What do your characters sound like?

A couple of my crit partners have asked me what seemed like a simple question over the last week: “Where do you get the names for your characters?” However, as I started to explain my process the question no longer seemed so simple. I came to realize just how sensual my writing is, including my process of writing (and not just the juicy bits).

As stated above in lovely stark font, I write dark, paranormal romance fiction. However, I also write poetry. Admittedly, I am still learning (and always will be) these crafts, but I do know that one of the key elements of my writing is its focus on sensuality. I want my audience to have an understanding of what a place looks, feels, smells and sounds like. That doesn’t mean I am going to dictate the senses but it does mean I will consider them and gently weave them in. One of the ways I do this is with my characters names. I like their names to sound like what I think the character would sound like if that character was only given one sound to express themselves. This is inline with some shamanism practices where it is believed that everyone has a particular ‘note’ that their body is harmonized to. When the person discovers this sound they will heal and receive their purpose. Sometimes the shaman will journey for the person to help them discover their “sound” and help them heal.

So even though I may use names as simple as ‘Peter’ or as exotic as ‘Ansgar’, it takes me a long time to choose these names. I will often sit with the character for days rolling sounds around inside my mouth until I find a sound that feels like that character. Then I will write the sound down. The next step is to research if any such names exist and what the meaning of that name is. If the name exists and I like the meaning of that name, I will use it. If I don’t like the meaning I will tweak it, keeping the primary sound elements the same.

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I can’t quite explain why ‘Sanna’ sounds like ‘Sanna’, there is no clear logic behind why when I see her face the first sound to resonate is an ‘S’ and the last sound is an ‘A’ – it just it. I also felt that her name needed a strong ‘N’ sound to hint at the sound of a moan while the sharp lines of the double ‘N’ on the page denoting the strength and heart of a warrior. When I am coming up with names it is like I am composing music. I always start with the heroines name and build up a symphony of sounds around her.

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I thought I would share this process with you because I am interested in how other people choose character names for their work, do you have a similar process to me? I know some writers go purely by traditional name meanings (e.g., Catherine meaning “purity” HAR HAR)or, appropriate names for the setting of the novel (e.g., historical romance).

Sometimes I wonder how much this process matters. In time names come to take on a life of their own. Take Twin Peaks for example (one of my all time favorite TV shows). On the surface, the name Laura Palmer seems quite innocuous. It is not a name you would immediately associate with either angelic beauty or haunting darkness however, over the last 25 years that name has come to be one of the most famous and ominous in television history along with that still troubling question: “Who killed Laura Palmer?” I wonder if David Lynch chose the almost banal sounding name because it needed to be a bridge between the extremes of the otherworld (The Black Lodge and The White Lodge) and the day-to-day world? The name Laura Palmer still sends a shiver down my spine, despite how ‘common’ it seems next to something as sinister sounding as Cersei Lannister.

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The power of a name is never to be under estimated. Names can denote power, influence, fear or love. A key example was the fear surrounding the name Voldemort (He Who Must Not Be Named) in the Harry Potter series.

To round out this musing is a song that inspired my WIP – Blood like Water, it is called “Missing” by The XX. If Blood like Water had a ‘sound’, this song would be it.

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