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Choosing names for characters in a crime novel

Pauline RowsonWhat's in a name?  An awful lot as far as an author is concerned.  Getting the right name for the characters in my crime novels can be a tricky business. Sometimes they can come to me completely out of the blue, other times I will struggle to find the name that best suits that particular character and until I do the personality refuses to come alive.  The name also needs to fit with the age and nationality of that character although you can have exceptions.

When seeking inspiration for first names I have several methods. I turn to my little book of babies names; I look up websites of babies names; I also keep an ear out for any unusual or interesting names when meeting people and will jot these down, and I scour graveyards for both interesting first names and surnames. One danger can be over-using a certain name.  For some reason I seem to have a penchant for the name Eric, and when I did a search through previous novels found that I’d used it before for different characters, albeit minor ones. So no more Erics.

Dead Passage an Inspector Andy Horton MysteryAs to surnames, aside from walking around graveyards, I let my finger do the choosing and tend to pick these out of an atlas or street map. Then I see if it fits with the first name and the character.  The more novels I write (I’ve now written nineteen) the more I am in danger of repeating names (it's easy to forget what you have already used) so I’m building a database in order to double check this.

Readers also tell me that some novelists have too many characters’ surnames all beginning with the same letter and they find this very confusing.  Now I scrutinise my work to check that not everyone has a surname beginning with the letter ‘C’.  Not sure why I gravitate towards ‘C’ but I do. 

Some readers also report that if the name is too difficult to pronounce then they have difficulty getting to grips with the character and therefore engaging in and enjoying the novel.  And too many difficult to pronounce names in one novel can completely put them off. That's the last thing an author needs. But I guess it depends on what type of novel you are writing, and its setting. 

Dangerous Cargo an Art Marvik MysteryI'm often asked where the name of my main characters in my crime novels originate, the hunky Inspector Andy Horton who currently appears in fourteen crime novels, and the troubled undercover investigator Art Mavik in three novels.

I've no idea where Andy Horton's name sprang from. It just seemed to pop into my head while with Art Marvik I played around with various combinations until I got something that sounded slightly foreign (he's half Finnish) modern, edgy and tough.

It can take me quite a while to come up with the right name but it's time well spent. The name has to fit.  If it's not right then the character isn't right and that means the writing doesn't flow because it is the character's actions, mannerisms, reactions and personality that drives the plot.  What would a 'Pamela' and a 'Riley' look like to you?  Would a Rufus behave, speak and act differently from a Wayne?  Or a Sheila from a Sophie?  I'll leave you to decide. Have fun! 

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APRIL 21ST, 2017 @ 7:26:28 BST

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