Skip to main content

Putting a name to the image

By August 31, 2009How To

hello my name isAs I write, or even think about writing, I like to hijack myself with inane problems that forbid me from going any further in the creative process. It’s an impenetrable roadblock, otherwise known as a really lame excuse. Do you do that, too? My misery feeds on company.

One particular impasse that I’ve been carrying around with me for months has to do with names. How can I possibly write a story when I don’t know what the main character’s names are? I mean, you can’t do that! Names are so critical to identity. To not name my ‘girl’ would be like not deciding how old she was or what she looked like. So, of course, I convinced myself that without the right name for her there was no use in even thinking about the book.

I know, I know – this is pure brilliance. If you want to fail, flail and never accomplish anything.

And then two days ago, I broke through the sound barriers. I’m still a little shell-shocked, but mostly I’m ludicrously excited. I found her name.

1. I let myself try a few names on for size.

2. This required me to be okay with knowing that these names weren’t right, but that I was ‘in process’ or ‘en route’ – if you will. (I had previously deluded myself into thinking it was sacrilege to write one word without the perfect name.)

3. I did some, gasp, research. You know how much I love the internet – I think it’s my magic 8-ball. I was very specific and literally asked it for exactly what I wanted and it got me there – amazing. (Example? This is not what I asked exactly, but…’girl’s name that rhymes with vacuum cleaner and was popular in the late 1700’s England.’  It’s shocking how putting it all on the line (and in the search bar) works. Try it.)

4. I swear to god, I relaxed. I just went with it all and played around. It was dangerously akin to writing my first name with my boyfriend’s last name on my notebook in junior high. I came this close to putting hearts around it.

It worked, as I mentioned, She is named. But I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. After I passed through the unpassable, the writing and the mind-creating was unleashed. Like a tsunami, I tell you. I can’t stop thinking about her and writing about her. Who she is, what happens to her, what people think of her, how they react to her.

Who knew that this minuscule and monstrous detail was such a combustible cork in the creative bottle of juice?

Do you have any plugs like that? I highly recommend you remove obliterate them as soon as possible.

P.S. No, I can’t tell you her name. That would be like telling you my idea for baby names, and I learned that mistake the hard way. Like when ‘Finn’ became ‘Jack’ because some members of our family couldn’t stop making fish jokes. Yeah, that’s not going to work this time.

Image credit: Gillicious

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Shauna says:

    Really?? REALLY??? You wont give us the name? Tease.

  • Erika says:

    That’s too funny Julie! I just did the same for a main character name (internet search). Then boom! Once I had his name his entire world began spilling out. I am also the queen of inane writing rules, which is why it’s taken so long for me to get here. I’m fighting my rules & blowing them up and a much happier person.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Yes, Erika – let’s blow up all of those rules!

    And, NO, Shauna – but nice try.

  • Collier Ward says:

    Yes, names ARE that important to fiction. Write quickly though – the lead character in my (now abandoned) novel was undone when a more colorful character appeared on Lost with the same name!

  • Julie Roads says:

    Ha! Collier – exactly. I think I’ll just live in a box until it’s done.

  • BarbaraJ says:

    Ooh, I need some gently corrosive substance to disolve
    the roadblock I have about creating a blog- mostly about
    experiences in art school, and with poetry and music.
    Can I find that magic stuff on the web?
    I have these posts catalogued in my brain and every
    now and again, I call up a particular one and add a
    another thought fragment, then re-file.
    File under brain freeze.

    I always enjoy reading about your process.

  • I am obsessed with finding the exact right name for characters. I do research (what DID we do before the internet?) I look up character traits in the dictionary, I look up the meaning of words in other languages. Sometimes I get very inappropriately worked up over it – it’s just a name after all. Or is it….

  • Julie Roads says:

    BarbaraJ – YES! A corrosive substance…I love that! I know it won’t help, but I wholeheartedly urge you to WRITE YOUR IDEAS DOWN. I love your concept, share it with the world.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Lindsay! I did that too – looking up the meaning of names. And I don’t know what we did before the internet. And I don’t think it is ‘just a name’…it is so defining. I would not be ME, for instance, if my name was Sally. I’m a Julie, through and through.

  • Awesome!!! It’s great to see you hanging ten over your wave of creativity! Fantastic, and I’m so happy for you and not an eensy bit jealous. Grrr… lol (just kidding). :-O

    It’s hard to name characters. I’m thinking if I get around to the point where you are and don’t have a name I’ll pick something so I can at least do a search and replace. But I am picking up what you’re laying down about what happened to you after the name was chosen. Interesting. Fodder for rumination.

    What is holding me up is not actually knowing how to write a story. I don’t even know how to tell a story verbally. I should practice that and then maybe it will get easier to actually write one down.

    Oh, and vocabulary. It’s so important. How does one improve one’s vocabulary? A word a day? Hmm…

  • Julie Roads says:

    Heather. Pretend you’re writing a letter to your best friend and she wants to know ‘what happened’ aka. the story. Stop trying. You do know how to do this.

  • Thanks! Do you write in the third person? (Or is that a secret?)

  • Julie Roads says:

    I’m actually writing about that right now! The answer is that it depends, but the book I’m writing now is in first person. Because my main character simply must be tortured by not knowing what anyone else is thinking but herself.

  • I can’t wait to read that post! xo

Leave a Reply