A Character by Any Other Name Wouldn’t Be an Excuse

It’s amazing what excuses people will come up with when they’re trying to avoid starting a story, but having trouble naming the character shouldn’t be one.

A student tried that one on me the other day. He said that he was supposed to write a story that was 2 pages long (the horror!). With a put-upon sigh, he explained how he spent 15 minutes trying to think of a name for the character.

To be honest, my first response was “Fifteen minutes? That’s it?”

Don’t worry – I held it in. I know that 2 pages and 15 minutes are both a lot bigger deals in middle school than they are as an adult. Especially compared to a writer’s perspective. I’ve spent more than 5 times that amount of time figuring out the names for a character. And not as an excuse not to write (which, truthfully, is what he was doing). Nope. I just love names. I love exploring different meanings and spellings. I could read name lists for hours.

Unless I had writing to do.

As important as names are, saying you can’t write until you think of the perfect name is nothing but an excuse. If you’ve got a story in mind and aren’t in love with any of the names you’re finding, use a placeholder (really, people). Pick a name that’s ok. Make up a name with a unique spelling. Use XLRT. You don’t have to marry it – you can change it at any point. Heck, with the find/replace tool, you can change a character’s name throughout an entire story with a single click.

‘Course, you’re not gonna have a story to change if you don’t start writing.

If you’re wondering, that’s exactly what I told the student to do next time. Pick a name any name and start writing. You know what he said?

“I didn’t think of that!”


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