Writing

Where did your characters come from? How did they get their names?

Every writer has their own process for finding names.  I work with the public, so I hear a LOT of names.  I also collect baby name books, and I’ve been known to thumb through a phone book, especially for last names.

Bobbi Williamson was the first character I ever created.  Period.

Before we go any further, I didn’t plan I being a writer.  I’ve never taken a creative writing course, not even in high school.  I took lots and lots literature classes, but those focused on picking apart other people’s work, not creating anything new.  I wrote the usual term papers in college, but they were informative pieces of drivel.  Bobbi was different.  She was my first attempt at creating something out of a bunch of random ideas.  I didn’t know what I was doing.  Most writers get to work through this stuff when they’re still in elementary school or they have a teacher slap a book in front of them and give them assignments.  I didn’t have that.  I had trial and error.

I have at least a dozen notebooks, my first attempts at writing a novel.  Most of the stuff in them is awful.  But I’d write something, then pick it apart, and try to figure out WHY it was awful.  My biggest problem, besides being clueless, stemmed from not knowing my main character, Bobbi.  Who was she?  What made her tick?  I knew her parents wanted a boy.  She was supposed to be named Robert.  Her parents named her Roberta instead.  This was my first attempt at thinking about a character’s back-story.  It took me a while to name her.  I wanted her to have name with masculine roots, something a bit old fashioned. Incidentally, Bobbi was named after a guy my husband worked with.  He spells his name with a “y.”

My early drafts weren’t a waste.  They gave me a LONG time to get to know Bobbi Williamson.  The theory being, the better I know my main character, the less sucky my book will be.  Do they teach that in school?  Maybe.  They probably have a better way of saying it.  😉

At this point, Bobbi and I know one another well enough for her to pop into my dreams when the occasion suits her.  It was VERY strange seeing her there the first time.  She’s not a real person, so seeing her in 3D, being able to interact with her…is really…different.  Regardless, I know what kind of crap she carries around in her purse.  I know what her closets look like.  I know what books she reads, the music she listens to…and yet, she still manages to surprise me.  Odd, since she came out of my imagination.

Long story short, Bobbi has a special place in my heart.  She’s taught me a LOT.

Chloe Williamson…well she’s a horse of a different color.  It was MUCH easier to create Chloe than it was Bobbi.  Chloe practically created herself.  You see Chloe didn’t exist in the first few drafts.  My son found a kitten under our porch.  We took care of it for a bit, our neighbor adopted her, and named the cat “Chloe.”  What a cute name for a cat!  I couldn’t get her name out of my head.  And while I’m not a “kid person,” Chloe Williamson’s character is teenager.  I didn’t know she was supposed to be in my story.  She squirmed her way in there, changed EVERYTHING around, and made my life Hell.  If it wasn’t for her, I probably would have written a nice paranormal romance story or something, and been finished by now.  But noooooo!  Chloe turned the whole book on its ear!  (As teenagers are known to do.)  Also, if she were real, I’d give her a giant hug for taking over my plot.  She may have come out of my imagination, but she helped me work through a TON of old baggage, stuff I didn’t know I was carrying around.  She sees things differently.  She has a child’s view of the world.

I have other characters of course, but Bobbi and Chloe are the main characters of the novel I’m finishing up.  When I give an excerpt, it’s either from a “Bobbi Chapter,” or a “Chloe Chapter.”  Odd Chapters are from Bobbi’s perspective, even are from Chloe’s.  Will this be confusing to readers?  I hope not.  I’m sure it would have been easier to write the whole book in 3rd person point of view, but then you couldn’t crawl around inside Bobbi and Chloe’s skulls.  Teenagers talk and think differently than adults.  I try to reflect that in my writing.  They’ve both been fun characters to work with.  If anyone else gets ANY enjoyment from them, that’s just gravy!  🙂

Have a great day!

Juli

 

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6 thoughts on “Where did your characters come from? How did they get their names?”

  1. My characters just sort of pop in my head. Then they take over my story! LOL

    I had an interesting thing happen. I was trying to name a character in my current WIP, but he kept wanting to be David. No matter how much I tried to give him another name, he was David in my head. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that I wrote another book with a character named David. But, then again, it’s a common name. So David won out. 🙂

    I look forward to reading about Bobbi and Chloe.

  2. I have many characters and the group continues to expand. Two of my main ones were deliberately named, Gideon and Phoebe. The kids in one of my stories received the names of people I went to school with. I don’t know why. The people in my devil stories came from people I know now. Names generally are not important to me the personalities are. They keep me company when I am lonely, they make me laugh with their antics. They’ve been leaving me alone until I get over my jet lag. But soon I will have to deal with 6 new ones, Gladstone, Quinn, Kelley, Vonny (short for Yvonne) Robert and Charlotte.

  3. Now that’s interesting! I never know my characters until i write them for awhile – then I go back and fix them because of course *I* think I do and I am always wrong.

    The chloe story is fun! I have a cousin named Chloe – remind me to tell you about her one of these days. I think I owe you a mail anyway :p

    I find that a character’s name sets their personality. I’ve changed character’s names (or tried to in some cases) and their personalities, reactions and even motivations will often change. In the newest one I tried to change Sadihra to Zadihra to eliminate yet *another* S name and when I did she was suddenly much colder and more sophisticated, and didn’t fit anymore at all. So I had to give her back her S.

    1. Thanks!

      Names DO set their personalities! Sometimes I like to look at the approximate year a character was born in, and pick a name from the top twenty for their birth year. VERY different results 1980 vs 1880! LOL

      Ooooh! I WANT to hear the cousin Chloe story.

      I went to school with a Chloe. She lived down the street from me. Very nice person. Unfortunately, I never thought about her until AFTER my character’s personality was set, then I almost thought about changing the character’s name…but it was too late. Her name IS Chloe, no relation to anyone I know…other than my neighbor’s cat. LOL Because I never associated my character with my former neighbor, they don’t look anything alike.

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