Plotting a new novel recently I have come across a familiar phenomenon. I’m working away on the plot, then move on to fleshing out a particular character, or describing that particular character’s backstory or role in the plot.
Slam. Dead stop.
I need the name.
If I cannot get a name that works for me for that character I am completely stumped. It is part stubbornness, part determination, part – well I don’t know what. But I have an instinct for what name is right. It’s like the core of the character starts as a seed of emotion, and I know that thing intimately. I know that I need to find the right name to unlock it, as though that unique combination of letters and sounds is itself a key.
Once I have the name, everything starts flowing. I can describe the character, I can move on with the plot. Suddenly I know what happened when they were seven, how they feel about their mother and what colour their hair is.
So what is it about names? Do other people find it the same when they are fleshing out a new book?
The idea of changing character names after the book has been written makes me shiver like a ghost just walked on my grave.
In fact, come to think about it. I can’t even start plotting a book until I get the title of the book.
So what is it? What’s in a name?