Friday, 15 October 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

I'm coming to the end of work on stand alone thriller 2 this week and as I start to hone the little details of the story it strikes me how much stories have to be convincing but not often based in absolute reality.

When choosing names for characters, for instance, it doesn't have much to do with what we'd encounter in real life. Our main character usually has a name that is the product of many different considerations - one that sits easily with the subject matter, that rolls easily round the tongue and brain and that doesn't scag the eye within the text.

If I was trying to create an evil, serial killing character I probably wouldn't call him Melvin. Although there was a necrophiliac serial killer with this name who was executed in 1961.

This isn't true of all protagonists, of course, but most books have to go against the grain of the odds in reality. For example, if you put a lot of people together there would be a very good chance that some of them would share the same first name. I've only ever read one book where this was the case and I found it absolutely exasperating.

As a writer I think we all choose interesting names and places that are not only good on the eye and echo agreeably in the mind but that all slot together in the reality we've created for our story.

It's a personal consideration and I think it's intriguing to anlayse why one name will fit within our work and another one won't. Only we can judge it.

At this point of editing I'm changing some places, fictional organisations, clothing descriptions and even colours. None of them contradict what I'd find outside my own front door and often I can't identify why I feel they don't work. I only know that they grate within the story.

There's no right or wrong - just a gut instinct that something isn't quite right.

So now I'm back to it. Will I finish today? No way, Jose. Or should that be 'No way, Pedro?'

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  1. Indeed names of characters in a book is a quite interesting topic. In real life we know that names are related to the part of the world we live - e.g. in Germany you will seldom find people with Icelandic names. And of course we know temporary fashions of names. I was born in 1959. at this time Michael has been a fashionable first name. I will never forget my first year in school. I shared the table with three other boys named Michael :-)

    Whichever name you choose for a character, in the end the reader with his likes and dislikes, knowledge and experience decide, whether he ikes it or not.
    Just take the name Charles. In my memory the name Charles is connected with three totally different people: Charly Chaplin, Prince Charles and Charles Manson. In a more funny story I would think at Charly Chaplin. In a court story I would think at Prince Charles and in a crime story it would be Charles Manson.

  2. Actually Melvin might work if he was say a computer geek and that's how he found his victims don't you think?

  3. Didn't James Lee Burke have a serial killer named Melvin in one of his Robicheaux book? Hm, no, now that I think about it, I think the guy's name was Marvin. Same dif.

  4. Thanks, Michael. You're right. Each name is a subjective choice and then every reader will have their own perception of it based on their experiences.

    Hi Kelly. Thanks for your comment. Obviously Melvins are computer geeks in your mind. It's fascinating to hear what specific names suggest.

    Hi Naomi. Thanks fo ryour contribution. Haven't read that book but I'm sure Melvin or Marvin sat comfortably in the author's reality for the story. I'm sure there would be circumstances when I'd use those names myself just not in my current book.

  5. Spooky. My serial killer in Pain Wears No Mask is a Melvin - suffers from gender dysphoria...

    You're right, names are important. I try not to have names beginning with the same letter. Ken Follett used 'W' names a lot in his masterpiece The Pillars of the Earth without detriment, however!

  6. Thanks for your comment, Nik. One thing is clear - names are very subjective. Your Melvin sounds terrifying.