Tag Archives: names

Some bad news about my brand

What is the digital equivalent of schizophrenia?

Whatever it is, my website has it. More specifically, my brand suffers from it. That’s right, I have a brand. Every author does. Except I ended up with two brands because I bandied about the phrase “One Million Words” for years and then finally formed One Million Words LLC in 2016.

On paper it seems so easy: David Michael Williams is an author, and One Million Words is a publisher. But at this point, OMW publishes only the works of DMW, so the two identifiers are irrevocably interwoven.

Should one-million-words.com redirect to david-michael-williams.com or the other way around? One could argue they should be two separate websites, but it would be ridiculous to maintain two websites with near-identical content.

The professional marketer in me bemoans the fact that OMW has taken a backseat to DMW. After all, a legitimate company should have its own logo, website, LinkedIn profile, and so forth. But if I’m being honest, One Million Words LLC is nothing more than a string of words created expressly for the spine of my self-published novels.

Until the company produces works by other authors, it really doesn’t need to be more than that.

Don’t worry. Even if the One Million Words brand disappears someday, I’d never make my name into a logotype.

I have a bigger problem on my hands, however: David Michael Williams, as a brand, is broken.

Nota bene: Marketing is my day job. I’ve worked with countless companies and organizations on branding exercises, so I’m no stranger to concepts like positioning statements, brand platforms, target audiences, as well as the formal guidelines that govern all marketing communications. And while a solitary novelist differs from corporation in many key aspects, the same fundamentals apply to any entity that sells a product.

The root of my dilemma—my identity crisis, as it were—is that David Michael Williams, the human being, is inconsistent.

If I penned only sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, it’d be much easier to market myself, my novels, and my company. But I also write sci-fi and other subgenres of speculative fiction. You might be thinking, “No matter. Many authors publish fantasy and science fiction. They’re close cousins.”

OK, but I co-wrote a children’s chapter book too. There was also a certain stillborn pun-a-day calendar. And I can’t promise I won’t attempt an interactive storytelling experiment at some point in the future. (Anyone wanna play a grammar video game?)

Some may argue that an author should use a different pen name for each genre he tackles. There’s wisdom in that, but at the same time, I can’t get enthusiastic about juggling additional aliases. I’m one guy with a lot of different ideas who doesn’t want to limit his possibilities; is that a crime?

No, but it can be confusing to consumers, which negatively impact profits.

Or perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. There are plenty of professionals who straddle genres and/or media. Some of my favorites include Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame (though I like Invincible much more and am excited about the recently announced movie); the Decemberists, whose talented fingers touch projects ranging from music and visual art to children’s novels and board games; and the insanely brilliant Neil Gaiman, whose entire career I’d love to clone.

Given those folks’ success, it would seem that a diversity of creativity can be something of a brand in itself. That does give me hope, though in the short term, it won’t make building a fan base any easier. Because as much as it would streamline things, I can’t focus on just one aspect of storytelling.

I won’t.

Which means regardless of whether my website banner says “David Michael Williams” or “One Million Words,” visitors are going to get a messy, mixed bag of imagination.

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Should you care if readers care about your characters?

Once upon a time, I described my fiction as character-oriented.

I’d bandy about that phrase in conversations with friends (or anyone, really) who asked about my writing. I used it in query letters to agents and editors while precociously comparing my early sword-and-sorcery fiction to the works of Margaret Weis, R.A. Salvatore, and other authors of books with dragons on the cover.

“Character-oriented” just seemed to be the logical expression for my work because, at the root of it all, I loved creating characters. Back when I was I writing medieval fantasy—and attending to the world building that went with it—I created countless characters to fill roles from lowly peasant to powerful tyrant across a centuries-long timeline. (Though there weren’t any invincible protagonists, I’m happy to report.)

It was an easy exercise:

Step 1: pick a name.

Step 2: pick a personality.

I spent more than a little time creating character profiles so that the people who populate my stories transcended a mere two dimensions. Because I wanted my readers to understand the characters and to see them as clearly as I did.

