Guest Post: Jay Posey – What’s In a Name?

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Jay is a narrative designer, author, and screenwriter by trade. He started working in the video game industry in 1998, and has been writing professionally for over a decade. Currently employed as Senior Narrative Designer at Red Storm Entertainment, he’s spent around eight years writing and designing for Tom Clancy’s award-winning Ghost Recon and Rainbow Sixfranchises.

A contributing author to the book Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing, Jay has lectured at conferences, colleges, and universities, on topics ranging from basic creative writing skills to advanced material specific to the video game industry.

You can find him online at his website, jayposey.com, as well as on Twitter (@HiJayPosey).


What’s In a Name?

by Jay Posey


What’s In a Name?

Three.

Swoop.

jCharles.

The characters in my Legends of the Duskwalker trilogy don’t always have the most common of names. That’s obviously not an accident. SOMEONE had to decide to name them that, and in this case, it was me.

When it comes to naming characters, there are probably as many philosophies on how to do it right as there are writers. Some authors spend weeks looking for the Perfect Name. Some authors just go with whatever happens to pop into their mind when they first start sketching a character out.

And of course, not every character gets named the same way.

For me, sometimes names develop organically over time as I get to know the character. Other times, it’s the name that creates the character. But in all cases, whenever I’m coming up with a name, I’m trying to:

  • Make it suit the character
    • This is probably an obvious one, but names come along with their own weight and baggage. When Diana first tells us her name, we have a different impression of her than we would if she’d introduced herself as Bonesaw. Very often characters can grow to define a name (Indiana Jones, for example), but names naturally inform our initial
      impressions of characters too. If you use a name that doesn’t seem to fit with the kind of character you’re creating, it can create unnecessary friction for your readers. That doesn’t stop me from using unusual names at all, but I try to make sure that any name I choose isn’t undermining what I want to do with a character.
  • Make it distinctive
    • It’s important to make sure readers can easily keep track of and distinguish between different characters. If Tom is standing behind Tommy, it’s probably going to be important for your reader to remember which one of them picked up the knife a few pages earlier. This can be as simple as making sure that important names don’t start with the same letter of the alphabet or the same phonetic sound; it can go deeper than that, into names that rhyme, or names of similar length. This goes back again to making it easy for readers to manage the cast of characters in their head; a name needs to immediately evoke the correct character, and if readers have to juggle through several possibilities (“Wait, was this Kry’zak the Greater or Kry’zak the Lesser? Or Kyr’jak the stableboy?”) it pulls them out of the flow of the story. (Which is bad.)
  • Make it belong
    • A name has to feel like it makes sense in the world, whatever that world is. Names can inform us about culture and history, about a character’s background or upbringing. And it can inform us about the world at large. But if a name stands out from all the other character names, it runs the risk of calling attention to itself at the wrong time. It might be really tough for your readers to get through that gritty, stark reflection on death and war when the character doing the narrating is named Bubblefun McSunshine. I have no doubt whatsoever that many brilliant authors could make that work of course, but it’s probably a choice that ought to be made intentionally and not by default.

For the Duskwalker series, I wanted to create a world that felt different than our own but that didn’t seem completely alien. As part of that process to achieve the texture I was looking for, I ended up using a lot of words that are familiar but that we don’t typically see used as names.

Many of my characters’ names are short; Three, Wren, Cass, Gamble, Sky. Very few have last names. Occasionally I’d sneak in an extra-strange one, like jCharles, 4jack, or the Bonefolder. But in every case, I tried to make sure everyone had a name that suited them, that was distinctive from others, and that belonged in the world I’d built for them.


About the Book:

Wren is living in Greenstone under the temporary care of Charles and Mol, and the protection of Chapel. Unable to determine the fate of his mother and those he left behind in Morningside, Wren believes there is nothing left to do but wait for Asher’s final blow … until a man named Haiku walks into the Samurai McGann, looking for Three.

After learning of Three’s fate, Asher’s ascension, and Wren’s gift, Haiku offers his help, and together they set out to find the remnants of House Eight and convince them to help.

As Cass and the few who survived the fall of Morningside face overwhelming odds to escape Asher and the Weir, they realize it is impossible…until their daring and probably suicidal plan to strike turns out to have surprising results and unexpected discoveries.

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2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Jay Posey – What’s In a Name?

  1. Ah, the third book is out already and I realized I still have to catch up with book two. The first book was really cool, with one of the most unique zombie concepts I’ve ever read 😀

    Like

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