Using titles to underscore a character’s context

I’m not usually one for posting writing tips, as until now I’ve never really felt I have the authority to do so. However, since I’ve just finished my first book (and owing to the fact that I learned a lot along the way) I thought I’d share with you some of the tricks that I stumbled upon.

So here’s tip that involves the use of names and titles to convey a character’s personality or underline the context in which you want that character to appear. Confused? Ok. Let me explain…

My hero is called Horatio Lee. He’s a lieutenant in the spacebourne Royal Navy, and hence there are a number of different names or titles I can give him:

  • Horatio
  • Horatio Lee
  • Lieutenant Lee
  • Lee

What I have noticed (due in part to me trying to avoid repetition) is that depending on what I call him in the narrative, I can convey his personality and the place he currently occupies within story. For example:

I call him Horatio when I want humanise him:

This nightmarish scene was especially disturbing for Horatio to witness as he knew those men were only exposed to that maelstrom on his orders.

I call him Lee when I want him to blend into the scene as just another member of the ship’s company:

“Oh yes,” Lee sounded energised, “it’s definitely a ship, but we don’t think it’s a warship.”

And I call him Lieutenant Lee when I want underscore his rank and position amongst the men:

Lieutenant Lee and his officers received them in the captain’s cabin, which was presently cleared for action and more a part of the gundeck than a cabin.

This method can be very useful when you have characters with titles, for instance: police officers, doctors, university lecturers, &c. It’s a great tool for underscoring their exact place in the story at any given time (as mentioned above), but also avoids having to call them the same thing every single time you write their name. It’s not a book-changing writing tool, but it certainly can alter the dynamic of a section of dialogue or action.

Thanks for reading.

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The importance of paying attention to coincidences…

I’ve talked about character names on this blog before, and you may recall that I get many of my names from gravestones.

Well, in relation to that, a funny thing happened the other day… or not so much funny, but more such a striking coincidence that I really just had to pick it up and run with it.

So here’s what happened… Continue reading

It’s only a name, surely?

There’s no question that picking a name to give our offspring is a massive decision. But why? It’s only a name isn’t it? Why should we care what their title is? I mean, it’s not as if that decision made there in the hospital delivery suite will affect how the rest of their lives will turn out, is it?

Is it?

I think it is. Or at least, it is in part.

I think somebody’s name can have implications far beyond what they are called.

Picture 2Names are important. They can label us, pigeonhole us, stereotype us, empower us and haunt us. If names really weren’t important, I’d have loved to call our girls something crazy and eccentric like ‘Boudicca’, ‘Calamity Jane’ or ‘Princess Powderkeg’. But we didn’t. Naturally, we gave them both lovely names, but not anything so extreme they’d spend their lives’ accounting for our moment of indulgence.

And so what I want to talk about here (and it is relevant, I promise) is how names can affect our perception of a character – and not only in fiction.

For me there are two ways a name can be linked to character traits: by association or by intention. Continue reading

The Dead Rise Again: Odd places to look for inspiration…

Ok, so the title of this post may sound a little macabre and horror-show, but I’m not trying to scare you simply because Halloween is around the corner. I just want to talk a little about inspiration, that’s all.

Now, I don’t know about anybody else, but for me, coming up with characters’ names is a right pain. The principals aren’t so bad, but it’s the incidental characters that give me brain-ache.

Whilst out on a family walk, however, I happened upon an endless source of names and, from that moment on, I knew my troubles were finally over.

Wow, where is this place?” I hear you cry. Well, I can tell you, but you may find it a touch morbid.

First, though, I think I should mention that with my book being set in a pseudo-Regency/Victorian era, this bottomless well of inspiration works particularly well for me; but maybe not so much for others.

Where is this utopia of names; this cornucopia of hidden identities?” I hear you cry, once more.

DSC08468Alright then, I’ll tell you: The majority of the extras in my book are named after the dead (which is ironic really, considering it’s set in the future). Yes, that’s right: graveyards are the places I find these names and – much like the zombies in Micheal Jackson’s Thriller – the dead can now live again.

Gravestone 1Over the last year, I’ve assembled myself a collection of gravestone photographs – most of which belong to those who died pre-1900. So now, instead of scratching a hole in my bald head while I attempt to invent a Victorian-sounding name for a character who appears only once, I simply refer to my ghoulish gaggle of photos and grab a name from days-gone-by. Respectfully, of course.

Gravestone2I have sometimes wondered, however: is this actually legal? And when they make my book into a major motion picture, the credits roll at the end and it reads, “the characters in this motion picture are not based on real people either living or dead,” that wouldn’t be strictly true would it? Has anybody else done anything similar to this, or come up with other novel ways to name their characters?

Thanks for reading.