April 24, 2015

Who Are They? The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Choosing Character Names

I used to be a teacher, so let’s start with a quiz. Yes, it’s a bit of shameless self promotion, but I promise it will be fun, and I’m sure you’ll earn an A+. Your task: Match the names of some of the characters from my cozy mysteries to their correct identification. Which decription FITS which name? Answers are listed at the end of this blog. No cheating!

1. Miss Rusty              a. Construction worker, well-meaning but a bit na├»ve                                 
2. Ethel and Doreen    b. Obnoxious TV news reporter who’s always butting in where he’s not wanted
3. Karen Sembler        c. 2 goats who wander off the farm and into trouble
4. Rose and Ruby        d. Bra saleswoman who’s partial to wearing mini-skirts and stillettos 
5. Evert Osgood                      e. Parrot who repeats everything it hears
6. Bee Bee                   f.  A chubby basset hound
7. Candy Poppe                       g. Carpenter who considers her tool belt a fashion accesssory
8. Jimmy Beak                        h. Best friends, 2 fiesty old ladies who take pride in driving their grown sons nuts

All done? Easy, right? If so, I did my job well—I gave my characters names that reveal something about who they are.

In genre fiction, it’s fun to use names to provide hints about a character’s gender, age, job, and personality. For instance, would Ethel and Doreen really be the names of two goats, or two teenaged girls heading to a tatoo parlor? No! Ethel and Doreen are the old ladies, of course. And does Evert Osgood sound like an obnoxious reporter or the kind-hearted construction worker? Jimmy Beaky’s the nosey (Get it?) reporter. Who’s the bra sales woman in stillettos? Karen Sembler or Candy Poppe? Do I even need to clarify that one? That leaves the animals. A basset hound named Bee Bee is possible, but doesn’t Miss Rusty say so much more? And Bee Bee for a parrot who repeats things? I like it!

Although I gave you a test, try not to test your readers. Names should help the reader keep track of who’s who. With that in mind, avoid giving characters names that sound alike (Jimmy and Timmy), and/or start with the same letter (Ethel and Edna). Avoid names that aren’t gender-specific (Francis, Gale, and Terry could be boys or girls), and avoid names that end in “S” because conjunctions and possessives get so darned awkward. (Miss Rusty is Francis’s dog, versus Miss Rusty is Frank’s dog. Neither is a great sentence, but you get the picture.)

Always be on the lookout for the perfect name. Call me odd, but I love wandering around cemeteries! I also have a book of baby names and keep a stockpile of old-fashioned (pre-cell phone era) phone books. Church directories and commencement ceremony booklets are other good sources.
Names may seem like a minor detail, but they’re important!
Answers: 1-f, 2-h, 3-g, 4-c, 5-a, 6-e, 7-d, 8-b
Cozy mystery author Cindy Blackburn spends her days sitting around in her pajamas thinking up unlikely plot twists and ironing out the quirks and kinks of lovable characters. When she’s not working on the Cue Ball Mysteries or the Cassie Baxter Mysteries, Cindy enjoys taking long walks with her cute hubby John or playing with her fat cat Betty. A native Vermonter who hates snow, Cindy divides her time between the south and the north. Most of the year you’ll find her in South Carolina, but come summer she’ll be on the porch of her lakeside shack in Vermont. Cindy’s favorite TV show is The Big Bang Theory, her favorite movie is Moonstruck, and her favorite color is orange. Cindy dislikes vacuuming, traffic, and lima beans. Learn more about Cindy and her books at  Cindy can also be found on Facebook and Twitter   @cbmysteries

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