Friday, February 26, 2016

Finding a Story, Part Four

Parts One, Two, and Three

Well, our criminal protagonist has a name now, so that's good news. Jacob "Jake" Barlow was born in roughly 1890, and found himself on a prison train in the mid 1930's (on account of all the murdering). So I guess today we’re going to talk about naming characters.

There is a process for this whole naming business. Sometimes the names just show up in my head, but usually I have to go find them. Typically the process for first names is to go to, and look up the most popular names for the year the character was born. I don't write fantasy, so I don't need weird elf names or anything. This time around, I also looked at this list of Depression-era outlaws.

If I don't have a last name in mind, behindthename has a sister site for surnames, and I'll usually browse names by whatever ethnic background the character has (in this case, English). It's a very scientific process, wherein I go through lists of names until I find a pair of first and last names that sound good together. I have a whole list of mental rules that I go by revolving around a balance of vowel sounds and ban on alliterative names (averted once with Albert Armstrong, and he got assassinated).

That of course leaves the question of how I determined when Jake Barlow was born. Long story short, I can picture the guy. Long story slightly longer, because I'm a visual person when it comes to these things, I imagine each of my stories as a movie that plays in my head, and I just write down what I see. What movie would be complete without a cast of characters, so I cast the principal parts for my mental movie, and that tends to answer those pesky questions like how old someone is and what they look like. So, that's how I can tell you that Jake Barlow is in his mid-40s. I could also tell you that he was born in Australia, but emigrated to the US long enough ago to lose about half his accent, but that's neither here nor there.

A side thought about names:

I have, on various occasions, given characters names that were somehow meaningful, like the meaning of their name somehow described them. The best example of this was a story I wrote a couple of years ago about a circus whose members were supernaturally trapped there. It featured a pair of conjoined twins, named Thomas (meaning "twin") and Levi (meaning "attached"). I've spent the past two years thinking I'm hilarious for a joke no one was ever going to notice. Not that I'm a stranger to making inside jokes with myself.

That's all I have for this installment. I'm actually writing this ahead of time and scheduling it to post in the future, so hopefully I won't be so long in updating next time.

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  1. Barlow as is in not setting the bar very high ha. I am just kidding I have great expectations for this story and cant wait to see what happens with Jake now that he has a name and a ride. I now understand the process of the name and as these characters rome around in the movie in your head. How do you set the tone for the places that appear in your story do billboards pop up saying enchanted forest or scary circus in Chicago rainy streets of Seattle or do you name them after you see the story. What comes first the city or just a random location and you build from there?

  2. ChaoswithinthestarOctober 27, 2016 at 8:53 PM

    Usually I am quite loath to comment on historical posts, but seeing as this one exactly describes my own creative processes for envisioning stories and naming characters, I felt compelled to write a ridiculously long sentence that awkwardly attempts to compliment you on your ingenuity regardless of the obvious bias I would have towards a familiar process. Perhaps "You kick ass" would have been better.