Name Theory: Writing is Naming, and More

It should come as no great surprise that I love names and naming.

Naming characters is a fun and satisfying part of writing, and I think it’s an important part; however, even the best-named characters cannot save a confused and confusing plot.

This week’s main character was a murderer, and the writer described the novel as a thriller, but everything she told me about the character and the novel was background. I hope she understood this.

One thing I have learned, and am learning, is that background is not story. It takes a lot of background to create a killer, but too much background can kill a plot.

If this writer writes the story of this boy being raised poor, then seeing his mother killed, making his way in the world, meeting a girl, falling in love, and seeing her killed, it could well turn into a very long prologue. Even if well written, this story would not be a thriller.

For a story to have this character and be a thriller, it would need to start with a murder (not his mother’s or lover’s), go through a rising plot of murders interspersed with the story of a charming pseudo gentleman or kindly local neighbor (or some other characterization of the main character), and be sparsely seasoned with the background given in the character’s description, leading up to one final image (of his mother or lover) that leads him to one final murder.

It could be a great story, if the background is used to enrich the story rather than as the story.

Or it could be something other than a thriller. It could be a bildungsroman: A literary coming-of-age story.

As such, it could follow a young boy and his loving mother up to when she was killed, then continue to follow him as he scrapes by doing some things he doesn’t like, then he can obtain some peace in a simple life when he meets the girl, they fall in love, she is killed, he goes for revenge, and then becomes a roving murderer who works by day as a supposed upstanding member of his newfound city to hide the fact of his nights full of killing those he thinks are evil and deserving to die.

This too could be a great story, but it would take a special skill and craft. One I know I wouldn’t be prepared to accomplish.

Either way, with either story, I hope this writer (if she plans to write for more than herself) was able to build a good story for her character. Because, whatever the name, a main character deserves to have a well-crafted story.

I did my part, supporting her in coming up with the important detail or his name, but every writer has to do their part by knowing what story they aim to write and putting in the work to write the best story possible.

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