Creating the Characters

My absolute favorite part of being an author is creating the characters that exist in my world and coming up with their names. When I create the characters, A LOT of thought goes into it. For this week’s post, I thought it would be fun to give you an idea of how my brain works for that process.

As I start the process, the first thing I need to know is the characters purpose. Are they a friend or foe? Do they have a big part or just a minor role? For me, that answer tells me how serious I need to take the character. It’s a silly story about a super hero penguin, so all of the names are silly. But I give myself license to be extra silly with the smaller parts. Minor roles can have joke names, like the elephant “Donald Trunk”. They won’t be around a whole lot of the story, so their name might just be for a quick laugh, or an homage to other pop culture like “Howie the Mallard” a tip-of-the-hat reference to Marvel’s Howard the Duck.

For characters that do play a bigger role, they get a lot more brain storming time. In high school, my creative writing teacher, Mr. Brown, taught us that good writers don’t just make up a name. Each name has a purpose, and when it’s dissected can tell you a lot about the character. Mr Brown used the film The Matrix, to demonstrate that point. Keanu Reeves plays “Neo” who is commonly referred to as “The One”. N-E-O is an anagram for O-N-E. “Neo” also means “new” or “revived” and when you watch those movies those definitions are a part of Neo’s story. Neo’s alter-ego is “Thomas Anderson.” Thomas derived from the Bible’s “Doubting Thomas” who doesn’t believe Jesus came back from the dead until he saw the holes in Jesus’s hands. Thomas/Neo spends a lot of time doubting that he is The One until the movie’s climax.

References I used in Super Penguin include references from everything from the Bible to the Care Bears. Some I named after friends and my dogs. Some of the names are specific to the animal, their job, their role in the story and other bits of trivia. And as the ultimate homage to super hero stories, I use as much alliteration as I can. Just like some of Marvel’s best characters (Reed Richards, Peter Parker, Doctor Doom) I try to do the double letters when I can with characters like Tom Truck and Wally Whax. Speaking of Wally, he checks a lot of the boxes on my character naming checklist. If you’ve read the first few pages of Super Penguin, you know that Wally is a hockey player, and a turtle.

Let me break it down.

  • First, the obvious alliteration with the double “W”.
  • “Whax” is a reference to the popular car product “Turtle Wax”
  • He’s a hockey player who “whacks” a hockey puck for a living.

I do this for every character in the story. Some names are more complex and some less, but every name from the front cover to the back has a purpose. I don’t want to share too much because like Neo in The Matrix some parts of the names coincide with what happens in the story, and explaining their name in too much detail may lead to some spoilers. BUT if you’ve read the first Super Penguin book, and want to know more about the names, ask me on the comments page. I’d love to break down some more names for you!

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