I’m nearing the end of the pre-writing character development phase for Teshovar Book 2 and expect to be well into structural work by the start of next week. I do work on my writing every day, whether that takes the form of planning, outlining, drafting, or revising. I’ve found that making detailed to-do lists and sticking to a daily schedule is the best and only way for me to push forward and make continual progress on whichever book currently has my focus.
One of the toughest parts of the character development process for me is naming new characters. I’ve had readers ask what my secret is for coming up with names, and the only secret is that I tend to agonize over what to call characters until the very last possible minute. For most of the planning process of Akithar’s Greatest Trick, Lizandra and Reykas were “Acrobat 1” and “Acrobat 2,” and Nera Mollor and Lucian Gieck both had their names changed after I’d completely finished the first draft of the book.
The guiding principles I have for naming characters are:
- Each name needs to be unique enough within the story that the reader won’t get confused. I usually am dealing with many different characters, and I know it can be easy to lose track of who’s who in big books. Therefore, I try to make the important characters have names that aren’t too similar to each other, and I especially try to distribute names throughout the alphabet so that I don’t end up with five key characters whose names start with the same letter.
- Names shouldn’t be unnecessarily complex. For most of the same reasons as #1, I don’t want to throw characters with 25-letter names into my stories unless there’s a narrative reason to do so. Readers should be engaged with the characters on an emotional level as they follow their steps through the plot. Names shouldn’t stop the reader cold as they try to parse out the phonics. I even have a Pronunciations section on my website where I’ve recorded myself speaking all the potentially confusing names, just because I don’t want the names to be the thing that steals your attention.
- Every name needs to feel right. I’m not a writer who looks through baby naming books or does a lot of research to find out what particular names mean. It’s more important to me that the sound, look, and overall feel of a name match the character than for levels of deep meanings to be hidden within names. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t do something like that, but the aesthetic of the name certainly takes priority for me. That’s why the main character in The Gem of Tagath ended up being named Pria, even though I went through the pre-writing process calling her by a completely different and less suitable name.
- Each name needs to fit into the world. The Teshovar series takes place in a world with various cultures, races, tribes, and communities. Language may vary from one people to another, and it’s important to make sure that characters from a particular group have names that fit with others from that group, given that similar cultural or linguistic influences may have shaped those names.
I ran into a naming crisis this week as I was working on Teshovar Book 2. There’s a new character making her debut in that book who has existed in plans in my notebooks for around five years, and she is as close to fully formed as any of my characters ever have been in pre-writing, even having been named for at least the past year or so. As clever as I thought I’d been with this character’s name, I’ve been reading Tamsyn Muir’s brilliant book Gideon the Ninth this month, and it turns out I wasn’t so original after all! A character in that book has the same name as my new character, and it’s an odd enough name that I didn’t feel like there’s enough room in the current fantasy market for both of them. So my character went through an abrupt name change, and I’m happier with her now than I was before!