Go reach for your every day book. Open it up.
Go on, I’ll wait.
Okay, now quick: what is the main character’s name? Is it Bob? Kendra? Owen?
Names are vital to a story, more than just identifying the main character. Names help the book flow, make the book readable and keeps the interest of the reader. One of the worst mistakes I’ve seen other writers do is have a name of a character that is too hard to pronounce (or even figure out).
Take, for example, our new hero we just invented. He is tall, decent looking, loyal, friendly, a romantic at heart and all around good guy. He rides a winged unicorn and wears armor. He dashes off to save princesses and kingdoms. Let’s call him Vrenkeos.
Vrenkeos? What the…?
Most books that seem to be on the bestsellers lists have common names. The Postcard Killers, James Patterson’s latest novel, the main character’s name is Jakob. Frederick Forsythe’s latest, The Cobra, has named the main character as Paul. Even Kay Kenyon keeps it simple in Bright of the Sky, naming the hero Titus.
So then why, I ask, do new authors try to come up with the most fantastical names when creating a new character?
A self-published author I know recently let me borrow her book to look over. Self-publishing aside, she had a killer concept and decent descriptions of the world she was playing in. But half of the time I was reading, I spent valuable “attention time” trying to figure out the names of creatures, characters and places. I grew frustrated as I got deeper into the book, mainly because I was on Chapter 37 and still couldn’t figure out what the character’s name was.
Granted, I see this in fantasy and science fiction more than anywhere else, but why do writers try to make things harder on the reader than it already is? Most book buyers, while walking through the local bookstore, has so many choices to choose from that unless the writer’s publisher has a killer marketing strategy, most potential buyers aren’t even going to give your book a second glance. So imagine the feeling, if you will, of a reader picking up your book from the shelf, opening it up and starting to read…
…and promptly closing it and setting it back down on the shelf two pages later because they couldn’t figure out half the names you were throwing at them.
Sometimes, have an exotic name helps. When I named Gabriel’s love interest in Wraithkin, I wanted something that was exotic. I came up with “Lule”. One of my first readers, though, asked me how it was pronounced. She said “Is it “lull”? That’s kinda boring.”
In my head I had heard (and seen) “Loo-lay”, but nobody else did. I quickly changed it to a slightly different spelling (Lulé) and complaints eased.
So why do writers do this? Why do we sabotage ourselves with screwy names that only ourselves and some poor guy in Decatur can pronounce?