What’s in a Name?

Names are an important aspect of any character. They help us point out our characters as individuals, give them life and, if we so dream, make them memorable . We can use names to our advantage as they can convey ideas or meanings and, while there are never ‘bad’ names, there are poorly suited ones. The most common mistake in naming a character is choosing a name for the sake of it and not thinking about the consequences, meanings or associations.

Rhymes?
Having Ben, Ken, Jen and Len all in one story leaves the reader confused and bored. Make sure that there are variations in your choice of names, not just in sound but in syllables. There are thousands of names to choose from, so don’t settle for the easiest or most common.

Avoid clichés:
When it comes to writing horror, we are bound to come across an evil mastermind or two, and when we do, we hate to find them called ‘Doctor Doom’ or ‘The Evil One’ or even those delightful characters who are known by such painful titles as ‘The One Without a Name” or the “The One We Cannot Name”. Give your mad scientist or crazed biologist a believable name, something that makes them seem a little more real and thus a little more disconcerting for your reader.

This applies to our everyday, ‘normal’ characters as well. John Smith and Jane Doe…? Well, they speak for themselves. Put some effort into finding a decent name and surname. When creating a character, write a back story that mentions their parents and ask yourself what this character’s parents would have named them. Those who raise us play a part in shaping our personality. Think of Johnny Cash’s song ‘A Boy Named Sue’.

When it comes to monsters and creatures, creepies and crawlies, think outside the box. Instead of ‘the blob’, look up the translation in another language, it will mean the same thing but add a little air of mystery for those not in the know.

Spelling:
Changing the spelling of a name can work for or against you. If you change the spelling and manage to keep the right pronunciation, then this can add to your character’s unique identity. However, changing the spelling too much can leave the name open to mispronunciation which can affect the way your reader interprets it.

Connotations:
It is inevitable that great names in history come with certain connotations. Let’s take a prime example: Adolph Hitler. Already thoughts and ideas have come into your mind, most of them presumably negative. Be careful if you take inspiration from the names historical figures, both good and bad, as these will lead the reader to draw conclusions about your characters that have no place in your story. On the other hand, choosing a well-known name can enhance the image of your character, providing that he or she fits the general image.

Age appropriate:
A little research can go a long way towards authenticity. The popularity of names fluctuates year by year, and names that were common in the 1920’s were not as common in the 1980’s. If your character is 80 years old, do a quick search on the Internet and see what names were common back then. Little aspects such as these can add extra credibility and authenticity to you story.

Abbreviations:
Don’t be afraid to abbreviate your character’s name, or use their surname as their predominant form of reference. We all give nicknames, drop or add part of a name or (casually or formally) drop the first name completely in everyday life, so there’s no reason why your characters shouldn’t either. A nickname says a lot about the character who has it, and the one who gives it.

Finding Names:
So what happens when you can’t find a name that seems right for your character? Don’t settle for just anything, do some looking around: names are everywhere. So where are some good places to find them?
– Fictional name generators (many are available if you do a quick Internet search)
– Baby name websites (these are useful and some offer statistics about popularity, origins and meaning)
– Watch movie credits
– Open a phone book.
– Take inspiration from history (Salem Witch Trials? Titanic?)

Never underestimate the power of a name. We can’t help but associate meanings and ideas to certain names and while we are not always conscious of this, we do it nonetheless. Giving a little extra thought when it comes to naming your characters means that you give your writing that little extra edge.

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Tips on Writing Horror

The horror genre is one of the most difficult genres to write in. This is because the story has more to do with the way it’s told than the story itself. A good romance or drama can have a great plot with average writing, but a good horror story has to have good writing in order for it to succeed. So how do you write a good horror story? Here are some tips from an avid horror fan:

 

What scares you?

One of the best ways to give your work more impact is to write about something that scares you. Be it the monster in the closet, the feeling of someone else in the room, or your neighbor’s vacuum cleaner that just doesn’t feel right, if you are freaked out then you can transfer that feeling into your character and thus into your reader.

 

Where do you get scared?

Settings are often underrated, but with a genre that thrives on atmosphere, they shouldn’t be neglected. The cliché of graveyards and abandoned houses on a stormy night have been overused, so think of a place that makes you feel uneasy. It could be a children’s playground after dark, the desolate street corner in the middle of the day when everyone is at work or your normal looking basement that just doesn’t feel right. Regardless of what your story is about, remember to take advantage of your settings to emphasize the mood or to create a sense of unease or dislocation.

 

Would you do that?

When the crazed killer is chasing the young teenage cheerleader through her house, would she really run straight past the front door and up the stairs to the second floor (like we’ve seen in so many teen slasher movies), or would she bolt through that door and search for help instead? Ask yourself what you would do in that situation and let your answer depict the characters actions. Character’s actions should seem like the most likely choice for that person to make and not like an action chosen merely to advance the plot.

 

Got a case of that Writers Itch?

Have you felt the need to write a specific story but stopped because you’ve felt it’s all been done before? Don’t let that stop you from trying your hand at the haunted house story; give it your own unique touch by writing it with your own characters, your own ghosts  and most importantly your own words. Because that’s what we writers do: we take a plot, an idea or a person and we make it our own.

 

Be elegant:

For me, the key to a good horror story is elegance. The finely woven tale of suspense and tension, mixing the known with the unknown, is far more terrifying than an axe wielding psycho who slashes his way through the plot and characters. Subtly often has more of an impact than the in-your-face blood and guts style, so be cunning and you will catch your reader off guard.

 

Ultimately, horror comes down to finding the right combination of plot, atmosphere and character. What scares your reader should terrify your character because if your character isn’t scared, your readers won’t be either. And remember this valuable piece of advice: when it comes to horror, it’s not the story that makes it good but the way that it’s told.