Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Character Names

I've written a lot of stories. Thirty-eight plus, actually, including three partials that I won't sell and eight titles I still hope to. That's a lot of characters, and I was getting concerned that I was using certain names for secondary characters too often and, worse, that I'd duplicate main character names. So what did I do?

I made a spreadsheet, of course!

I already started keeping track of my books a while ago, so I didn't have to recount every time someone asked how many I'd written. I added a worksheet to that file to list characters.

Oy, what a chore! For the last several novels, I've kept information charts pertinent to the book, including lists of characters. But it was far fewer books than I'd thought, and I didn't do it for any of the novellas or short stories. So I had to go in and sift through every book and manuscript looking for all the character names. Needless to say, I'm sure there are some unimportant characters I didn't catch. But I do have all the main ones.

I listed each title, the hero and heroine, and every secondary character. Then I copied all the names to a new sheet and sorted it to see how they fell out. I found the results really interesting.

Sheer Numbers
First, I was shocked at the number. After I weeded out duplicate names of people who appear in more than one book, I ended up with 390 names.

Behind the Scenes has the most characters: 45! The heroine owns a protection service so all her agents are named. The job in the book is on a movie set, so there are cast and crew there. They stay in a bed-and-breakfast, which means staff. Then there are former agents and clients who could be the perpetrators. That is one hefty cast.

The next biggest book is the one I finished in October, The Color of Courage, a superhero book. It has 28. My first novel I can only remember five of the characters, but I know it had more. I can't find an electronic copy of the book, which dates back to my first computer with Windows 3.1.

Other than that, though, my "shortest" novel in terms of characters is Hunter's Song, with 5. On average, my novels have 19 characters (counting two unfinished novels that will likely have more in the end, and not counting the three partials, which average 13).

My novellas average 9, and my short stories, logically enough, average 4 to 5.

I knew I used Mark in more than one book (more than two) and it turns out I used it FIVE times (six books, since one character appears in two books).

What surprised me more was that I used:

Andrew three times
Bob(by) three times
Fran three times and Frances once
Frank four times
George FIVE times
Jason SIX times
Joey three times
Kelly three times
Pete(r) FIVE times
Sarah four times
Tom(my) SIX times

I also used Brad, Chad, Charles/Charlie, Dave/David, Diana, Ella, Eric, Ethel, Jennifer, Jess(i)e, John, Jordan, Josh, Justin, Karl, Kelsey, Ken, Max, Mike, Morgan, Nicholas, Paul, Rachel, Regan, Rick, Robert, Tim, Timmy, twice each.

I have my favorite letters, too. Without checking, I believed I used M, K, S, T, and R more than any other letters. Sure enough...

M = 39, the top usage

K = 25

S = 31

T = 29

R = 26

But what shocked me was:

B = 26

C = 27

D = 22

J = 36

I don't even LIKE those letters!

The only ones I didn't use at all are U, X, and Y. I used Q once, I twice, and Z twice.

Finally, I looked at how many characters were important enough to have both first AND last names.

156 only had a first name. One was an animal (only one!). 21 were in fantasy stories where there were no last names. Also, there were 10 people known only by their last name (usually with a title). So, amazingly, 224 of my characters were important enough to rate last names.

And thus ends today's boring dissection of Natalie's Writing. You may wake up from your nap now. :)


MaryF said...

I have a lot of Davids and Roberts. I don't know why. And my current hero is Malcom, but I had a heroine named Mallory. Both go by Mal.

Natalie Damschroder said...

Maybe David and Robert just pop into the head easily when you need a name.

Funny about the Mal! :) I have novel characters (deliberately) named Tyler Sloane and Jackson Sloane, and a novella with a heroine named Sloane Marshall.