I also wanted readers to care about them.

In fact, I’m confident I said this very line at writing workshops in college: “If I don’t care about your characters, I won’t care what happens to them.”

These days, I don’t know if would use “character-oriented” to describe my fiction. I look back at The Renegade Chronicles and some of my other early work, and it’s clear there was a lot of focus on the different personalities. Perhaps that’s inevitable when you write about a motley group of freedom fighters thrown together by fate and forced to get along…or die trying.

But once I turned the page from straightforward sword-and-sorcery fantasy to something more nuanced, I find most of my ideas start with “What if…?” and not “Who is…?” Inklings of the story—the plot, that is—tend to come first, though the types of people who will weather these scenarios come in at a close second.

Apathy is the enemy of every writer.

Apathy is the enemy of every writer.

The more I think about it, the more a term like “character-oriented” seems superfluous. Characters are but one element of a story. Like setting and plot, they are essential ingredients of a story. But are they any more important than the rest? Shouldn’t a story be character-oriented, plot-oriented, setting-oriented, and so forth?

More to the point, can a reader care what happens in a story if he or she doesn’t care about the characters?

The question haunts me because I’ve been accused of creating unlikable characters. Vincent, the protagonist of If Souls Can Sleep, isn’t the nicest guy. He has a lot of problems. He treats people poorly. And the fact that something supernatural seems to be happening to him does nothing to make him a better-adjusted citizen, particularly in the short term.

Whenever a beta reader would remark how they just can’t bring themselves to like Vincent, I’d argue (if only to myself) that it doesn’t matter. My goal was to make him realistic, and, realistically, people can be jerks.

Yet I also wanted him to be relatable and maybe even sympathetic.

While it wasn’t important for Vincent to be likable, it was arguably important for people not to dislike him so much that they dismissed his fate. Apathy is the enemy of every writer. So I suppose I had a decision to make: either make Vincent utterly unlikable so that my reader roots against him or take steps to make him more likable so that they could root for him.

I confess that I did soften him up a big in the rewrite, and reducing the intensity of his bad behavior not only made him more sympathetic, but also refined his character arc. Maybe he isn’t the most likable guy, but he has enough qualities now to make the reader care what happens to him.

A similar criticism arose for the protagonist of my short story “Going Viral.” A friend and fellow writer commented, “…I didn’t feel one bit connected to Sam by the end.” Also: “As a character, I found Sam neither relatable nor empathetic…the first syllable of ‘character’ is ‘care.’”

Come to think of it, I made Quentin E. Donovan (the Quentin E. Donovan), the “star” of another short story intentionally unlikable…

But in the case of Sam and “Going Viral,” I’m willing to chalk up Sam’s shortcomings to the fact that I struggle with short fiction. I also agree with my friend when he acknowledges that character development is even more challenging within the confines of short fiction.

It raises an important question: if the rest of the story is successful, does it matter whether the reader gives a damn about Sam?

A storyteller’s only job is to con the reader into turning one more page. We can’t directly control how anyone feels about anything, though, yes, a fair amount of manipulation comes with the territory. Writers have a handful of devices at their disposal to capture and keep a reader’s attention.

I already mentioned plot, setting, and, of course, characters. We also have themes, backstory, subplots, tropes that comes with various and sundry genres, tension, pacing—in short, anything and everything that could possibly compel a reader to travel from front cover to final page.

One could argue whether or not characters are the most important aspect of a story, but few would content that it’s OK to skimp on character development. If a writer neglects the work that enables the average reader to form a connection with the protagonist in particular, the rest of the literary elements are going to have to work that much harder to hook and hold the reader.

So how exactly can an author make his characters “connectable”?

  • Make us like her.
  • Make us hate her…or love to hate her.
  • Make us pity him. (A creative writing professor once told me you can instantly make readers pity characters by putting them in denial.)
  • Make us root for him because he’s an underdog.
  • Make her relatable…just like somebody we could meet on the street.
  • Make her utterly exceptional…someone we could never meet in our real lives.
  • Make him have big problems.
  • Make him have depth.

