June Barrett

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JBApparently I have name issues. In one earlier post, I contemplated which names characters should use when referring to each other. In another, I wondered about homage/allusion names. Today, or really all along, I’m wondering about my letter rut.

As in most books, Julia has secondary and tertiary characters. And those characters need to be identified somehow…at least some of them do. “Hey, co-worker, how are you today?” doesn’t seem like a very Julia thing to say, so co-worker needs a name…as does her boss, her roommate, her sister, family friends, friends who left voicemail sympathy messages and so on.

Usually, these characters pop up in one or two scenes, so I don’t worry too much about their names. I won’t be living with them for that long, so it doesn’t matter if the name suites them or if I like it. What matters is that I’m consistent. In an earlier version of Julia, her sister’s name kept changing. Oops.

So, without restrictions of taste or compatibility, you’d think choosing names for minor characters would be easy. Sadly, not for me. Not because I care passionately about name in general, but because my mind gets stuck. My main character is Julia so, J got stuck in my head. The only names I could think of for her co-workers were all J names: Janice, Jan, Judy, Joyce…nothing else would come to mind. Nothing.

And then there are last names. I can only think of last names that start with M or B. M I get, sort of, because Julia’s last name begins with M. But B? Off the top of my head, I can only think of one friend with a last name that begins with B, so why, when I’m thinking of character names, can’t I recollect any of my friends’ last names?

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5 thoughts on “June Barrett

  1. play with the names! If you can’t settle on one name right now, just come up with something wacky and fun to differentiate them from the other background characters. You can always change it later!
    (Open up a phone book, close your eyes, and point?)

    • Cam

      Em, I’ve never tried the phone book. However, in times of desperation I have turned to my bookshelf. Many of my secondary characters are named after authors.

  2. My book was non-fiction, so don’t know if it applies here, but editors at the publishing house asked me to take out the names of people I referred to only once. “It’s too confusing for readers to keep all those names in their heads,” they said. So in the instance of Julia greeting a co-worker, maybe she just doesn’t call them by name. Think of how many times you say hello to someone at work without using their name?

    • Cam

      Beth,

      I’m pretty sure that’s a good rule of thumb for fiction, too. Thanks!

      Somewhere, a while ago, I read that when you’re writing a script, it’s considered a courtesy to give even the minor characters names. If a nurse comes in, delivers one line and no one ever refers to her by name, some writers will still write in that Nurse Hatchett comes in because the actors really appreciate being a named-person rather than Nurse 1. Perhaps that stuck with me more than I realized…or I have grand sub-conscious plans for Julia!

  3. bethfinke

    Can *definitely* see that in writing scripts for plays! As for naming the people you *need* to name, though, maybe you should go to a dog park and listen to the dog lovers talk. Was just in the elevator with someone disciplining their dog. “Cleo, sit.” “Cleo, down.” “Cleo, stay.” “Cleo, sit.” “Cleo, down.” “Cleo, stay.” “Cleo, sit.” “Cleo, down.” “Cleo, stay.” “Good dog, Cleo.”
    And hey, Good name. Cleo!

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