What was his name again?

I have a confession to make: I’m terrible with names. When I meet people, I have to repeat their name several times in my head to have any chance of remembering it. The only time I’m safe is when everyone wears a name tag, but that only happens in stores. The name tag party hasn’t caught on yet.

I’m the same way with my characters. My main character is pretty safe, but the secondary characters usually have multiple names. I spend hours figuring out the perfect name for characters ahead of time, creating physical and personality descriptions. They’re all laid out in a handy chart, or jotted on a Post-It note, where I think that I can easily find it while writing. This will be the time, I think, that I’ll use the same names the whole first draft.

During my prep work for Camp NaNoWriMo, I created a chart of all my characters. I made sure not to repeat the first letter of any name and fought with first and last name combinations to get the right sound. The file was saved to my computer and posted on my blog.

So what happened with this novel? Did I print out several copies of the chart and stash them wherever I might be writing? Did I make sure to get my main secondary characters’ names right from the beginning? Did I refer to the chart whenever I was unsure rather than making up a brand new name?

Of course not.

Michael became Matthew (though Matthew worked better with insults), I added a character I hadn’t planned on even existing, and I gave one character the last name of another. That’s all in the first 20,000 words. Imagine how much more I can confuse in the next 55,000 words.

The obvious solution would be to print off a list of character names and add to it if I decide to include additional ones. I’ll put it on my list of things to do, making sure to keep one copy with my computer whenever I’m working on the story.

But I’m sure that it’ll happen again. Sometimes I get on a roll while I’m writing. Call it superstition, but I don’t like stopping when the words are flowing so easily. I don’t want to risk blocking off that stream of sentences while I dig through the papers on my desk for a list of names. It’s easier just to pop something in the place and deal with it later in revision.

Do you have trouble keeping names straight in your work? How do you combat it?

2 thoughts on “What was his name again?

  1. My side characters hold onto names like small children hold onto balloons. I’ve just gotten used to that fact, and sometimes I’ll bother to stop and look up what I called them last, and sometimes I just give them a name and hope it sounds close to the right one so that I can fix it easily in revision.

    At least my main characters can keep their names from one day to the next… except for those few who I changed their names and now decide to revert to the old ones at inopportune moments. 😛

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