Value of a Cast of Characters

One of the challenges in writing a novel, particularly one with several different plot threats is naming the characters. Picking names gets more difficult when the individuals are not born and raised in the U.S. As one gets farther from Anglo-Saxon countries – U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K. – the degree of difficulty goes up.

Immigration, e.g. someone from let’s say India who immigrated to Canada, adds to the challenge. Where it gets exponentially more difficult is when there are language and cultural differences in how parents name their children.

A question I get asked is how do I come up with the names. In some cases, particularly if they are from Anglo-Saxon countries, the name literally pops into my head. Sometimes I go to the Internet and enter in ‘common last names in country XYZ’ into Google and start reading.

Creating a character with foreign names is more complex, but the process I follow is the same. Wikipedia generally has the etymology on how the names in a culture have evolved over time and that is very helpful.

Once I have a feel for the naming “convention,” I start reading through the names. Sometimes I start with the first name, other times I start with the last. And, I look for the meaning of the name if I think it is important to help describe the character.

The process does have its hazards. One mistake I made that almost got into print was that for a Russian male character who was a KGB general, I had an “a” at the end of his name. The ‘a’ turned his name from being male to female…. Whoops! Thankfully Volkova became Volkov before the book was printed.

So names can be a minefield. Another mistake I’ve managed to avoid is using the same first name for two different characters. It sounds simpler than it is because as one is writing, sometimes Steve ABC and Stephen XYZ sound and read right.

The solution to two names is relatively simple. As I write each manuscript, I create a cast of characters. In it, I have the individual’s name as I want it spelled along of every named character along with their rank or title. For the ones who appear more often I include a short bio. The listing stays in the manuscript until just before I submit it to a publisher.

During the writing and proofreading process, it is a handy tool because it is THE source on the character. So, in Inner Look, Dianne stayed with two ‘n’s and ChristiAnna was not changed to Christie Anna.

So you ask, why isn’t the cast of characters in the published copy? Most novels I read, don’t have a cast of characters. It is not a big deal to include one with the names and a sentence on who they are as a reminder to the reader. So, maybe I should think about including on in my next book.

Marc Liebman

June 2017

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