Sunday, March 15, 2015

Creating Unique Character Names

Writing a book takes a lot of imagination and creativity, but even the best writer needs to look outside of their minds for inspiration.  A good writer knows their limitations and how to work around them.

Over the years, I have found three sites that I have helped me immensely, though they are very different from each other.  The first one is Baby Name websites.  While I am usually good at creating character names, there are times when I want a name to start with a certain letter so that I avoid having too many A characters or C characters.  Usually I search the name databases when I want an ethnic sounding name.  Anyone can come up with John and Peter, but for ancient angels, I needed something more diverse.  Sometimes I will use a unique spelling of a common name to distinguish the character.  The baby name sites have given me Calin, Derick, Sacha, Rayan, Viktor, Pax, Brend, Serena, Bayard, and Edric, to name a few.  I'm particular partial to sites that categorize the names by ethnicity.  It's easier to narrow down to Russian, Romanian, or Polish names.

There are a number of good baby name sites, but it's always interesting to use the ones that tell you the meaning or the origin of the name.  While I don't always go that route, it's sometimes nice to add that extra touch to make the character stand out.  My main heroine is Anjali, which means "gift from God".  This particular character is literary a gift from God to the Archangel Gabriel.  While I wouldn't expect most people to know that, it's an added layer of detail.

When dealing with historical books, look for the baby name lists from specific decades or years.  There are certain sites that will list popular names from the 1800's or 1950, depending on when the story takes place.  The decade sites will give the top 10-20 popular names from that time period. 

The second site that I have used on more than one occasion is Google Translate.  This tool is tremendously helpful when writing Fantasy or Paranormal stories.  There are so many myths and legends and vampire stories out there that certain words or ideas have become tired and worn out.  How many stories are there about monsters and evil creatures?  Vampires, werewolves, and zombies are in every corner of the bookshelves.  There are plenty of creatures that herald the coming of the apocalypse and tons of Harbingers.  Instead of using the same characters, I decided to create my own. 

Using Google Translate, I begin with the phrase or description of the creature I want.  For example, I needed a creature that eats souls, but didn't want to call them "soul eaters".  I translated soul eaters into Hindi and created the Bhaká¹£aka who prowl the Caves of Darkness in Hell and keep the prisoners from escaping.  When coupled with a scary description such as, "tall, lanky creatures with long claw-like fingers.  They had sharp, pointed teeth, which were easily seen through the remnants of their lips that appeared to have been chewed off.  Their black tattered robes were covered in blood and they smelled like death," you have a new terrifying name to fit a creature as old as time.  

By using Google Translate, I have created the Predznak, who are Harbingers to the Bringer of the Apocalypse.  Xiphos Warriors, or "sword" warriors, and the Veteres, or the "original" creatures created by God, are also examples of what can come from everyday words translated into Romanian, Greek, or Polish.  The program does require patience because it can be hard to find a good phrase to translate or the right language to translate into since sometimes the translation is very similar to the original word, but given time to play with, it is a valuable tool. 

The best part about Google Translate is the save feature.  When trying out different ideas, the writer can log into a Google account and save the translations.  It's also helpful to save the translations to listen to the pronunciations and remember how to say the name of the new creature.

The last helpful websites I use are quote finders.  I don't necessarily use the quotes in my writing, but I will use them for the opening of the book.  Not every book starts with an opening quote, but when done right it can push the reader in the right direction and set them up for what is to come.  If the writer is planning to use a quote, it should be relevant to the book in some way.  My books are setup to follow the journey of one main character who is burden by some type of sin.  Once I have my main idea, I will search for quotes that fit the particular sin I am dealing with.  One of the sins I deal with is death, either through murder or suicide.  Since I am writing Paranormal Romance, I do have to stay within the confides of love.  I managed to find a quote about how love doesn't die a natural death.  The quote goes on to explain the different reasons why love can die.  It fits perfectly into my theme because the Angel of Death waited for Anjali to come for him, but she didn't and he gave up hope.  The reasons for becoming the Angel of Death and wanting to join with his Master were lost and he became bitter.  His love for God and his sense of duty diminished and withered away.  

For my first book, I used part of a suicide note from a famous author that is quoted often.  My main character commits suicide because she hears a voice that compels her to take her own life to be with the voice.  The quote at the beginning of the book stands as her suicide note because she didn't write one before she succumbed to the voice.  It was a small way for me to give her loved ones a reason for her death before the darkness took her.

Bonus helpful website:  There is one more website that I find helpful, though doesn't isn't exactly fit in with my theme of word play.  I'm a firm believer that a photo is worth a thousand words, but unfortunately, I don't write books with photos in them.  Instead, I have to describe the image I have in my mind.  The problem comes when I can't imagine something.  In my case, I have trouble describing clothing.  I am terrible with fashion and don't know Prada from Pizza Hut.  I find that searching through Pinterest helps me to narrow down the infinite clothing choices, especially for men, and makes me focus on specific looks.  If it were up to me, all of my characters would wear black pants and black shirts with no further description.  Perusing the models on Pinterest makes me excited to think about clothing.  Seeing a man in a well fitted suit and a crisp shirt definitely gets my attention, and makes me want to rethink the bland clothing descriptions I have.  It still doesn't mean that I will talk about Prada, but I can learn to appreciate it and describe my characters in a more interesting way.  Forget about the clever cakes on Pinterest that look like Easter Baskets, and search for male or female clothing.  Pinterest offers a quick glance at some fabulous and attractive outfits without have to search every designer website looking for the right style to fit the character's personality.  

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