Naming Names

A banner saying, Your Name Here."
© Can Stock Photo / MSPhotographics

Creating appropriate names for your characters is essential when writing fiction. However, it isn’t always easy. I put a lot of thought into each character’s name. Their age, background, occupation, and their roll in the story all play a part in determining the character’s name.

Choosing with the right surname

I don’t use the surnames Smith, Jones or Johnson for any of my lead characters. Those names are so common they’re almost a cliche. I prefer using other surnames, such as Palmer, Campbell, Bennett, and Walsh. All are common names, but not overly common. 

Sometimes I get stuck, so I keep an old white pages phone book by my desk. When all else fails, I’ll open it to a random page and skim through the listings until something pops out at me. Other times I’ll think back to kids I went to school with, or I’ll hear an interesting sounding name on the news. That’s another way to come up with a surname. We live in a diverse society, so some of my characters will have ethnic names. If it’s a common surname, such as Sanchez, I’ll use it. If I’m not sure, I’ll do an online search. The possibilities are endless.

Finding the right first name

First names are a lot of fun. I think we all have favorite first names. I personally like the names Cynthia, Victoria, Christopher and Jeremy. My first Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel, The Reunion, included two supporting characters named Cynthia and Jeremy. However, I’m still waiting for the right story ideas for Victoria and Christopher. My contemporary romance novels are much like the soap operas I watched years ago, so I sometimes give my characters the same first name as a favorite soap opera character.

I also invested in a baby name book. It contains hundreds, if not thousands of names, including many different ethnic names. It’s a handy tool which I often use.

Naming fictional businesses and places

Naming a fictitious business or location is just as important as naming your characters. Again, you want reasonably common names. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so I’ll often create mom and pop businesses in my stories. Oftentimes I’ll include a common surname, such as O’Malley’s Grill, only this time I’ll also do an online search to make sure there is no business with the same name in the city or town where my story is set. If there is, I’ll have to come up with a different name. The same rule applies for naming fictitious businesses such as newspapers or ad agencies.

And finally, a disclaimer

With over three hundred million people living in the United States, and billions more on the planet, it really doesn’t matter how you create your character’s names. There will be real people out there with the same names. This is why you need to include a disclaimer in the front matter of your book. Make sure you clearly state that your story is a work of fiction, and that any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Gayle Martin

Good vs Bad Villains

 
© Can Stock Photo / hjalmeida

Writing fiction is a lot of fun, and I have the best job in the world. I get to play a grown-up version of Let’s Pretend, and make money doing it. This includes creating a bunch of imaginary friends, otherwise known as characters. Some are good. They’re the protagonists. Others not so much. They’re the antagonists.

Fiction plot lines, regardless of genre, are conflict driven, and the antagonist creates the conflict. He is she is there to block whatever goal the protagonist is trying to achieve. Oftentimes antagonists are also villains. The more devious the villain, the more drama and intensity to the story.

Real life, however, isn’t always so black and white. People can and do make poor choices, and some learn from their mistakes. In fiction, they would be redeemable characters. Hal, an antagonist in my Marina Martindale novel, The Journey, isn’t malicious at all. He simply wants something he can’t have, and he’s standing in the way.  Josh, in The Letter, is a con artist. He’s working a Ponzi scheme with two unseen characters. However, as the character took shape I noticed he had some redeeming qualities. This made him likable, so I made him into a redeemable villain who does the right thing in the end.

Most of my villains, however, are unrepentant. Some, like Maggie in The Deception, remain defiant to the very end. Most however, are like Craig in The Stalker. They become their own undoing, and for them it never ends well. They’re unredeemable characters, and readers expect them to have their comeuppance. After all, karma is a bitch. Not only in fiction, but in real life as well.


Gayle Martin

Outline or Treatment?

© Can Stock Photo / katielittle25

It’s a perplexing question for authors, particularly newbies. Do you write an outline, or a treatment, before you begin writing your book? Or do you just sit down and start writing?

Outlines vs Treatments

Outlines are recommended for nonfiction books. They can be more precise. However, this blog is for fiction writers, so I’m going to talk about what is the best approach for us. And that is to write a treatment.

A treatment is a short summary of what your story will be about. The amount of detail you wish to include is entirely up to you. Some fiction authors may choose to write treatments summarizing each chapter. Others simply write a brief one or two paragraph description. It’s all a matter of personal preference. We’re creative writers, not technical writers, and the keyword is creativeFor us, writing is an art and not a science.

My treatments tend to be short; no more than a page to a page and a half. My objective is how I will begin my story, and how I will end it. I used to fret over what to include in the middle. However, experience has taught me to keep it brief. The details will come after I begin writing. In other words, my treatment is my launching point.

What about the characters?

Some fiction writers write bios for their characters which is certainly okay. However, I don’t do it myself. My characters come to life rather quickly, and once that happens they have minds of their own. (Which may sound freaky to non writers, but trust me, every fiction writer experiences this.)

Some authors like to refer back to their treatments as they write, and that’s perfectly okay. I prefer to put my treatment aside once I begin my story. As your characters come to life you may want to go in a different direction than you originally planned. Other ideas may come to you as you delve deeper into your story. Again it’s okay. We’re creative writers. This is how creativity works. 

Once my manuscript is complete I like to go back and look at my treatment. My books never end up as described in the original treatment. They always turn out better. It happens because I let my creativity flow as I write, and many new ideas will pop into my head as I go. My favorite example would be my first Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion.

One of my supporting characters, a young man named, Jeremy, was intended to be a rogue character. He would do his dirty deed and quickly exit the story. However, Jeremy was also Ian’s, the leading man’s, son. And as I got into the story, I quickly realized that Ian would never have a son like that. So, Jeremy went from rogue villain to a rival, competing with his father to win Gillian’s affections. This made for a completely unexpected twist in the story that resonated with me, and my readers. 

In conclusion

As I’ve evolved as a writer, my treatments have also evolved. They’ve become less detailed and more generalized. However, as I’ve stated before, how you choose to write your treatment is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. 


Gayle Martin

Fan Fiction vs Copyrights

Graphic by Gayle Martin

I recall an interesting chat I once had with a fellow author at a writer’s convention. He was telling me about another writer he knew who apparently got into serious trouble with Paramount. This other writer had allegedly written a very adult oriented Star Trek story, and Paramount had apparently taken issue with the way he’d used their characters.

As I recall, Star Trek conventions got started so the fans, or Trekkies, as they were called at the time, could share their fan stories. However, it was a different time. Fanfiction authors wrote with pen and paper and kept their stories in their notebooks. Self publishing didn’t exist. There was no Internet, no blogs, no Kindle. I know. It’s hard to imagine.

Times have indeed changed. Today a fan writer can write his or her own Star Trek story and publish it in their blog or post it on a fan forum. Their motive may be sincere. However, their devotion to their favorite TV show could, potentially, put them in legal hot water. I’m not an attorney, nor am I giving legal advice. That said, it’s common knowledge that the rights to any artistic creation, including works of fiction, belong to the person or persons who created it.

I write my own unique stories with my own characters. However, if I were to include a character someone else created, for whatever reason, I would get their permission first. It’s only common courtesy. It would also be an opportunity to reach out and connect with another author. Most importantly, it would save me the worry of getting a nasty letter from someone’s attorney.

For more information on copyright law, or if you have questions or concerns about something you may be writing, or may have published, please consult with a copyright attorney.

Gayle Martin