Monday, October 28, 2013

What do you do you do when your hero just won’t tell you his name?

What do you do you do when your hero just won’t tell you his name?
by Helen C. Johannes

You’re the author, right? You control the story. After all, it’s all coming out of your head, isn’t it?
Now I usually haven’t had much trouble naming my main characters as soon as they appear on the page. Some friends have asked me how I can come up with such unusual names as are necessary in fantasy, but the only challenge I’ve usually had is getting the spelling arranged so the reader can pronounce them in some way close to how I hear the names in my head. Secondary characters have had their names changed on occasion, but most of them spring on the page “fully named” as soon as I conceive of them (buddies Grodar and Morys, for instance from THE PRINCE OF VAL-FEYRIDGE, and Rees and Pumble from my upcoming release BLOODSTONE).

But main characters—the author should know their names before she begins to write the first draft.
Tell that to my hero of BLOODSTONE.

He insisted on being “the man” for the first third of the book—or the Shadow Man, as he’s known to others—before I decided I had to figure out what he wasn’t telling me. Turns out he had a very good reason for withholding his true identity. He was in serious denial and had almost forgotten who he used to be.


Once another character unlocked his memories in a series of flashbacks, I knew who he was and how he came to be the Shadow Man. And I finally got a name. Not to mention a full sense of how the heroine would both challenge and complete him.

I don’t recommend diving into writing a story without a name for a main character. A well-chosen name tells both the writer and the reader a great deal about that person. The writer has a mental, emotional, and sometimes physical guide to that character and how he/she might react and what might motivate him/her. The reader forms an instant impression to that character. For instance, who didn’t correctly size up J.K. Rowling’s Severus Snape or Draco Malfoy as soon as either of them appeared on the page? Names are powerful or we writers wouldn’t invest so much effort in choosing the right one.

Still, if a character refuses to “play nice,” perhaps he or she is telling you something and you need to dig deeper.

Helen C. Johannes

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