Writing Advice: Names & Titles


When you first come up with a writing idea, you’re likely to have a large picture of a plot line or an overarching theme in your head. What you’re not very likely to come up with right away is the name of your main character. Secondary characters will come much later, but even the name of your main character may not pop into your brain immediately. What you’re even more unlikely to think up right off the bat is the title of your work. Whether it’s a novel, poem, or short story, you’re probably concentrating more on what you want it to be about, and not what you want it to be called.

Titles are something that I struggle with very often. Sometimes you find a snippet of a song lyric that goes well with your story and you can tweak it for your title. Sometimes you discover a gem that you wrote in the middle of your story or poem, and you can pluck that out to be your title. But it can be very difficult to find one thing that encapsulates everything you’re putting into your piece of writing. I would suggest waiting until the very end. Then you’ll have a full and better picture of what your story is about. At that point, it seems most appropriate to sit down and ponder your title.

As for names of characters, that can crop up at any time during the writing process. If you don’t know what you want to call your character right away, you can always insert a filler name like “BOB” or “MAIN CHARACTER” that you can do a find & replace for later on. One thing is for sure, though — characters need the right name. In a post called 25 Things a Great Character Needs, Chuck Wendig talks about this principle.

21. The Right Name: This may seem a shallow point, but boy does a character’s name matter. You don’t just pick it out of a hat — it has to be the right name, in the same way that you want the right name for a child, or a dog, or that mole on your inner thigh (mine is “Benedict Arnold”). Like, “Bob Stevens” is not the name of a steampunk secret agent. “Miss Permelia Graceyfeather” is not the name of a motel maid from Tucson. You’ve got to find the right name. And, also of importance, a name that doesn’t sound like the name of another character in your book. You don’t want readers confused, nor do you want them conjuring a character from a whole other book or movie when reading yours.

This is some great advice. It’s important to find a name that fits with who your character is, what they do, and the world that they inhabit. Whether you’re creating a title or naming your characters, it may take a lot of deliberation to come up with the perfect fit. I wish you the best of luck! Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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