What is it about naming our characters? Some writers I know are just brilliant at coming up with the perfect name every time. As soon as I start reading, I am hooked by the name which tells me, immediately, what I can expect from that character. Then there are other writers who use the same names in every short story they write, usually those of people of their own age, that were popular 30, 40, 50 years ago.
I apologise to those of you called Mary and John but they tend to be the ones I see most frequently! Lovely names and perfect for the right character. But a little more time and thought when choosing your characters’ names will make you, your stories and your characters much more memorable.
Could Harry Potter possibly be called anything else, or Ron, or Hermione, or Severus Snape? And what about Sherlock? Other literary names that linger in the memory include Hannibal Lecter, Sam Spade, Scarlett O’Hara, Forrest Gump, Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, Phileas Fogg, Tristan Shandy, Holly Golightly, Pippi Longstocking and even Eeyore. My personal all-time favourite is Atticus Finch. In fact, To Kill A Mockingbird probably has one of the best collections of names ever: Scout, Jem, Calpurnia and Boo Radley.
And what about the James Bond books and movies? They have their own delightful collection: Pussy Galore, Bambi, Solitaire, Nick Nack, Oddjob, Jaws, Scaramanga and, of course, M and Q. The hero, in this case, has the plainest name of them all! Ian Fleming was a keen birdwatcher and took the name of the author of Birds of the West Indies for his dashing secret agent.
Did you know that Margaret Mitchell’s famous heroine started life as Pansy? Yes, really! Pansy O’Hara. Not sure Rhett Butler would have been quite so keen! It was Miss Mitchell’s publisher who persuaded her that it wasn’t quite right (because of the sexual connotations of the time) and so Scarlett was born. And from the same book, in early drafts, Tara was originally called Fountenoy Hall.
Think of your personal favourite fictional characters and see how well their names fit their characters.
So, how to go about choosing names for your stories? Here are some suggestions:
Of course in real life, each of us responds to a whole variety of names during the course of a single day. Mum, Grandma, Sis, Auntie, Jem, Jemma, Jemima, Jemmy, J, Mrs Harper, Ben’s mum, slowcoach, love, dearie. In your stories, try always to make it clear who a name refers to if you have to use alternatives. Introduce nicknames gradually and if you can work in the reason for the nickname, then your reader has a better chance of remembering who it refers to.
In books with a considerable number of characters, particularly historical novels and those set in other countries, there may be a cast list at the beginning – Dramatis Personae. With family and historical sagas, there may even be one or more family trees. I’ve found opinions divided on this subject: some people love them and frequently refer to them, others think they are annoying and that you should be able to tell who’s who from the prose.
One word of warning: if you are writing about a particularly wicked solicitor or estate agent or local businessman, you as the author MUST ensure that there is no real solicitor, estate agent or businessman with that name. If your story is published and someone spots their namesake, then you could, feasibly, be sued for libel. Another very good reason for choosing more unusual names.
Now, please excuse me because I think I need a new pen name…….
Aristophanes of Byzantium was responsible for introducing punctuation marks, back in the third century BCE. Aristophanes was a Greek literary critic and grammarian who went on to become head librarian at the library in Alexandria.
He created the full stop (or period), the comma and the colon. It was his way of helping speakers read a text out loud. His marks were a series of dots at different heights which indicated a separate verse, where to take a breath and how long that breath should be.
His ideas fell out of favour when the Romans took over but were revived in the 7thcentury by Isidore of Seville. His book The Etymologies came to be regarded as a textbook through the Middle Ages.
Our full stops (called periods in the US) evolved from Aristophanes’ dot to mark a long breath needed for reading a long piece of text.
In Aristophanes’ time, the dot was called a periodos; Chaucer called them points; and Shakespeare called them periods. Grammarians in the 16thcentury changed the name to full stops to mean the end of a sentence. And nowadays, in the computer age, we refer to a dot in the middle of an email address or webpage.
Dots or full stops are also used to indicate abbreviations e.g. although this is falling out of favour eg
Basically, a sentence is one whole thought, idea or action.
I ran to the park. It was raining.
She counted to ten and opened her eyes. They had all gone.
In dialogue, full stops MUST be used INSIDE speech marks, to indicate the end of a spoken sentence.
John said, “I don’t want to go.”
If the speech tag follows the speech, then there should be a comma INSIDE the speech marks. “I don’t want to go,” John said.
After a full stop, the next word MUST have a capital letter. This shows that a new sentence has begun.
As writers, we should be aware of what limitations there may be on our writing for public consumption ie censorship. As a lover of history, I also want to know what censorship there has been in the past in the UK.
I will admit, right now, that I was so surprised when I realised that censorship of the theatre in this country was only done away with in my lifetime! When I was a very young and naïve 18-year-old, in fact. I suppose because I grew up with “anything goes” at the theatre, in films and books, I wasn’t really aware what had gone on before and how ground-breaking the Theatres Act of 1968 was.
So I was pleased to have the opportunity of visiting the V&A’s exhibition on Censorship and the Theatre at the end of last year. I’ll come to that later. First, a quick run-down of what censorship there has been over the years.
So now we come to more modern times and the V&A’s exhibition. Letters, cartoons, photos, newspaper articles and film were all used to illustrate how things began to change in the 1960s.
So, is the theatre in Britain now censorship free?
Over the last 50 years, there have been a number of incidents that have called into question how free artists really are in what they can depict on stage, with social media playing an increasingly complicated role in the debate. The following are some of the most contentious examples from the past half-century:
In discussions with other writers, we came up with quite a variety of ways in which writers, particularly playwrights, are still being censored in the 21stcentury.
If you have any comments about anything in this article, please do get in touch.