When naming your characters, there are simple ways to make life easier for you and your readers.
- Ideally, each character name should start with a different letter of the alphabet. I’ve seen manuscripts where writers have mistyped one similar name rather than the other. Also, a lot of readers don’t read the whole word every time, so an ‘Alice’ and an ‘Abbie’ can easily be confused. This can cause readers to miss or misunderstand details of the plot. I am of the opinion that Tolstoy’s work would be much easier to follow if he hadn’t named every third character ‘Alexei’.
- Choose character names that only have one spelling. It’s very easy for you as a writer to put down a manuscript for a while, come back to it and start typing ‘Anne’ rather than ‘Ann’.
The same goes for last names. Be particularly wary of double letters; they’re harder to see on a read through. ‘Barrat’ and ‘Baratt’, for example, look very similar when skimming.
- Choose something that is easy to pronounce. Anything perplexing will put off a reader if they have to struggle through it each time it appears. This doesn’t mean it has to be a well-known name; you can make it up completely just as long as it follows standard phonetic rules. That is, every reader will ‘guess’ the pronunciation in the same way; ‘Bilbo Baggins’ would be an example of this.
- You can use your names to give the reader some indication of their characterisation. You don’t have to go the full Dickens and use very literal names (‘Uriah Heep’ and ‘Mr Sharp’ are very clearly antagonists in David Copperfield); consider Austen’s ‘Marianne Dashwood’: the name hints at her flighty, skittish tendencies.
Of course, the mistyping issues can be solved by a careful proofreader. Your character choice should primarily be based on what you want to call them and what you feel suits them, but do think of your reader too.
How did you choose your character names?