There is one thing above all others that I find difficult to do when writing: name things.

When it comes to names for people, for places (fictitious places, obviously), my mind really does go blank.

I will start to develop a character in my head; I’ll think about who they are, what they do, how they sound when they talk, how they will react to a whatever situation I am planning to put them in.  When I have that in my head, when I sit down to start writing, my brain goes blank and I struggle to come up with a name for the character.  I have found myself stalled for hours, even for days sometimes, because I can’t come up with a name.

The same is true for fictitious places.  I have mapped things out before, done a little world building.  I know there are mountains here and a lake that cuts through this area, dotted by farmland and wild forests.  But when I have to actually name these places, name this town and that village – again, my brain just blanks out.

It’s frustrating.

To combat this, I now keep lists of names; peoples names, first and last (on separate tabs of a spreadsheet) along with names of interesting places.  I skim these lists when it’s time to name someone or something, I mix and match, rearrange – whatever it takes to keep moving forward.

Only three times in my writing over the past… ugh – 20 years? *wince* – 20 years of doing this, of building on my craft, has the name simply come to me.

What about you?  I know a lot of authors, published and not published, read this blog or follow me on twitter.  What do you find is the most difficult part of writing?



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  • willouj Posted September 20, 2010 9:30 pm

    Very much on the same stage as you, my friend.

    I can tell you everything about my characters from their favorite food to what gift they got on their seventh birthday, but name them? you’re crazy. I took to asking friends, and for the most part I actually take the names of people I know and make them my character. It’s great pulling inspiration from real people.
    As far as places go, I still have yet to master that naming process. Right now the names on my “map” for my book are very odd. Findic, Tiria (which I think I stole from something else to be honest), Meens, etc.. It’s crazy.
    Every now and then I hear a name and remember to write it down for later use, but I’ve never had a name just fall into place.

  • Clifton Hill Posted September 24, 2010 3:42 pm

    Names are up there for me too. But it’s all artificial. I think it comes out of a need to feel like you’ve made the perfect character. Who is not only so real they almost breathe–in all their imperfections and convictions but in their name fitting them like a “T”. However, especially in this age, this is just a hole of wasted time we create for ourselves. Call the bloke Sam the Man and then when a great name comes to you eventually through the interactions within the story: “Find and Replace” comes in very handy.

    As to your question, sometimes I get a fun character name, but a lot of the time I do as you said, and think of the rest of my names in the MS, pick a letter that hasn’t been used much, sound out some variants and then grab one and go with it. A lot of what goes into a name is not the name but how we build the character. I mean, how boring of a name is Harry Potter? (Sorry to anybody out there actually named Harry Potter, but it’s not like I’m named Xavier MacFillion or anything.) It’s all about marketing, and I think you know a thing or two about that.

    For the other, I think mapping the whole entire story out is the hardest, because it takes time and thought. That, or deciding on other world-building elements. Quite difficult indeed.

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