While it’s great to have a plot ready by November 1st so you can just start typing (or scribbling) till your fingers hurt (or still go on even then) what I find as the biggest challenge is names; whether it is names of people, places, institutions – anything. At the NaNoWriMo 2013 Kickoff meeting in Mumbai, the discussion revealed that there were a few others who shared this dilemma. So I thought I’d help out a little bit.
Why are names so important when a rose by any other name would smell as sweet? It’s because for some of us, it’s impossible to take the story forward without knowing what your protagonist’s name is. How long can you keep calling the main character of your story ‘him’ or ‘her’? And it’s not just about the protagonist. It’s people like the best friend, boss, villain, who need to have names too. For me, it becomes hard to imagine the person, their mannerisms, characteristics, if I don’t have a name to go along with it. So I devised a plan as simple as ABC. Allow me to elaborate.
At the beginning of NaNo when you’ve just started your novel, nothing is set in stone; not even your story, because the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words. It’s about getting those words out there and everyone knows that the permutation of those words will change when you edit your finished novel. Those changes can, and mostly will, include a change in important elements such plot, dialogues, characters and their names, and in some instances, even the entire story. In short, what you need to keep your story moving forward in November is something to work with even if it is temporary.
To take your mind off the inane complexities of choosing a name and to enable you to make quick decisions, all you have to do is think A, B, C…. For instance, my protagonist, Anahita from Blue Bells High School was best friends with Czar Doctor and they lived on Elmer’s Street. Elmer’s Street?? In Mumbai??? It’s ridiculous, I know! But, did you see what I did there? I picked a name from each letter of the alphabet, originally on a temporary basis, till I could think of something else. So from each letter of the alphabet, pick the first name that comes to mind and that will give you something to move forward. It’s how movies have Work Titles till they find a better name.
This totally worked for me. It made me write the story knowing where they lived, what their names were, what school they went to; without having to give it a second thought. And you know what? These are the names that stuck. Even though they don’t live on Elmer’s Street anymore, my characters are still called Anahita and Czar. Once I created them and their personalities, it was hard for me to change their names.
But sometimes, you don’t want every single thing in your book to be named alphabetically. So let’s look at an alternative strategy. You could play the ‘STOP’ game. It’s a two person game really, but it makes the work a lot easier. Remember how we played ‘Name-Place-Animal-Thing’? How did we decide the alphabet? I am not sure if there were other ways, but what we do is, one person mentally recites the alphabet at any speed and the second person’s job is to simply say ‘STOP’ at any time. The letter that the first player was saying (in his/her head, obviously) is what you name your character from. Again, it’s a lot easier if you think of the first name that comes to your mind.
Say you are thinking of names for a Hotel and you were stopped at ‘R’ it could be the Royal Star – not the most creative name but it was the first one to come to my mind. And if, while editing – preferably after November 30th – I felt that I didn’t like it, I could always change it by going through the traditional creative thinking route or the ABC way… 😉