In his painfully funny 2006 book, Famous Writers School: A Novel, Stephen Carter's writing teacher-protagonist advises his students to seek character names in the obituaries. But although Carter's bumbling protagonist offers mostly dubious advice, that tip is a keeper. Obits are full of great names. I keep a list in a notebook by the breakfast table. I haven't yet written about Normal Peasley or Lamia Trowbridge, but they're ready when I need them. ...Read the whole thing. Oh, how right Allen is here. I've been let down numerous times by mystery novels revealing a bad guy in the end with such a bland name that he never stuck in my mind as a suspect in the first place. At the other extreme lie fantasy authors who invent hopelessly outlandish monikers for their characters, unaware that such inapproachable strangeness makes them equally forgettable. Although most of my namings fall into the insipid category (a result of culling them from hardback spines and the phonebook), I can think of at least one time where I apprehended an unusual name successfully. In "Thirty-One Hundred," my protagonist owes his identity to an old friend named Wofford Ptolemy Boyd III. He wisely went by Ted most of the time.
Creative monikers don't just add color and humor to storytelling. They help the reader keep track of a large cast, and offer a shorthand reminder of their identities. Instead of calling the pizza delivery guy "Bob," if you give him an interesting ethnicity, a cowboy hat and a name like Galveston Ngyen, readers will remember him when he shows up dead 50 pages later.
Here are some basic guidelines for naming characters.
(Picture: 2009 by caseymultimedia)