Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Open Wide

I submitted myself today to the semiannual joy of professional teeth cleaning.  In wrapping up her gig, the hygienist handed me a new toothbrush and sample floss, and I noticed the angry, purple dents along the sides of my fingers where my vice-like grip of entwined digits pitted bone against bone.  My shoulders, only now beginning to relax, ache to the blades.  I've sworn off coffee and red wine.  Damn them and the stains they leave behind.  My dentist is wonderful, but I won't miss her these next six months.

A new dentist's sign went up in a neighboring town, on the opposite end of the recently constructed plaza that houses a just-opened Mexican restaurant.  The new dental offices look clean, sleek and modern, from the outside, of course.  I won't step foot inside, so I will never be able to comment on the office interior or on the good dentist's services.  Why, you ask?  Because according to the sign, the dentist's name is Justin Payne, DDS.

Justin Payne?  Really?  As in:  Just In Pain?  Who in their right mind goes to a dentist with a name like that?  For that matter, what man chooses dentistry with a name like that!  If it had been me, and I was passionate about working inside the general public's mouthes, I would at least use only my first initial.  J. Payne, Super Dentist.  Throw in the middle initial even: J.S/T/W/P/Whatever it is. Payne.

Whether it's fair or not, names give us immediate impressions of the people who bear them.  Choosing character names for fiction is a fun and delicate business for this reason.  I once participated in a workshop on Characterization, and we spent a session discussing character names.  We were given an interesting assignment to open creative doors and raise awareness where names are concerned.  I'll print the assignment here, and anyone who wishes to give it a go should do so before reading the rest of this post, where I'll include my own answers:

Typically, all characters have at least a first name. Because of our own experiences, cultural or social background, age, etc., we often hold opinions about certain names. Names can suggest courage, sophistication, clownishness, intelligence, sex, race, class, religion etc. Here is a little exercise. Tell me what the names below mean to you, what we might deduce about the character.

1) Loyd (the author spelled the character’s name incorrectly for a reason, why would she do this?)
2) Marie Huguenot (this one is tricky)
3) Dr. Selim Sengor
4) Zeph
5) Colin Glass
6) Colie Bluestone

Note: The workshop was offered in 2008 through a writers group I belong to called Rising Stars.  The workshop leader's handle was Purivada, and I'm crediting this exercise to her, although I don't know whether she is the original author or not.  She has been an inactive member of WDC since May 2008, but you can view samples of her writing HERE.

My answers to this exercise in January 2008 were:

I love thinking about characters' names. Here are my immediate thoughts about these:

Loyd ~ He wants to stand out in a crowd he feels swallowed up in. He lacks self-confidence even though he has talents hidden in his heart.
Marie Huguenot ~ Married a wealthy man, keeping her in the social class she is accustomed to.
Dr. Selim Sengor ~ Brilliant man who was unable to prosper in the poor country he grew up in. Worked hard to get an education abroad, but doesn't see the respect he deserves in the eyes of his peers.
Zeph ~ Spiritually guided man who marches to the beat of his own drum. Regarded as a throwback but enjoys the edge he feels this gives him as a nonconformist.
Colin Glass ~ Work-a-holic who plays by the rules, striving for what he's been told defines 'success', but is emotionally shallow and out of touch in interpersonal relationships.
Colie Bluestone ~ Hhmmmmm ... Not sure. The only visual I'm getting is being played by Matthew Mcconaughey.

Do you enjoy finding names that represent, or contradict, your characters' personalities?  Do you find you change characters' names as your MS progresses and you learn more about them?  Do you hate the dentist?