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The Name of the Game

If there is anything that puts me off about the process of writing, it is the part where I have to figure out what to name the characters in my short story or novel. Short of pulling names out of a hat, I do everything humanly possible to come up with interesting names. Names that reflect the personalities and quirks of my characters.

I think it is important for the main protagonists in your manuscript to have names. I’m talking about the characters that drive the narrative and contribute towards the progress of the plot. The reader should be able to connect with them from the first instance and a memorable name helps build that connection. Look at it this way, don’t you remember people you meet who have interesting, even unusual names? It is the same with the person reading your work.

I do not believe that all characters, especially the insignificant ones, need a name. Too many names can lead to unnecessary clutter and readers may get distracted. In a pacey crime novel for instance, a reader might get confused with too many names. In short stories, characters don’t necessarily need names. Ernest Hemingway didn’t believe in giving all his characters names. You must read A Clean Well-Lighted Place to understand what I mean. The latter is one of his finest short stories.

When I was writing Mr Eashwar’s Daughter, naming the characters was a huge challenge. Since my book was a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, I wanted the names to have some similarity to the characters in the original novel. So Anne Elliot became Anamika “Anna” Eashwar and Commander Frederick Wentworth was Farrokh “Freddy” Wadhera. But I didn’t name the characters on a whim. Farrokh’s parents were music enthusiasts and they named him after Freddy Mercury while the Eashwars were landed gentry and Eashwar was a title they adopted.

A few rules that I follow. You might find them helpful.

Do your research well: It is always a good idea to research the period you are writing about or even the region or country and then name your characters accordingly. Inaccuracies stick out like a sore thumb and readers’ can always tell.

Unusual & interesting: I like names that have an interesting ring to them, quirky names even. Or names that reflect the personality of the character I am writing about. Mrinalini from Dragon Aunty Returns! was a staid, prudish Bengali girl and I thought that name would be perfect for her. No offense to anyone I hope, living or dead.

Does it sound good? That’s the question you must always ask at the end of the day. Does the name have a pleasant or unpleasant ring to it? (depending on your character’s traits) Would you give your own child the same name? Your book is your baby, isn’t it? Give it the same importance then.

A word of advice: do not name your characters after your friends, relatives or lovers. It is never a good idea unless they ask you to do it or you get their permission in advance. Make sure you get it in writing so that they can’t take you to court later. Just kidding. Store the note safely somewhere though!

Click here to find out how authors named their famous characters.

The Heart of the Matter

A friend asked me on Twitter after reading my post on writing short fiction, how does one get the reader to experience an emotional connect with what you are writing? There are some stories in which the plot isn’t particularly new or extraordinary yet they manage to make the readers feel a myriad of emotions.

Now I can list out all the different techniques that you can use to write your stories so that your readers get hooked. The way you create your characters, using plot, descriptions and twists in the narrative to hold their interest. You will find most of that on the Internet if you look for it.

What about the emotional connect then? How do you write something that will move your readers? In the words of Ernest Hemingway: write hard and clear about what hurts.

As a writer, you need to feel emotion when writing to be able to convey that feeling successfully to your readers. If your writing leaves you cold, how can you expect your reader to be moved to tears by it?

It’s a dangerous proposition. Difficult even. It can leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. But whoever said writing is an easy job? And the simpler your tales are, the more complex emotions they will tap. You need to be prepared to journey to the dark places inside your soul, play with your own feelings and life experiences so that you can tell your tales convincingly. You have to make people believe, giggle uncontrollably, shed a tear or perhaps feel terrible rage.

These journeys will not be easy and they will leave you emotionally drained. But it will be worth it. That part I can guarantee. My last short story, The Red Thread, about a young apprentice tailor who falls in love with disastrous consequences left me weeping after I had written it. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience but recent events and a trip down memory lane prompted me to write it. Do read and tell me what you felt. I’d be curious to know.

Have you ever read a story that moved you to tears or rage or intense contemplation? Have you wondered what it was about that story that made you feel this way? Write back, I’m waiting to hear from you.

Meanwhile, you can read some of my other short stories on the Juggernaut Books app here.