Use the right name

Every character needs the right name.

Sometimes the name comes first, and writers draft the person behind it. Sometimes they start with the person’s attributes then pick a name that suits. Readers will make assumptions of age, religion, class, and culture based on that name. Writers can either endorse those perceptions or challenging them by making the character completely different. Explaining those differences becomes part of his or her story. Unusual names will also need explanations.

Historically names tended to be passed down through generations. The significance of the name to the family may impact the character’s relationships with relatives. Creating a family tree going back two generations is a useful exercise. Even if the family are not in the story it helps the writer and reader understand where the character came from.

Ultimately if you invest time getting the name and background right it is more likely that the readers will invest their time following the character’s journey.

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction best known for his Jack the Ripper suspect encyclopedia.

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