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?
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.
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
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