Four ways to come up with names

Do you have trouble coming up with fantasy names?  Do others make it look easy while you are struggling?  Here are 4 ways to come up with names.

1)      Steal them from another writer.  Some main characters have really neat and original names, other times it’s the character we see for one page, either way the name is something you wish you had thought of.  Well steal it.  Honestly think of how many Jennifers or Roberts you know?  Not much different is there?  Just be careful that you don’t take a name which is highly popular and use if for your own main character or people might think you are a copy-cat writer.

2)      Take a name you like and change it slightly.  This may sound strange but it gives you a unique name, without having to struggle for one.  In fantasy, this is especially useful since many names are odd sounding to give them the element fantasy writers are looking for.  You could add or delete letters or even change the order of them.

3)      Find a name generation site and play with it until you find something you like.  I have seen some sites which give names for Welsh, Irish, English, Elves, Dwarves, etc.  Some will generate several names at once and others one at a time.  You can always keep a list of these to pull out when needed so you don’t have to keep going back.  This is especially useful if you write offline.

4)      Use names which mean something to describe your character.  JK Rowling did this with many of her Harry Potter characters.  The most obvious was Remus Lupin since lupine means wolfish in Latin.  She had several others which were not as common though.

I have used all four of these techniques and they have made life much easier when a new character pops in my story.  Do you think these will help you?  Do you have other techniques which you use that might help others out?

Do You Know Your Characters

I have been writing along for a while, creating some new characters who have names, and for some, personalities.  I don’t have a file of characters ready to drop into my story as needed.  It’s something I am considering doing, at least with names because that’s the hardest part for me, but currently I just go with it.

I have to admit, that actually works fairly well for me.  Since I don’t outline my story ahead of time, I get all kinds of twists and turns in the middle of the story.  Yes I know where the story is starting and where the ending is going to be.  I have a general idea of what will happen in the middle but I leave it at that because, well my characters do things I didn’t forsee which so far has made the story better, or at the very least more interesting.

But this raises the question of if I actually know my characters before I start writing.  Truth be told, not really.  I start with a name, race, a few details and then let them tell me who they are.  Some would say that’s stupid because how can you put obstacles in your characters paths if you don’t know their fears, desires, needs, etc.  Well sorry but if I had tried to do that with some of my characters I would have been shoehorning them into the story and it would be very forced.  I think the way I do it makes them more real.

For instance my first book attempt was built on characters from the role-playing group I DM’d.  The story was all me but the characters were all them.  Some of those were more vivid than others because of how they were played in the game.  But it wasn’t until I started writing about them that I realized a few things.  I have one set of brothers where one of them is bitter and distrustful.  He’s an ass let me tell you and I hated that character so much when we played.  It made for a great game and he made that first book attempt awesome to write.  Partway through I had the other brother talking to another character.  They are both elves from the same area.  I discovered that my elves have a ritual they perform when they come of age as adults.  And the reason the one elf is so distrustful is that his mother married a human who killed her so he doesn’t want to return for this ritual.

When I figured that out I was seriously shocked.  It made him not seem like such a jerk anymore.  I still write him as an ass to a lot of people but I understand why now.

That of course got me thinking about who really knows all about their characters before they write.  I can’t imagine that every writer knows everything.  Discovery is great.  I love reading things about characters I would never have guessed and writing them the same way is a blast.  So I don’t think I’ll worry too much about knowing every little detail about my characters.  They will tell me what they want me to know when they want me to know it.