Monday, July 26, 2010

Christening Your Characters by Ocieanna Fleiss

Ocieanna Fleiss, dear friend and fellow critique partner, is back this Manuscript Monday with a new two-part series. Do you ever have trouble choosing just the right names for your characters? She'll share some tips this week and next to help make the task less daunting.

Christening Your Characters: Part One*
by Ocieanna Fleiss

“I’m sorry, hon, but the name Barry does not shout ‘strong protagonist.’ Sounds more like a stuck-up socialite to me,” I playfully chided a friend in my critique group. “Bar-ry,” I mocked. “Come down to the club and join me in a rousing game of squash.”

She laughed. But another critique-er contradicted my dislike of the name. She thought Barry aptly described the laid-back, hard-working guy the writer portrayed.

Well, I still think I was right, but that’s not the point. The point is that names matter—are worth thinking about, discussing, and refining. I want my characters’ names to do something—exactly what can vary—but overall, I want them to resonate with my readers.

How do we christen our characters? Here are some techniques I’ve found as well as some “Why’s”.

Poor Asheley Wilkes

Sometimes we pick based chiefly on how a name sounds. A well-toned moniker helps readers relate to the carefully crafted players in our stories. Consider some familiar characters. From Pride and Prejudice, Bingly chimes of happy congeniality; Darcy sounds dark. Scarlett O’hara fits perfectly, as does Rhett Butler. And don’t forget poor Asheley Wilkes—what hope did he have with that flimsy name?

To work through this process, I throw names on my characters like changes of clothes. Does Bubba McFlat fit? No. How ‘bout Charlie Prince? Not really. Jonathan Kirkpatrick. Yeah, that one’s pretty good. Dickens mastered this. Ebeneezer Scrooge—what name could sour the ears better? And Fezziwig rings of a jolly party thrower. Tiny Tim? Can’t help but feel sorry for the sweet tyke.

The Why? Picking names based on sound adds another tool to give the reader a deeper sense of satisfaction with our stories. On the flip side, an ill-fitting name distracts and annoys.

Find the Hidden Meaning

My husband recently read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. “Honey,” he said, his voice full of thought, “I think Evangeline represents the gospel.” (Evangel means gospel. How smart is he?) Lots of names are pregnant with meaning. Did you know Aslan means lion in Turkish? And think about Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout—she’s scouting out the truth. Or a strong leader might have the name, Leo, suggesting lion.

If you have a well-defined character, make a list of his or her traits. Then go to a baby names Web site** and look up names that go with the meanings you’ve listed. You may not find the perfect fit, but it’ll spark your creativity.

The Why? Layers, layers, layers. Giving our characters meaningful names adds the yummy depth that keeps readers coming back for more.

Next Monday, I'll share more tips on naming your characters.

* This article first appeared in Northwest Christian Author newsletter.
** Babynames.com is a good one. Go to their Advanced Search section to look up names by meaning.

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Ocieanna Fleiss
has cowritten two novels with Tricia Goyer—both for Summerside press. The most recent, Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington, released July, 2010. Ocieanna has also written several articles for national publications and a bi-monthy column for Northwest Christian Writers Association. Homeschool mom of four little ones, she, along with her husband, stay busy at her home in the Seattle area.

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Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington by Tricia Goyer and Ocieanna Fleiss:

The Second World War has stolen Rosalie's fiance from her. But rather than wallow, Rosalie throws herself into her work at the Boeing plant in Victory Heights, shooting rivets into the B-17 bombers that will destroy the enemy. A local reporter dubs her Seattle's Own Rosie the Riveter, and her story lends inspiration to women across the country. While Rosalie's strong arms can bear the weight of this new responsibility, her heart cannot handle the intense feelings that begin to surface for Kenny, the handsome reporter. Fear of a second heartbreak is a powerful opponent - but will it claim victory over love?

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