Episode 62

Naming Your Characters Like a Pro

I have a trend report update for you mystery, thriller, and suspense writers. We’re also discussing your characters’ names. 

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

"Funky Break" by Tom Goldstein

"Don't Wanna" by Humans Win

"2020 Blues (The World Is Ending)" by The Turquoise Moon

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

I have a trend report update for you mystery, thriller, and suspense writers. We’re also discussing your characters’ names.

The Writing Break cafe is open, so let’s take a seat at our usual table and discuss some publishing news.

You might remember that due to the increasing volume of AI-generated content Clarkesworld was receiving, they stopped accepting submissions a few weeks back. Well, Clarkesworld is once again accepting submissions. They’ve made some changes to their screening process that they’re hoping will make it easier to filter out AI-generated submissions.

Here’s an update from K-lytics about the mystery, thriller, and suspense category in the Kindle ebook market. First off, as far as genre fiction categories, the mystery, thriller, and suspense category is second only to romance.

Sales for thrillers have gone up over the past year, especially psychological thrillers, domestic thrillers, and those with a female protagonist solving the mystery.

Now, psychological thrillers and female sleuths have a lot of competition, but there are categories that have high sales and less competition: “domestic thrillers, organized crime…mysteries with werewolves and shifters, and legal thrillers.”

Also doing well in the mystery, thriller, and suspense category are manga and graphic novels.

Agatha Christie books have been given the ol’ sensitivity read treatment. We’ve discussed this being done to Roald Dahl’s books, and we also covered the changes being made to the James Bond books by Ian Fleming. One author, however, Jan Grue, points out that all of these sensitivity reads are unable to erase one ugly trope: that of the disabled villain. Grue, who has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair, says that the trope of the disabled villain is being left unmodified in these books.

“It is not a novel observation that Bond villains tend to be, to use a less sensitive register, disfigured and deformed. Dr No with his steel pincers instead of hands, Blofeld with his scars, Hugo Drax, the villain from Moonraker, with his facial disfigurement and his pathetic attempt to conceal it with a ‘bushy reddish beard’ (reddish hair may itself count as a deformity in these stories).”

Grue goes on to discuss the merits and limitations of sensitivity reads better than I ever could. He agrees with me that we need to leave some of these books behind.

“If we replace older and ostensibly more stigmatising words with newer and softer-sounding labels, but do nothing to change the context in which the words appear, we leave the job half done. Arguably, we also risk new words and euphemisms being overtaken by old stigmas, in which case the fundamental problem of representation remains. Politely calling a Bond villain a ‘differently abled person’ does nothing to undo the link between their embodiment and their villainy.

No, I don’t want to read an Ian Fleming novel in which a differently abled person overcomes his physical challenges in order to become an inspirational example of world-threatening villainy. I’m much happier reading the old books as products of their time, and then moving on to stories new.”

That should give us something to overthink about while we make our way to an independent bookstore. This one has a secret garden.

Pilgrim's Way Community Bookstore & Secret Garden in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, is the last remaining bookstore in town. Known for its wide selection of books and friendly and knowledgeable staff, Pilgrim's Way hosts author readings, book clubs, and children's storytime.

The store is located in a small, two-story building. The front of the store is quite cozy and filled with books, while the back of the store is home to the Secret Garden, a small, hidden oasis with a fountain, benches, and a variety of plants and flowers.

Let’s wander about and discover an independent author, shall we?

Carmel Conundrum by Stacy Wilder follows a private investigator from Charleston, South Carolina, to Carmel, California, and back.

“Join Private Investigator Liz Adams, and her lie-detecting Labrador, Duke, in the scenic town of Carmel By-the-Sea, as the pair investigate the mystery of stolen identities. Complications arise when Liz becomes romantically entangled with her hot new client, Brad.

Enter Apollo, a charismatic cult leader, whose mission to save the homeless has a dark twist. Why does he continue to trespass on Liz’s property? She’s compelled to uncover the answer.

Tensions mount, as the stakes become a matter of life and death. Will Liz and Duke solve both mysteries before the damage is irreparable?”

Carmel Conundrum is the second book in the Liz Adams Mystery series.

Now, let’s find a bench in the secret garden for today’s writing tip.

Julian Simpson, a writer and director working in film, TV, and audio, recently discussed why some scripts don’t sound modern enough to be picked up by producers. One interesting thing he noted as a turn off to those in the business is when they receive a script with characters whose names don’t match their age. What that means is that all the characters were given names that don’t sound at all like what people were naming their kids during the decade in which the characters were born. I hope that doesn’t sound too confusing. But here’s an example, giving a 50-year-old male character a name like Chase or Brandon doesn’t make sense today because people were not naming their kids Chase or Brandon 50 years ago. It might be okay for one or two characters, and maybe you can explain why your character has a name that doesn’t fit their generation. It just seems easier to me to use a name that makes sense.

Of course, fantasy and sci-fi writers get a bit more wiggle room there, although I suppose they have to worry about giving their characters names that are too common.

st popular names by year from:

That’s all for this week, and for this season. Next week will be a bonus episode of the past several weeks’ worth of writing tip segments stitched together into one review session for you. The week after that we’ll be on spring break. Then, we’ll be back for season 4. I don’t yet have a theme for season 4, so if there’s anything you’d like to hear more or less of, email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thanks for listening, and remember, you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.