories from first lines?

Finding Your Time

Are you an Early Bird or Night Owl?

We’ve all be asked this question before, but I’ve never really liked it because I’ve never felt like either. I like to sleep in a little and take my mornings slow and easy. And, while I do stay up later, I don’t do anything productive later at night.

I’m not an early bird or a night owl. Instead, what I’ve found is that I’m a 10:00 am person.

I take my time getting ready in the morning, relaxing and spending time with God, and after I eat breakfast I get down to work. I can usually be pretty productive between 10 am and 2 pm.

I know that I’m lucky to get to work from home. I get to plan how my days go and can work whatever hours I choose. I know not everyone has that luxury. But the point I’m trying to make is to find your time.

People are not necessarily early birds or night owls, but everyone has a time when they feel the most awake and energized and can be the most productive. Finding that time for you is imperative because fighting your body’s natural rhythm will not help you be productive. This is especially important for creative people because it’s really hard to create when you don’t feel energized.

Once you find what time works best for you, make the most of it. Plan your schedule around it. Save the most important tasks or activities for when you can give them your complete focus. And if you write or create something, do it during this time.

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What is your time?

A great example of someone who has found their time is my good friend Alli. Alli is most definitely an early bird. She wakes up around four every day so she can have her alone time and get stuff done. She gets her workouts done in the morning and often does a lot of work for her bakery business. Alli inspires me every day with how dedicated she is to her work and how she schedules her time to make the most of her most productive hours. Also her cake balls are amazing and you should check out her website here.

Have you found your time? In what hours do you feel the most productive?