For more advice, there’s a nice, in-depth look at how to make readers care about your characters at novel-writing-help.com. And here’s five more tips at writersrelief.com.

Now it warrants mentioning that not every character will resonate with every reader. We all have different preferences and unique backgrounds. You can’t please all of the people any of the time, but as a writer, you should aim to please as many as possible.

And even if characters on the whole aren’t your strength, just make sure they aren’t a weakness.

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Building a better book title

I’ve stumbled upon something more challenging than writing an ending: choosing a title.

Titles represent anywhere from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of words.  They have to be worthy of all that hard work you put into your short story, novella or novel.  And they must be marketable.

I’m almost never satisfied with my first stab at a title, so I slap a placeholder at the top of the page and move on.  For those short stories that don’t inspire a second draft, what started as a temporary solution becomes permanent.  (I’m looking at you, “Of Men and Monsters” and “The Unholy Grail.”)

Two of my better tales started out with very generic titles: “Dime Story” and “Virus Story.”  The latter eventually became “Going Viral,” with which I’m reasonably satisfied.  For a short time, I titled the former “Between Twilight and Dusk,” but at the end of the day (pun intended), the name didn’t really mean much.

I never got around to tweaking the title of “Dime Story” not only because I like that it sounds like “dime store,” an anachronistic reference to the main setting of the story, but also because I don’t think it’s publishable.  Why bother wracking my brain for something better?

If short stories prove difficult to title, then naming novels is downright impossible.  I struggled for a long time with the titles to the first three books of The Renegade Chronicles.  At one point, I even considered naming them Genesis, Exodus, and Revelation.  (Ugh.)  The most recent drafts bear these labels: The Road to Faith, The Keepers of Faith, and Defenders of Valor.

Not horrible, but the first two still come off sounding like spirituality-themed nonfiction as opposed to sword-and-sorcery fantasy.

The best I could do for my fourth book—a prequel of sorts—was Magic’s Daughter.  Surprise, surprise, there’s already a book (or two) by that name.  And even if it weren’t unoriginal, I don’t find it especially inspiring.  It lacks…verve.   Of course, the fact that book titles can’t be copyrighted leads to a lot of books sharing the same or very similar names.  Type in “Nemesis” on Amazon.com, and you’ll find books by Isaac Asimov, Agatha Christie, Phillip Roth, and plenty of others.

Personally, I strive for novelty wherever I can, titles included.  I also find that with books and movies with names borrowed from abstract emotions or situations don’t stick in my brain.  I want to see the title.

So what comprises the perfect title?  Well, it has to be appropriate—that is, make sense in some context with the story itself.  It should be memorable (so that your reader can tell his/her friend about it…and preferably where he/she bought it).  And, I daresay, it should be creative.

Oh, it doesn’t have to be frightfully clever, and it certainly shouldn’t be too cute.  Take Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.  Is there anything more ordinary-sounding than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?  And yet we instantly want to know more about her.  Why does she have a tattoo of a dragon?  Where is this tattoo?  And what’s this I hear about her kicking a hornet’s nest and playing with fire?

We already see the titular character…or at least we think we do.

My problem is I overthink things.  There’s probably nothing inherently wrong with “Magic’s Daughter,” as far as titles go.  Perhaps picking the perfect title requires a bit of magic.  Maybe it’s more instinct than science.   While writing (and rewriting and reworking and…) a recent novel, I wrestled with the title every now and then, ultimately pushing off the Big Decision for another day.  I flirted with Adrift for a while.  It tied into one of the sleep phenomena featured in the book and also served as homage to one of my favorite TV shows, Lost.

Adrift?

Eh.

Then one day while reading a random passage, I came across a key quote penned by one of the characters: “If souls can sleep, then why not dream?”  If souls can sleep…

Bingo.

