I am terrible at giving characters names. I ran around with a character name in my head for years, only to give him something completely different in the end (though, for some reason, the syllable scheme stayed the same). I find it’s something of an afterthought for me, even though I like to think I focus on character in my writing.
But seriously, why am I so bad at this?
I think in my day-to-day life I’m pretty terrible at names too. I tend to remember people by their face or some characteristic that I’ve focused on. But if you were to ask me, “Hey, do you remember Kevin?” I’d give you a blank look. However, if you asked “remember that guy with the blue Honda?” I’d say “Yeah! That guy. What was his name?” Kevin will always be filed away as blue-Honda guy and not Kevin WhatsHisName.
My writing is not shielded from this terrible fault.
While I’ve been working on WOUND: Thirst, I notice that I’m getting some names mixed up. While, the writing and editing are all my responsibility, picking the names in the first place was also my responsibility and I am failing on both parts. There’s no defense for this. Serial writing feels like its about being in the moment, focusing on one piece at a time. But it’s not an exquisite corpse. I can see all the other pieces and, well, I wrote them. So even if Marla is just a secondary character without her own POV, I should still remember that her name isn’t Marlene. Her mother’s name is Darlene, I think. Wait. Which one is the mother?
So my of my character creation comes out in the action and dialog when I write. I look forward to discovering what they will do and who they are. Sometimes I’m surprised by the choices they make. I also know (because I’ve tried this before) that doing extensive character sheets bleeds a lot of interest out of them for me.
I like to have a soft outline for plot (or at least know where I’m supposed to end up) but let the characters define themselves.
CAVEAT: Writers often talk about writing their characters as if they have autonomy, small sentient beings that think for themselves. They aren’t and they don’t. It’s just that during the writing, some of those decisions are not cognitively produced, or, the decision-train that produces certain actions/words is so fast and so quick, it feels like it comes from somewhere else. It doesn’t. The magic is inside you and me. I just forgot what it’s name is.
Had I more privacy, I would write a list of my character names on a post-it note and keep it prominent on my desk. However, a lot of my writing is done in the dark, for…reasons… and I want to keep it that way. So, I’ve moved an all-caps character list to the top of my Scrivener binder, in the hopes that I refer to it from time to time and don’t have to suddenly go back and correct an old chapter.
Marla and Darlene – what was I thinking? I’ll make it up to them in an upcoming episode.