Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Today's post is, pretty much, going to start with a series of questions:
  • Do you name your characters before/after you create them?
  • How fully do you develop your characters before you begin to write?
  • Do your characters evolve from the initial creation as you write?
  • Do you (or rather, have you ever . . .) change the names of your characters midstream?

I don't know about the rest of you, but my characters rarely appear fully developed with names intact, like Aphrodite from Zeus's brow. No, life isn't that simple.

In answer to my own questions, in order of appearance . . .

Do you name your characters before/after you create them?

For the most part, I have no clue of a character's name when I first begin to create a character. I guess it's kind of like my Mom. When she became pregnant the first time, she wanted a boy and wanted to name him Steve. My sister Barb was the result of that pregnancy. No Steve for Mom. Same thing with the second pregnancy. Again, no Steve for Mom, just my sister Patti. Third time was the charm - Mom got her boy (not that she loved my sisters any less for being girls) and named him Steve. Woo-hoo. Fourth time around she got me, the favorite child. I'm just saying . . .

My current main character is named Seth. I wrote quite a bit about him before, while washing dishes by hand (yes, we have a dishwasher, there's just something relaxing about washing the dishes by hand . . . unless it's after a dinner party for eight, and then we use the dishwasher), I decided his name was Seth. I like the name. The name fits (at least for the moment) the character.

How fully do you develop your characters before you begin to write?

See above - somewhat. With Seth, I had the bare basics of the character in mind. I'd written the first paragraph before I came up with a name for my main character. Sometimes, I do an Excel worksheet with the basics - hair/eye color, height/weight, interests, family (# brothers/sisters, parents married, divorced), favorite drink . . . perhaps a margarita, and all the other jazz that makes the characters real and relateable to a reader. Then, I start to write and things will occur to me about the character. Yesterday, I wrote out one simple question: Who is Seth? I then started typing very brief responses to that question. Then, kept on writing. So, no, my characters are not fully developed before I begin to write. Are yours?

Do your characters evolve from the initial creation as you write?

See above answer. For the most part, after the first few chapters, my characters are set in stone. They do evolve in a gradual way, because isn't that the point of writing? Don't our characters have to go through an evolution of sorts to get from Point A to Point B? Don't our characters have to be somewhat elastic?

Now, I did change a secondary character from a fairly nice person to a very not so nice person in one manuscript. I needed someone not so nice and there was this secondary character, mainly on the sidelines with nothing to do. I felt kind of sorry for him, so I made him a semi-villain. This worked in this instance.

Do you (or rather, have you ever . . .) change the names of your characters midstream?

I've done this maybe a time or two. Okay, many a time. In fact, the character in a project currently in editing mode has had four (yes, four) different names over the various editing phases of the project. Hey, I'm fickle at times. As the character evolved (yes, even the character changed somewhat during the writing process), so did his name. Sometimes, a name that seems so right in the beginning, isn't so right at the end. Kind of like my friend who had the perfect name picked out for her baby until the baby was born and she just didn't look like a Brittany, she looked like a Lucy. Go figure. That's how I sometimes feel about my characters. Tim may sound like the perfect name in the beginning, but Bastian might sound like a better name toward the end. There are characters, however, whose names never change.

Okay, now it's your turn, dear readers, to answer the above questions! Have fun!


Oh, and check out this link about some interesting information on POV!


ElanaJ said...

I don't name my characters before I start writing. I do keep a file of cool names I swear to use at some point in some novel somewhere. Sometimes they become my main characters, but they usually don't. Right now, I'm dying to put a "Tone" in a novel. She's my stylist, and is totally awesome.

Well, normally I don't develop my characters very much before I start. But recently, I've been trying to do better at that (and the dirty o-word) and I did a character bible type thing. It's in the "pretty lame" stage right now, and I'm not counting it a huge success. But I do think it will help later on.

My characters totally evolve from who I think they'll be into the people they really are. Yeah, I'm weird like that.

I change my character's names all the time. I just changed Katie to Bristol on Saturday. No joke. If you remember to choose the "case match" in the Find and Replace, it's a painless ten-second process. I also have characters whose names will never change. Unless my super-fantastic editor at IDK, say, Simon and Schuster tells me to change the name. ;-) Natch.

Tess said...

Some characters come to me fully formed, name and all. Others come to me in pieces or in flashes of insight as I am writing. I most often have the purpose for the character before I have the actual character.

Interesting thoughts here :)

Scott said...

Elana and Tess - thanks for the comments. Oh, and Elana, stalking is still illegal. Don't make me get that restraining order. : )

Tess - I'm in awe. I've yet to have a character (name and all) come to me fully formed . . . even when real people have inspired the characters. I'm jealous!

Elana - I think all characters evolve, or, at least in my case, do something so totally unexpected from my original intent for the character. Trust me, where one character ended up was not where I intended. : )


Litgirl01 said...

I recommend Tyrone for the gladiator!

I named my characters right away and wrote down all of their stats. However, some names changed many many times! It depended on what I was drinking that night! j/k

scott g.f. bailey said...

Do you name your characters before/after you create them?Sometimes I get the idea for the character first. Sometimes I know I'll need a certain character (right now, I have a list of characters who need names and personalities: Army Captain, Nun, etc.)

How fully do you develop your characters before you begin to write?It depends. Sometimes you think you're writing a pretty minor character who grows into a fuller character as the story evolves. My main characters should be pretty well developed before I start writing much.

Do your characters evolve from the initial creation as you write?See above. In short stories, I know the characters before I start, and they stay pretty much as I first imagined them. In novels, it depends, but usually there is some development. How much is unpredictable!

Do you (or rather, have you ever . . .) change the names of your characters midstream?I changed the name of one character in my last book, after the fourth draft. I don't even remember what his name used to be, but he needed something more militaristic, more commanding, so I changed it to Constantin. For my new book, I've changed the first name of the protagonist about three times now, and the name of the leading lady twice. For now it's Daisy (or, more properly, Margaret).

Scott said...

LitGirl - Tyrone?? Seriously? That sounds so literary. I see him with a name like Brutuscus or Erikus Maximus. : ) Kidding. Maybe

Litgirl01 said...

Gludius Maximus! Or Frank! :-D

Scott said...

LitGirl - step away from the margaritas!

Danyelle said...

Great post!

It's interesting how we all do the same thing (have characters with names and stories) but how we all do them so differently.

The character usually shows up before their name does. I'm not sure why this is. I just let my brain go to The Writing Place, and let my characters take over and write. I get to know them better as I go along. They always evolve, but stay distinctly themselves, if that makes sense. >.< Yes. I change their names. It's a huge pain. I wish they would just be as upfront with their names as they are with the story. :D

Johanna said...

I generally pick a name I have always liked or a name that would be interesting from the particular local I am writing of...I actually have a hard time changing names mid-manuscript as it were...I feel a tremendous bond with my characters once they are fleshed out on paper although once I did reluctantly change a Raquel to Rachel simply because I kept missing the q button on my keyboard and it was getting irritating!

By the way, just found your blog and am enjoying it immensely!

Scott said...

Johanna - welcome to my blog and thanks for your comments.

Sometimes, my character's names are set in stones, other times they change as the story changes . . . or if I realize the names are too familiar to people I know. That, gets tricky.