Not only does If Souls Can Sleep summarize an underlying philosophy in the book, but also I love how the hypothetical nature of the “if” clause adds a hint of suspense.  In hindsight, it wasn’t so much a “eureka!” moment as a “hey, this could work” thought.  But the more I considered it, saying it aloud and pitting it against the test of time, the more convinced I became that there could be no other.

Now I find myself with a short story I intend to send to market.  The working title—“The Villain”—still presides over the first page.  I don’t hate it, but maybe there’s a better option…

That’s where you come in.  Please take the poll below, and let me know which one sounds like a winner.  And if you want a glimpse at what the story is about (or at least, the first part of the first draft): go here.

—Editor’s note: Thanks for the votes.  “Ghost Mode,” it is.  Interested in reading the whole story?  Go here.

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And we shall call him…George

King George V

King George V (1865–1936) — Attribution: Luke Fildes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An avid collector of names, I recently found myself interested, for once, in news about England’s royal family.

When hours and then days passed before the name of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s newborn son was announced, I couldn’t help but think about how much pressure must go into naming the future King of England—and speculate that the chosen appellation was bound to be impressive.

Nope.

Earlier today, official sources reported that the noble infant’s name is George Alexander Louis.  But you can call him His Royal Highness Prince George Cambridge.  For now.  Eventually, he’ll be King George.

Now where have I heard that name before?

Well, for starters Great Britain has churned out six King Georges going back as far as 18th century.  Worldwide, there have been at least twenty-nine King Georges, including a dozen from Georgia (go figure).  With the U.K.’s recent royal birth, we’ll likely see an even thirty in the years to come.

In hindsight, it was foolish of me to expect anything except a conservative and traditional name for the future monarch.  I can’t pretend to know the vetting process for princely names, but something tells me the Queen Mother would have vetoed “Prince Xander” or (gasp!) “Prince Gunner.”

Besides, the top boys’ names—particularly, the top ten—announced annually tend to be pretty predictable and old-fashioned.  Odds are we were going to see a John or James or George being carried out of that London hospital for his first press appearance.

Despite my disappointment in the common first name, I can’t criticize the royal family for their choice.  Picking a name for any baby can be a daunting task.  So many connotations.  So many possible consequences.

Related post: Choosing the perfect name for your baby (or villain)

Anyway, George Alexander Louis is better than what USA TODAY’s Royal Name Generator was coming up with: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2013/07/12/royal-name-generator/2512673/.  (For the record, my initials somehow yielded “Prince Jeremiah Von Frankenstein.”)

Any dabbler in sword-and-sorcery fantasy has faced the challenge of naming a king or two.  Back when I was world-building for my Renegade Chronicles novels, I delved deep into the histories of various countries and came up with a score of sovereigns (and even one pirate king).  And while the more “modern” monarchs bore respectable names like Eliot and Edward, there were some doozies from farther back, such as:

  • Zebulon, the Emperor of Nebronem
  • Qart’kahn, Chieftain of Clan Qaarm
  • Prince Moorach of the Oaken Kingdom
  • Memndrake Superior (aka The Gambler King)
  • King Fauntio Feldagne V

Far be it for me to disparage other namers of kings.

Nevertheless, the concept of royalty is one of few medieval traditions that have survived to present day—outside of conventions we writers preserve in fairy stories and other fantastic tales.  One could have hoped for a name with a little more…well…whimsy.

Then again, saddling a character (however, well-developed) with the baggage of an unusual name is one thing; doing the same to a living soul is something else.  To christen an actual baby with an alliterative nightmare like Fauntio Feldagne V is akin to child abuse.

Related post: How to make a person

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What’s in a (brand) name?

When one first decides to become a novelist, many important questions come to mind:

Even though the first question is the only example that impacts the act of writing, all three are related.  However, I suspect most writers don’t spend too much time pondering genre.  One typically decides to be a writer after coming up with an idea (or twelve).  Choosing a genre to write tends to follow the same thought process as choosing which genre to read.

Cover of Stephen King's "Under the Dome"

Note the size and placement of the author’s name.  Would I have purchased this book if Stephen King’s name weren’t on it?

A lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, I always saw myself as a conjurer of tales that contain magic, mad science and/or other manipulations of the laws of reality.  I didn’t overthink it.

And while I did grow a full beard and pretentiously smoke a tobacco pipe for a few months in college, I’ve dedicated more time to addressing the second question above: real name or pen name?

In my early days of being a writer—when I spent nearly as much time fantasizing about how wonderful being an author would be as I did writing actual fantasy—I came across the same bit of advice for up-and-comers time and time again: Start with a pen name.  That way, if at first you flop, you can always try, try again without carrying any baggage with you.

When at last you’ve taken the publishing industry by storm and the masses finally appreciate your literary, then you can start slapping your real name on the cover.  (You can also let your new readers know about the various non de plumes you collected over the years to boost sales of those older books.)

Call it confidence or just plain cockiness, but I quickly decided such pessimism wasn’t for me.  Why bravely venture down the road of achieving my dreams while preparing for—no, planning for—the possibility of failure?

So then the big question became how to write my real name.

David Williams?  Far too common.

David M. Williams?  Better, though not by much.

D. Michael Williams?  Hmm…

D.M. Williams?  We fantasy writers do seem to like initials…

But in the end, I settled on spelling it all out.  And while future journalistic and PR writing would bear a byline of first and last name only (mostly because throwing in a middle name just seemed pretentious in those situations), I vowed all fiction would unabashedly boast my full name.  No guts, no glory, right?

Having made that important decision, I was able to move onto arguably more important endeavors, such as writing novels, editing novels, finding an agent, creating this website, etc.

So imagine my surprise when the big question recently made a reprise.

Oh, David Michael Williams will be the name that appears on the proverbial spine of my speculative fiction—from sword-and-sorcery short stories to sci-fi series.  But what about other types of fiction?

No, I’m not talking about erotica or the steamier subgenres of romance.  Or gruesome horror thrillers whose macabre details might inspire my neighbors to install extra security.  Or even essays that take a politically controversial stance.

I’m talking about a chapter book for children.

Here’s the thing: An author’s name is more than a mere label.  It’s his or her brand.  And if you don’t think brands are important, take a look at the covers of books penned by New York Times bestsellers.  While a newbie’s name likely will be printed at a much smaller size than the title of a book, a name like Dan Brown or David Baldacci takes up more space than the title.

Nora Roberts could slap her name in big letters on a half-finished crossword puzzle, and people would buy it.

If you need further evidence that brand names do matter, consider this: When Stephen King wrote the book Thinner under the pen name Richard Bachman, he sold 28,000 copies during the first run.  But after the public learned Bachman was really King, ten times as many copies sold.  Same product, different results…simply because of the brand.

Now if any of these heavy hitters decided to genre jump (and if the experts are to be believed), he or she should create a pen name so as not to confuse fans.  After all, if Dan Brown put out a collection of poetry, readers expecting another Robert Langdon adventure would be more than a little disappointed after the first stanza or so.

Even writers who aren’t household names are advised to adopt aliases when dabbling in multiple genres.  Because writers aren’t just people who write anymore.  We’re also supposed to be business experts in our own right; masters of our one, chosen genre; and personas with an online presence in order to engage prospective customers.  Therefore, each specific audience requires a separate identity.

I’m told that in order to be successful, writers must also be marketers, self-promoters, and subtle salesmen who don’t wait for their target audience to find them, but rather relentlessly seek them out.  Just about every how-to article on the internet instructs authors to develop websites, engage in social media, and build their brand online and offline.

That’s a lot of work for one person (especially when that person already has a full-time job, wants to spend time with his family, and, oh yeah, actually write new stuff now and then).  Juggling multiple brand names means either investing more resources into self-promotion/marketing or splitting up what time has already been allocated for such things among the various personas.

Today I’m David Michael Williams and tomorrow…someone else?

