Insecure Writer's Support Group
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Ninja Alex J. Cavanaugh is the founder of the IWSG.
June 6 Question: What's harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?
Okay, that's an interesting question. Most of my titles come out of my material. I may have a working title that I start with, just to have a way to refer to what I'm working on and a way to file it on my computer, but the actual book title comes out as I'm working on the manuscript. I don't have to sit and think about it. I just write and I know the title is in there somewhere, I just have to be patient. Sometimes it's something a character says, or the setting, or something about the situation, but I seldom start with the title and then write the material, for me it's almost always the other way around.
I have three books. One is already published, NOW & AGAIN; one will be published in November of 2018, STILL BREATHING; and one I am working on right now, WHITE EYES. The first book is science fiction and deals with the many-worlds theory and features characters who can jump across timelines - hence the title came out of the situation. The second book is women's fiction and the main character is an older woman at the twilight of her life trying to discern if she still has a purpose. Well, someone in the book tells her that if she's still breathing, she must still have a purpose - hence the title came from dialogue. The current book I'm working on is general fiction about what it takes to put a broken family back together. They live on a ranch in a stressful setting and the father promises his alienated son the gift of a foal, but the foal is born blind - without pupils in his eyes. It's the challenges of raising that flawed colt that brings the family back together - hence the title came from that character.
Character names, now that's a whole other effort. I find that I collect names that I like when I'm not working on a project. Sometimes names are so interesting that you almost want to create a project suited to the name just so you can use it. I have all kinds of lists of first names and last names that I've bumped into over the years that appeal to me. I don't know if I'm ever going to use them but I have them.
Inevitably, it seems, the book I'm working on has a setting and a time period that makes my collected names unhelpful. It's just the way it goes. I'm always starting over. I can spend a lot of time trying to find the right name for a character. Recently, I worked on a book set in current day Uganda (STILL BREATHING). I had to come up with appropriate native names (complicated by tribal considerations, etc.). I googled all kinds of Ugandan name lists but the most helpful turned out to be a list of military leaders in the current Ugandan army - everyone from generals down to squad leaders. The great thing about that list was that in Uganda right now, certain tribes have an advantage due to the political leadership in the country. In other words, certain tribal last names will always be present in the best jobs. It would be complicated for me to figure out which names were the right ones but I determined that if they were promoted in the military they must have the right connections and the right names. So, I took that list and mixed and matched family names with personal names that sounded good together (to my ear) and used that for many of my native characters. I never used any of the full names the way they were but always combined them in new ways. Later, I had some Ugandan friends check the names and they were impressed. They said they were very appropriate. I never divulged how I came up with them.
Just for laughs, here are a few of my character names from STILL BREATHING: Elizabeth (Lizzie) Warton, Agaba-Benjamin Kajumba, Dembe, Margaret Mayombwe, Jedediah Mayombwe, Nankunda (Nana) Birungi, Afiya Birungi, Wasswa Salongo, Kirumira Joseph, Calum MacLaird.
So, for me, character names require a great deal more work for me than the titles of my books.