Sidenote: I keep rewriting the post on the advantages of critiquing. One day I’ll publish it…
In Christi Craig’s most recent blog post, My Favorite Letters of the Alphabet, she and several commentors admitted to using J and M for the first letter of many character names.
Why are these letters so popular? I have no idea, but I’m guessing every writer is drawn to a limited range of names. I have a habit, with my novels, of starting a character’s name a letter that identifies its type. For example:
- dark hero’s name with a D
- MC’s inspirational friend’s with a J
- warrior woman’s with an S
- scary authority figure’s with a T
I realized months ago that I lean towards D but didn’t realize until tonight that other letters indicate a character type.
At least this letter-by-type method is more developed than starting most of the important characters in the same story with the same letter.
“But wait,” someone might say. “People prefer M and J, so shouldn’t I use those for my important characters?”
No. That’s because readers need variation to help them tell characters apart, and they’ll appreciate if it’s in more than the physical description and dialogue.
Consider this: If you were introduced to Dina, Donny, Darcie, and David in the first few chapters, then what would be your chances of remembering the difference between Dina and Darcie, or Donny and David, without a heavy use of character tags (recurring actions, dialogue or description specific to each character)?
Tina, Donny, Alice, and Mike conjure similar images as the first list but don’t blend together as much.
Orson Scott Card mentioned this in one of his online Writing Class posts, More on Naming Characters. So, this form of reader confusion appears to be common.
Another thing: Don’t assume that introducing characters in different chapters and different locations will prevent reader confusion. Some of your readers may catch on to the difference well enough, but I recommend making the character’s unique qualities pronounced.
Anyway, when writing, there’s a benefit to starting each character’s name with a different letter. If you’re like me in that you make notes about your plots and characters, then you may appreciate shortcuts. I prefer to write “D woke to find S waiting by his bed. S tells him T is planning on killing them” and so on instead of writing full names throughout an outline, which is often handwritten and then typed. However, that’s not going to work well if I have three characters whose names start with D and two who start with S.
Have you been confused by names that started with the same letter? Do you know of any other reason to vary the first letter of important characters?