Once again, I find myself tempted to flout conventional wisdom and do it my own way.  If I’ve learned anything on this long and winding road toward publication, it’s that the entire process—from conception to sale—is as much art as science…with a little of the arcane tossed in for good measure.

And while I understand the danger of confusing and perhaps disappointing readers, I’m pretty sure most folks are smart enough to realize that If Souls Can Sleep and The Pajamazon vs. The Goofers Twofers are intended for two distinct audiences, even without seeing their covers.  Besides, most stores are pretty good about clarifying categories.

Sometimes I fear the business side of books distracts writers from our chief concern: the craft of writing.  We spend a lot of time these days plotting how to get more manuscripts into readers’ hands, and maybe that’s unavoidable.  But I, for one, am ready for another reprieve from thinking about my own appellation and, instead, selecting the perfect name for my next villain.

At the end of the day, I’m an ordinary guy with a very common name who likes to write books for various age groups.  I’m happy to share my thoughts on different aspects of the craft, but I can’t claim to be an expert.  I’ve put away my pipe and shaved off (most of) my beard because I’m not a celebrity and don’t care to be one.

Granted, that’s not a very compelling brand, but I’m just naïve enough to believe that the words in my novels should matter more than those on the About the Author page.

What is your thought on pen names and managing multiple author names?  Comment below and/or weigh in at Writers Poll: real name vs. pen name

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Don’t let minor characters usurp your MS

At a recent Allied Authors of Wisconsin meeting, I was thrilled to receive unanimously positive feedback on a particular character in the chapter I read.

The only problem is all that praise went to a pretty minor character.

Who appears in just one scene in the entire novel.

He doesn’t even have a name.

In other circumstances, the characterization I conveyed through slang-sprinkled dialogue, eclectic surroundings, and a coffee mug bearing an exquisitely coarse quotation would have been a successful foray in introducing a notable newcomer to the story.  However, because this anonymous Irish store clerk makes such a powerful impression and arguably robs the point-of-view character of the focus he deserves, I must reevaluate my approach.

This isn’t the first time I invented a person when little more than an extra body would have sufficed.  In the second book of The Renegade Chronicles, I needed someone to deliver news to a protagonist.  Enter Baxter Lawler, an irreverent knight of the realm who’s more likely to wield a tankard of ale than a broadsword on any given day.  I had so much fun with Baxter that his walk-on part evolved into a sort of subplot.

Generally, it’s a good thing when a character casts a shadow—when he or she breaks free from the shackles of two measly dimensions—but if a relatively insignificant character steals the spotlight from a leading man or lady, then a writer risks misdirecting the reader’s attention.

So what to do with my all-too-charming employee of Jimmy’s Secondhand Treasures?

The easy answer is to diminish some of the details surrounding him and/or reducing the size of the scene in which he appears.  In other words, I must make him less interesting.  That would demote him to a more utilitarian role and reduce the chance of setting him up as a red herring for the reader.

Or if I think this guy has the potential, I can bring him back for subsequent scenes and perhaps even make him an integral component of the plot.  Why, if I thought this pawn shop employee had real star quality, he might even get his own novel.  Or here’s an even more extreme case: Bean, a background character in Orson Scott Card’s award-winning Ender’s Game, got his own spinoff series, which, I would argue, is even better than the books that focused on Ender’s life.

Sadly, the nameless Irishman will not likely reappear in The Soul Sleep Cycle, but it’s never a bad idea to have an attention-hungry character in one’s back pocket for future projects.  He might even get a name if Jimmy’s Secondhand Treasures becomes a pivotal place in some novel down the road.

Then again, it’s not always a good thing for a would-be nobody to get noticed by the author.  Just ask Sir Lawler, who instead of happily disappearing into oblivion after providing a little exposition, ultimately spent a couple of chapters getting tortured by goblins before losing his mind and then his life.

Bottom line: If a character deserves the reader’s attention, develop away!  But if he or she is the equivalent of a movie extra, it’s kinder to keep him or her out of the true stars’ way.

