Name Theory: Hello, My Name is MarySue

When I give a list of names to a writer I generally put them in the order that I prefer them, from best to good. There are times when I don’t have a strong feeling about any of the names, and other times when I like one or two names much more than the others.

I identify with the names that I like. I begin to see the characters, and imagine what they are like and how they live their lives. They become real to me and I cannot imagine why another name would be chosen.

But other names are chosen.

Sometimes writers did choose the name I liked best, as in this week’s example. And at those times I silently rejoiced that something of what I saw for the character may come to be.

At other times, though, when the writer chose another name from the list, I was disappointed. Everything that I’d thought about the character, everything that I’d dreamed and imagined for them, no longer had a chance. I was reminded that the characters weren’t mine.

It was a bitter reminder.

Often the reason why I liked the other name, even though I thought the name was appropriate, was because I considered the name “safe”. Either it was much more common, or seemed to follow the genre’s conventions more closely, or it just didn’t give me that feeling—that visual and visceral oomph of a fully conceived character.

The characters weren’t mine, and even my characters don’t truly belong to me. Characters, like children, only truly belong to themselves. Their creators can guide and sculpt their lives, but in the end the best characters bring something special to the table.

That something special could be a quirk, or great resilience. Or that something special could be nothing more than the determination of the writer to breathe life into a full character who, even if she be named MarySue, can bring the reader on a journey of highs, lows, and weightless expectation. In the end, that is what matters most.

Still, I’m happy the writer chose Astrid Wyatt over the blandly sweet MarySue, and I look forward to reading about a devious Astrid and her coven of characters more than I would if she had been given a name with less character.


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