Writing, like anything, requires practice. In order to practice properly, say with a musical instrument, for example, you have to develop routines and warmups. Writing is no different. When I’m developing a new story, my warmup is to name as many characters as possible, and see what becomes of it. I’ll go on “baby names” for example and just start naming characters. I’ll pretend your book is a fantasy and develop a basic fantasy plot from some simple character names I mix and matched in a few minutes time both from “baby names,” and random fantasy generator (my brain). I start with character names because no matter what kind of story you’re telling, characters are the chess pieces and driving factor of your story.
- Freda Sapphire
- Clifton Van Winkle
- Hadvar Strumvern
Once I have a bunch of characters all named, I might make up some stupid reason that Clifton Van Winkle wants to conquer Freda Sapphire’s homeland, and boom you have the foundation of a plot. Next, perhaps I’ll think about what Freda’s social standing might be. Is she a noble? Is she a peasant? What do you think? So if Clifton is the bad guy, and Freda is our hero, we need a good guy with muscles maybe. Maybe a hard Viking-like action hero, Hadvar Strumvern. Perfect! A seven foot tall giant with a flaming red beard and a battle ax the size of a redwood tree. It’s starting to shape up!
Now might be a time where I start pondering how “fantasy” I want this book to be. Are there dragons, is there magic, are there elves and orcs? What are we looking at as far as how deep we are going into the world of make-believe? Maybe I need to change a name slightly. Clifton Van Winkle? A little too close to home? Alright, let’s change it up a bit. How about Clifton Wyverndale? I wonder how his family got their name? How about somewhere deep in this spoiled brat’s lineage, his great great great grandmother tamed the first Wyvern, and rode him into battle? To Game of Thrones? Alright, then she founded a city where Wyverns were kind of like dogs/cars are to us. They are just a part of the society. Wyverndale is now the name of a city and a noble lineage. In fact, let’s put this city on the side of a mountain bordering a swampland.
Freda Sapphire, what’s her deal and how can she be a heroine in this story? Well how about she was a part of a peasant rebellion that was attempting to stand up to Wyverndale? Sounds pretty simple, so let’s make that either a side plot or a bit of backstory, but we have decided that Freda isn’t of noble birth. She’s the hero, so she has to do something. How about let’s mix and match genres, and have this be almost like a spy-thriller in a fantasy world? Freda Sapphire was blessed with a keen mind and a sharp eye for detail – she’s almost a rogue or bard if you play Dungeons and Dragons. Freda’s story after this failed rebellion could be that of a peasant attempting to assassinate the king (Clifton) and she is working her way up through the ranks as a servant undercover. First, she squires for a knight, and then maybe moves up to a Baron, later to an advisor in the castle, and then finally the king himself.
But what’s the grand conflict with Sapphire? Well – she’s a peasant, and what is something we can all agree peasants would want? Freedom, comfort, and safety. Sapphire may slip at one point and start to enjoy her life of riches, even if she’s only a servant. It’d have to be established early on that her peasant life is not a pleasant life. She could then decide whether to kill the king of Wyverndale, or perhaps switch sides and stay a servant of the nobles (Obviously she totally kills the king,, but come on, gotta build tension)
Without good characters, the story is flat. Character naming is simple and doesn’t require a lot of thought when there isn’t a lot at stake and you’re looking at dozens of names a minute. As with any part of writing, it’s not about getting the perfect name, it’s just about getting a name. The name can evolve later. One of my character names changed three times before I settled. Salvatore Maxwell —> Michael Oba —> Daniel Hawkins. He changed in personality too, and now he’s quite the fun character. Practice your art regularly, develop routines, and never ever give up on your dream.