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Choosing the perfect name for your baby (or villain)

Sorry, Team Edward.  Looks like Jacob wins this round. 

The Social Security Administration recently released the top baby names for 2011, and Jacob took first place for most popular boy’s name for the thirteen year in a row.  As for girl’s names, Sophia stole the top spot from two-year champion Isabella (not to be confused with Bella). 

I know this because I can’t not click on an article about baby names.

Before you chalk my compulsion up to an overzealous paternal instinct, let it be known that my preoccupation with appellations took root long before I had any notions of becoming a father.  In fact, I probably spent as much (if not more) time paging through baby name books back when I was in high school than when my wife and I were expecting either of our children.

Undoubtedly, my interest in names was born from a need for names.  I was creating an entire world, after all, and when detailing a timeline that spans many, many centuries while at the same time juggling dozens of storylines taking place in the present, a guy requires character names.

550 of them, to be exact.

While drafting character profiles wherein family members’ names are noted; history files that list the lineage of monarchs, heroes of yore and other movers and shakers of yesteryear; and short pieces of fiction that need a chambermaid here and a barkeep there, it can be bothersome to step away from the work in progress to search for an appropriate moniker.

So I created the Namepool, which in its current incarnation contains 308 names.  Need a name for that knight who probably won’t survive the first big battle scene?  Sir Erasmus Fenwick is at your service.  A black-hearted wizardess to throw some spells at your protagonist?  Lilah Davelle will make him wish he hadn’t wandered down that dark alley.

Even after I transitioned from sword-and-sorcery fantasy to speculative fiction set in modern-day Earth, I found it useful to maintain my Namepool.  After eliminating the more archaic/medieval-sounding names, I ended up with a streamlined list of ninety names.

The funny thing is some of the names already cast the faint shadow of a character waiting to come into being, such as Sunny (short for Persephone), who may or may not get infused with nanotech-based AI sent from the future, and Mr. Nightingale, who decidedly does not have good bedside manner.

A character’s name can serve as an element of characterization in of itself.  Go ahead and add some ethnic flavor.  Give an old-fashioned character a name from a long-gone era.  Or, better yet, reverse expectations by giving him/her a very contemporary name that defies his/her personality.  Sneak in a literary reference.  Foreshadow his/her fate by selecting a name with a meaningful origin.

(Nota bene: The Social Security Administration’s website is great for researching which names were popular in a given year, if you’re a stickler for realism.)

Of course, my obsession with names manifested when it came time to name my daughter and son.  While planning for “Number Two,” my wife and I came up with our own list of favorites independently (my list had forty boy’s names and twenty-four girl’s names).  We cross-referenced our lists to see if there were any overlaps and then ranked the combined list, winnowing it down to a shared top ten. 

Then the negotiations and campaigning began—which was probably for the best, judging by how “creative” some of my character names end up being.  Consider the following doozies from my Renegade Chronicles days:

  • Solophat Emorgus
  • Alabalyn Thoranon
  • Zorroaster Legireac
  • Drivbethelle Bleu
  • Fortunatus Miloásterôn
  • Saerylton Crystalus

When I look back at some of the “candidates” I thought of for my own kids, I can’t help but cringe.  (Orion?  Really?)  But that’s the beauty of inventing new people for the page versus the real world: You can bless or curse a character without feeling too guilty about it.  And if Ebenezer Skelton doesn’t like it, well, I blame his fictional parents.

Names are powerful.  They can elicit emotions, often unintentionally.  Don’t believe me?  Try reading through the birth announcements in the newspaper without drawing any conclusions about ethnicity, socio-economical situation, and likely future profession.  Then realize that, if you’re an author, your readers are going to do the same thing with the handful of syllables you toss onto the page.

Of course, you’re pretty safe with naming your werewolf Jacob.  Those traditional boy’s names never go out of style.  And worry not, fans of Twilight’s melodramatic vampire: At least Edward clocked in at number 148.

And I’m pretty sure that little girl named Cullen at my niece’s soccer game wasn’t just a coincidence.

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