Friday, June 10, 2011

Who Writes This Stuff?

When writing fiction, writers need to create characters, and convey their traits to the reader relatively quickly. One vehicle writers, usually lazy writers, use, is the character defining name. The names Dudley Do-Right, Dirk Strongjaw, Tess Trueheart, and B.O. Plenty instantly tell readers what those characters are about. The technique is hardly limited to comic books though. The mystery genre has Mike Hammer, Peter Gunn, Sam Spade, and Hawk (just Hawk) who are all obviously tough guys. The romance genre is full of characters such as Chesapeake Divine or Rod Remington, who's names bring to mind pictures of purity erotic perfection.

There are also the stereotypical names for stock characters. Not only will a character with the name Jeeves be a butler, he'll be a specific kind of butler. Jeeves will be a very formal butler who has an appreciation for "the finer things," and who looks down on that new music the kids like. In the same vein, Bubba will be hulking and somewhat slow witted, Waldo will be the standard four eyed nerd, and Bertha's usually your larger than average female character. Of course, these characters can bare other names, Wooster, Moose, or Hershel. However, when you come across the names Jeeves, Bubba, and Waldo in fiction, they'll be tied to those stereotypes.

Such names cause many readers to roll their eyes and groan, at least until the writer establishes some level of complexity within the character in question. Science fiction, fantasy, and 007 stories are forgiven for these types of cheesy names; we accept the presence of Luke Skywalker, Wormtail, or Pussy Galore simply because we know, going in, these stories aren't meant to reflect reality. Plug the shapely Dr. Goodhead into an otherwise serious novel though, and readers will write the story off as being unrealistic and stupid. However, this reaction may not be entirely justified.

In 2001, a U.S. reconnaissance plane collided with a Chinese fighter sent to intercept it. According to survivors, the collision was caused when the Chinese pilot flew aggressively too close to the spy plane. The Chinese pilot then bailed out and was permanently lost. The Chinese pilot, who flew to close and then became lost, was Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei (Wong Way). Yes, Wang Wei went the wrong way. True Story.

Locally, Portland's mayor was revealed to have been in a sexual relationship with a young intern. That intern's name was, no kidding, Beau Breedlove. Of course, equally notable is the fact that Portland, a city known for its beer, has a mayor named Sam Adams. True Story.

Most recently, New York's U.S. Representative publicly lied about an erotic photo of himself sent over Twitter to a college student in Seattle. The scandal has revealed the congressman's longtime habit of cyber-sexual relationships. The congressman with this sexual propensity is none other than Representative Anthony Weiner (Weener). True Story.

If I'd written any of these stories, as fiction, I'd have been laughed out of the room for being a cornball. With tongue half way in cheek, I sometimes wonder if reality isn't, in fact, someone's really bad novel. Or, it could be that God peppers events with a bit of irony and humor to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. I'm not sure. In any case, I will definitely be less judgmental, from now on, when deciding whether a character is truly cheese ball, or not, since truth really is stranger, and cheesier, than fiction.

1 comment:

  1. "Or, it could be that God peppers events with a bit of irony and humor to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously."

    I think He totally does!! Ha!!
    Good article. A character's name is such an important element in a story...people...writers often forget that.
    I'm going into a Form and Theory of Fiction class this fall semester... we're going to be writing 6 short stories over the course... I'll definitely be keeping your blog in my arsenal of tips!!