In our first exercise regarding character naming, we were given a list of names and a list of settings and told to create a piece of flash fiction based on our intuitive perceptions. Now we are going to look at naming characters based on archetypes and stereotypes.
We are all familiar with the Hero archetype. Joseph Campbell’s analysis of the hero’s journey tracks the narrative of our standard hero through a series of “steps” evident in such prolific stories as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. In these stories, Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins are our heroes, set on a path of saving the world through a Call to Adventure.
Archetypes can be found in most stories on one level or another. However, in creating fiction, we also deal with stereotypes. I have found that these two terms can be often confused with one another. The difference is that an archetype is a building block for creating a character’s story, where a stereotype is a character contained by a set level of perception. Take for example, the jock and cheerleader. Those two stereotypes probably drew an image to your mind immediately. The challenge of changing these stereotypes into an archetype is creating a character with depth and pushing them beyond our perceived interpretations of these stereotypes.
One example can be in the show Heroes. The show begins with cheerleader Claire Bennett. On the surface, she is a cheerleader, which is a stereotype. However, we learn very quickly that she is much much more than that. She has superpowers. Now her character faces struggles, moral dilemmas, and has to help save the world. If she was a “stereotypical” cheerleader, would those things be possible?
Character naming can play into the archetype/stereotype study. Think of three cheerleader names. One. Two. Three. Do you have them? I came up with Chelsea, Klarissa, and Faye. For me, these names come across a little snobbish, with Faye being the slight exception by having a name that is more old fashioned but has been made cool by her status. Faye might be the worst of the character of the bunch, or she could be the softy amidst the snobbery, depending on my mood or the story. What about the names you picked say “cheerleader?”
First, pick two of the following character archetypes or stereotypes:
- Movie Star
- Evil villain
- Gallant Hero
- Emo Kid
- Boy/Girl Next Door
- Damsel in Distress
- Mad Scientist
- Village Idiot
Now, using a favorite or new resource, pick a name for each of the archetypes or stereotypes.
Name Source Examples:
- Personal databases – clients, address book, Facebook friends (Make sure to mix and match first and last names.)
- Shipping manifests (Make sure to mix and match first and last names.)
- Use a last name as a first name
- Pick a name based on its meaning
- Also, take the following things into consideration when picking your names, based on the type of flash fiction you plan to write:
- How does a name look on paper vs how it would be pronounced. What if you story was made into an audio presentation?
- Readers don’t always pronounce the names in their heads as they read. They see the written word as a picture associated with a character, so varying spelling can be used with serious consideration to its necessity. For example, spell out a name phonetically to make it look pretty. (works good for fiction… not your children…. FYI)
- Consider the setting and genre of your story. You can often be more creative with names in fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, and alternative universes.
- Names have a “sound” to them. Does that “sound” fit your story?
- Sci-Fi with robots – more metallic sounding names
- Sci-Fi in Space – gallactic sounding names. (look at planets, solar systems, galaxies)
- Fantasy – Elves (flowing, melodic names)
- Fantasy Humans
- Gutteral names
- Elegant names
- Sharp names
- Stale names
- Simple names
- Cultural names
Finally, write two pieces of flash fiction with the choices you have made. Again, we are not trying to challenge tropes with this (look forward to that next week!). We also need to move beyond a simple stereotype of a character – by expanding on them, not challenging the trope. How much depth can you give them in a piece of flash fiction?
As pieces are finished and posted, be sure to read and comment on everyone’s posts considering the following questions:
- Does the piece give a stereotypical picture, or add depth to the character?
- Which archetype/stereotype did the author choose?
- Can you see the character fitting the name they have been given? Do you BELIEVE this character based on their name?