On Character Names

What comes first: the character or the name?

I think it’s different for everyone, just like some writers are plotters and some are pantsers. I’m working hard on revisions for FIRSTS at the moment, but I have several WIP ideas circulating in my head. That’s all they are– ideas, no plot– but one thing they have in common is that I have named the main characters.

I have heard writers say they aren’t attached at all to their characters’ names, that they could switch one and put a new one in without thinking twice. But for some of us, the thought of changing a name would be a huge deal. For me, the name is usually a starting point, and a font of inspiration. Once I name a main character, I feel like I’m on the way to giving the story legs. The name is the one thing I know I have figured out.

This might account for some of my struggles writing WAITRESS. I didn’t have a name for my main character for most of the book. I toyed with a couple different ones, but none felt quite right, until I settled on Bethany. I kept throwing different names at the story, and they just didn’t work. I would think, “I don’t know who she is, but she’s definitely not a ______.” In the end, Bethany was the only one that felt like the character for me. I even switched up secondary character names because I wasn’t happy with them. Most of the supporting cast started the book with one name and ended with a different one.

For DAMSELS, I knew the main characters’ names before I knew anything else about the book. I knew Briar and Savannah would be the best friends at the story’s core, and I knew Carson was the only name that would fit the guy they both fall in love with. I never once questioned any of the names I came up with. And this time, the characters felt more like real people– people I could fully visualize in my head, like they were people I knew instead of characters on paper. (Which is good, considering I spent more time with those people in my head than people in real life.) When I finished writing the book, I missed them like real people too.

In FIRSTS, the main character’s name is Mercedes. I loved the name because it worked perfectly with the story. I didn’t have the other characters in my head when the story started, but as soon as one of them would pop up on the page, I would find myself typing a name that fit. And this might be my favorite thing about writing: if you have faith in yourself as a writer, everything will fall into place.

I’m excited to start on my next project. With the main character’s name in my head, I feel like I’m already getting to know her, forming a picture of her, waiting to give her a story. Writing is a solitary profession, but I feel like I always have company.

Happy writing, everyone!

— Laurie

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