Monday, April 17, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - Names

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

What's in a Name? Easy answer: some letters. Yet, they can be a pain in the ass to come up with. One of the characters in The Last God has had his name changed three times during the first draft. Find/Replace, I love you.

As you're wandering through your novel, take a look at the names you've chosen. Are they different enough from one another that it's clear who is who? While John and Johan having fast paced duel might be fun to watch, it could be difficult to follow when reading.

If you're in your own world or in a specific region, do the names work together to form an impression of the society you're working with? For example, you probably don't want Ma'touac and Tim sitting around the communal fire.

Names that have special meaning might take a little explanation, but try not to go overboard into backstory/info dump territory. Sure, you spent three bleary-eyed days pouring through name lists on the internet, seeking out meanings in six languages before settling on just the right one, but is that information pertinent to the story or one of those author quirks that you should revel in behind the scenes?

When you decided that everything on this new planet needed its own name, right down to the potatoes, you might have gone to far. Renaming a few things for flavor works wonderfully to set the scene, but I don't want to constantly refer to the hundred page decoder glossary at the back of the book. In fact, I'd be thrilled if there was no glossary at all. Verify that the things you've named are described adequately so the reader will know what they are in context.

Since I brought up the wonders of Find/Replace, let us pause a moment for a cautionary tale.

Example one: Years ago I changed a MC's last name. No big deal. Except for some funky reason, when I sent the full MS off to the publisher, whatever program they used to convert the .doc to what they wanted to read it in, removed every single instance of that last name. That made for some really weird reading. This was a very odd error, as I'd used the F/R on many other elements in that story over the years. Why it picked that main thing to throw a fit over, I may never know.

Example two: You're feeling confident that using F/R to do the simple switch of Lex to Logan is no big deal. You don't need to monitor every replace, right? Just do them all and be done with it. Yes, well... All is groovy until you start to edit and come across frankenwords like "Her fair comploganion." No sir, not good.

And last, but the most frequent offender: Can anyone else pronounce that combination of letters? I'm sure Xyifnl is a really smart and talented girl that I should be cheering for, but I can honestly tell you she's been nicknamed X in my head for the entire book.

What's your name pet peeve?


  1. I do the same thing with names I am unable to pronounce. Xyifnl would have be Xy or Z in my head after the first chapter. I dislike names that sound the same. Tim and Tom are okay but Andrea and Andreas as main characters get to be too much.

    Emily | My Life In Ecuador | Nurturing Owl Parents

  2. To protect privacy, I changed the names of people I mentioned in my memoir. in some cases, I split one person into two or more separate people. There were some, however, whose names I did not remember at all, so those were left unnamed. Trying to come up with names at all seemed hard, which was weird because before I began writing I had lots of names I liked. I too, tried to avoid using similar sounding names to avoid confusion, though I certainly have encountered more than one Jennifer in my lifetime!

  3. names are great and horrible at the same time. I just read this book with very hard to pronounced names and I keep calling the characters by the nicknames that I invented because reading those names takes patience, so I suppose that's m pet peeve, but I do like that sometimes nicknames are used in place of the hard to pronounce name which I guess I'm thankful some authors choose this route.

    have a lovely day.

    ~ my N post - New York City in the Rain ~

  4. Yeah, find/replace can be a dangerous tool! My pet peeve is unpronounceable names, along with some authors' insistence that alien names must begin with Z, X, or Q. And random apostrophes in the middle earn copious eye rolls.

  5. Names are so important for audio books. If there are a few J names I can't keep the characters seperate in my head. Also if the words are strnage sounding it will shock me out of the story. Girl Who Reads

  6. Names are the worst. I always end up with at least two main characters with similar names. In my current series, it's Lonnie and Liam.

  7. I love names, and I think they can have a real powerful punch. I wrote a piece a while ago called “Names Matter.” One of my favourite name quotes comes from Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, and is as follows: “When she was twenty-six she dumped her old name. A lot of people were changing their names, then, because names were not just labels, they were also containers. Karen was a leather bag, a grey one. Charis collected everything she didn’t like or want and shoved it into this name, this leather bag, and tied it shut. She threw away as many if the old wounds and poisons as she could. She kept only the things about herself that she liked or needed…”I’m not sure about a pet peeve, but I certain love unique names, either the name itself or the spelling.

    Thanks for visiting my blog:
    N for Never let you go

  8. There is no specific name that is a pet peeve for me. I just never understand when someone uses the same name for two different supporting characters and then has to include the last name each time so the reader knows which is which. I just finished reading such a book, great story, just that one odd quirk.

    I've done the "Her fair comploganion" f/r a couple of times and coming across the hybrid in-correction is a hoot.

    1. One thing I just remembered: in an early manuscript for my first novel, I named two interacting characters Bill and Monica. It never clicked that these two names together were already rather infamous in their own right until someone made a joke about it.

  9. Hi Jean - I struggle with names that don't seem to fit in with the historical period or are too way out for my reading comfort zone ... difficult to get right I guess. I'm amazed at the names that occur in graveyards ... a good source if one's writing in that particular era ... cheers Hilary

  10. I enjoy coming up with unique names if it's a world that's far removed from our own. It's a great excuse for a bit of invention and hopefully the name reflects something about the character, although how that works can be hard to define.

  11. I was in chapter 3 or 4 of my current WIP when I realized I had two women named Anna. The first was a character from the first novella in the trilogy so I couldn't change her name. The second was a member of a cruise ship band (I'm using real people as the basis of my mystery/characters and her name is Anna (they all had the option to use their real names-first/last- or not). So she is now going by her first-middle initials in the book, AJ. She was thrilled, her dad has always called her that. LOL!

    Theme: Oh, the places we will go!
    Oregon & Oahu
    DB McNicol , author & traveler

    1. I like your fix for that issue. What a great idea to base your characters off of real people (and let them know about it).


Join the conversation. It gets lonely in here without you.