What’s in a name…

Can the name of a character make or break how we react to or even write them? We all know the Rose reference in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but do names have an effect on how we see people, read characters or even write them?

In a recent post, a well known author mentioned that she now had the name of her character; she could begin to write her on the page. She was now real to her.

This struck a chord with me, or more correctly jolted a light bulb moment. I am in the process of editing my WIP but during the actual writing process up to and including this point I have not felt I know my protagonist well. As well as I should; I mean I know her story and her emotional journey, I know what she looks like and I can hear the sound of her voice, but I don’t feel a closeness that I experience with the other characters. Now I feel I know why. I haven’t chosen her forever name.

My protagonist’s name is Victoria. Before that she was Kate. But she isn’t either one of those and in the back of my mind I have known that I will change her name. When the time comes. I realise now that time was at the beginning. The relationship between myself and this character is crucial to her story and I have been keeping her at bay, at arms length by not giving her her ‘real’ name.

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Not to get all Shakespearian but a rose by any  other name is still a rose, right? Still as beautiful and fragrant? This might be true for the rose but to hark back to my original question – do names have an effect on how we see people, read characters or even write them? I believe so.

Look at the names of past fictional heroines – Emma, Elizabeth, Jane, Anna…these names still invoke ideas of old fashioned feminine strength and at least internal beauty. So how to choose the right name for my character? A baby name book? Go through the alphabet? Is she like someone I know? I haven’t had this problem in the past but I know that this time round I have to get it right.

Let me know if you suffer the same problem, or maybe you find it easy? Well, I am off to find my protagonist’s forever name. Wish me luck.

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Are your characters loveable?

Should we always write loveable characters? Or even likeable?

I recently received constructive feedback on a short story I entered into a competition. One of the comments “…this successfully built empathy for her situation whilst allowing one to dislike her for…” led me to wonder how many times a character I have had empathy for, or even a person I have met, I have disliked despite that empathy.’Empathy’ and ‘like’ don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Not long after this I listened to a great interview with Dutch writer Hermann Koch who has written best selling novels with distinctly unlikeable characters and was thereafter involved in an impromptu discussion about the emotions raised during and after reading the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante. How cross one reader was with the protagonist despite empathy for her situation.

That really is what writing a good story is about, isn’t it? Raised emotions and reactions, for the story to remain with us after we finish reading it?

Who are likeable characters and what makes them so? Anne of Green Gables?A rascallyClark Gablerogue with a handsome face and twinkle in his eye, a smile that sweeps you off your feet? A beautiful femme fatale who takes the bullet for the hero? I seem to be channeling 50s gangster movies. Bridget Jones? How about the Artful Dodger or Nancy, from Oliver Twist? Oliver goes without saying.

Our characters ought to have some redeeming features, or we would all put the story away pretty quickly.These will be in the eye of the reader and the skill of the writer. How differently is a character seen or interpreted between the mind and words of the writer and the eyes of the reader? A lot I think. Our readers are individuals and as such react, well, individually. They may not appreciate the depth of the character we as writers have slaved over.

So, must we always write likeable characters? Obviously not as the best selling status of the above mentioned authors attest. We must write flawed characters, but how deeply do we portray these flaws? We don’t want to turn our readers away. Should the protagonist be likeable and the antagonist not, because by the meaning of the word they are there to be Harper Lee booksdisliked. In one of my favourite books, To Kill  A Mocking Bird, Atticus is a warm, loveable character. However, in the recently released Go Set A Watchman, he is the antagonist; but so cleverly written by Harper Lee I am still a big fan.

What type of characters do you prefer to read? Maybe it depends on your mood at the time. After an exhausting day you might look forward to something warm and cosy with a happy ending. Or on a bleak wintry day you might want to fire yourself up with a deeply flawed character set on saving the world the hard way.

And do we write the sort of characters we like to read? After all we are in their heads a long time; we can even become them.

Back where all this began -did I like my character in the short story, do I like her now?  I’m not going to tell you, but if you would like to find out for yourself whether you might like her, I have attached a link here.

A quick note – this story, Invisible,  was placed 34th out of 251 entries; the first 31 were published. I am happy with that, and have chosen not to rewrite that story, yet; instead to move on and use their feedback on a current WIP. So the story you may be about to read is there warts and all.

 

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