#SaystheEditor Step Outside Your Life


One in an occasional series

Today’s post was inspired by my own good intentions, intentions that have come back to haunt me.

One of the things I struggle most with is names, especially names for minor characters. Throwaway people, who I expect to use once and never see again. There have been many in all the Trevolution writings, people who crossed paths with the band for one reason or another. And you can always tell who the characters who intrigue me are: they mostly have intriguing names. Lyric. Boomer. Chelle. And yes, even Pam the exercise instructor who tries to use Trevor to get to Mitchell.

Like I said, those aren’t the problem children. I don’t know any Lyrics or Boomers or Chelles, and as for Pams… well, not many, anyway. Pam Derbish is her own woman. But… she was never meant to be a one-story flash in the pan.

It’s when I’m sitting around, getting desperate because I know the name doesn’t matter. That the character is nothing more than a vehicle, a catalyst for the story to unfold around, so why am I stressing about a name? And so, I turned to real life, figuring it would be a nice way to pay tribute to friends who meant a lot to me. Maybe that way, the characters would elevate themselves and be more than just a name on a page.

So what’s the problem?

Well, I fell out of touch with most of those friends. One did something I know I ought to find forgiveness for, but I’m not there yet. That one’ll be a long time coming, I think.

Which means that every time I look at those characters’ names, I pause with a note of regret. I miss a bunch of them. I am upset about the choices the other made (and continues to make), knowingly or unknowingly.

Now, it’s a sight better than the woman I once knew who published a collection of short stories in the early ’90s. She apparently didn’t merely use her family members’ names. She fictionalized them, and the fiction wasn’t exactly flattering (“pathetic” was how I characterized the lot of them when I read the book) — in their eyes. I still recall the pain in her eyes and etched into her face when she looked at a stack of wedding invitations from those people. They hadn’t even bothered to open the invitations and send back the RSVP card. Nope. They’d all written REFUSED across the front and had it returned to her.

Don’t be me, and don’t be that woman. Step outside your life and give your characters names that don’t mean a darn thing.



  1. Ann (bunnygirl)

    April 3, 2014 2:55 pm

    I only used a “real” name once, and it was a first name that is fairly common. No regrets so far.

    One thing I do to get fresh names is run a query of employee first and last names where I work. I then randomly mix them up so the first and last no longer match any real employees, and voila! Pick you favorites!

    This obviously isn’t an option for most writers, but one could do something similar by putting first and last names from news stories and phone directories into a spreadsheet and then re-sorting.

  2. Dana Griffin

    April 7, 2014 10:38 am

    Names for characters are difficult for me. I can picture the character, know their flaws and endearing characteristics, but damn if I know their name. Luckily, the website where I have my stories critiqued has a name generator. I run through a list of names it comes up with until I find the one that sounds right for the character.

    There was a character in my last novel that is named and cloned after my cousin who begged to be in the story. Which one you ask, my lips are sealed.

    But, on the other aspect of your post, why is it we as humans can make decisions, or do something spontaneous, feeling all justified in our choice, but live to wish we had thought it through a little more? There are many choices I’ve made in my life, similar to naming characters after real people, that I wish I had either not done, or done differently.

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