Name Theory: Seek Not Ye Literary Unicorns

Naming characters takes balance between what is wanted v. what is needed, between what is perfect v. what is acceptable. Writers must become content with that balance if they are to make their writing the best it can be.

I want to say now that writers tend to be perfectionists, to want to edit and tinker with their writing until it’s just so, but I know that these writers are only the second type.

The first type of writer is the kind that is proliferating online in self-publishing, the type who think all of their writing is acceptable and that this is enough. (I’m not calling out all self-publishers, only those who seem to think a first draft is a publishable draft.) These writers don’t edit enough, may not think they need editing, may not want to spend the time on editing, may not want to spend the money on a professional editor (or who hire hacks), and who expect readers to pay to read crap because they don’t think their crap stinks.

Newsflash: All crap stinks.

If you think your crap doesn’t stink, or if you think others should just deal with (or overlook) your crap, you should just give up now. Speaking for all readers: We don’t want to read your crap.

Edit or die.

Your writing, and your characters’ names, don’t need to be perfect (this doesn’t exist) but they do need to be good. The writer of this week’s example character name needed a Russian girl’s name, and chose a name that suited the character. If, however, this writer had chosen Mbwana for this character, that Swahili boy’s name would not have been appropriate nor would it have been good enough.

Aim high, writers.

But not too high.

The first type of writer doesn’t give enough, but the second type gives too much.

The second type is the perfectionist writer, who seeks the perfect character names, the perfect metaphor, the perfect turn of phrase, the perfect punctuation. These writers are seeking literary unicorns.

It is a beautiful fantasy, but it is a fantasy. Unicorns don’t exist (not the white horse-like kind, anyway), and perfect writing doesn’t exist either.

The writer this week chose one of the names I loved to rename a character. This is good, if the writer simply felt it was the right name for that character, but it could be bad if this writer still can’t find the “perfect” name for the character that still seems to be nameless.

As I always say, I love names and naming. Writers should never forget, however, that the goal of naming characters is to give the characters a good name that suits them, is appropriate, and will resonate with readers. The goal of naming characters is not to find perfection.

Nor is the goal of writing or editing to seek perfection.

Writers: Do your best. Get help when you need it. Listen to advice from others. Trust your gut. Do the work, but at some point trust that you have done all that needs to be done.

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