Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

How To Create Believable Friendships in Your Fiction — August 30, 2018

How To Create Believable Friendships in Your Fiction


Fictional friendships are important.

How do you ensure that these ring true?

I’ve already shared a post about writing romance, but romantic relationships aren’t the only type that need attention – in reality, or in our stories.

It’s worth considering that, in the context of a story, we will often tend to focus upon maybe one to three close friendships.

This is fine. But it’s also useful to keep in mind that our main characters will generally have a wider friendship circle, of some description. It can sometimes be beneficial to include a name or reference here and there, in order to reflect this.

When developing a friendship, consider the backstory – the history behind the friendship.

My main character, Lucy, has been best friends with Charlotte since primary school. As well as going to school together, they used to be neighbours. This does mean that they have a great deal of shared history. Yet, they have also grown apart, in many respects. By the end of the novel, Charlotte isn’t Lucy’s exclusive “best friend” in quite the same way. At the same time, that shared history will always be there – and that would be the case, even if the friendship ended.

Think about the “why” behind the friendship.

There are usually multiple reasons. In the case of Lucy and Charlotte, obviously they would have become friends partly due to circumstances – because they lived so close to each other, and went to school together. So, yes – the met at school, through work, or at the local chess club, part is always going to be there.

But then there will be other factors, including shared interests, shared secrets, a similar sense of humour – or, going deeper, the same core values. Maybe the friends are actually opposites, in many respects? Which can be good or bad – or a bit of both.

All friendships have their ups and downs, and this definitely needs to be reflected.

In some stories, it will be a major plot point, or a subplot – but, even if it isn’t, it should ideally be communicated, to some degree. No friendship is perfect, after all. The problems and misunderstandings are part of what makes the relationship feel realistic. In this way, hopefully, your reader will be able to relate, and being able to relate leads to caring.

Make sure that your friend characters are fully developed in themselves, and not simply “sidekicks”, with no other obvious role in life.

They need to have their own lives, and not everything they do will be about their friend, even if said friend happens to be your protagonist.

Hopefully, these tips will help you to create believable friendships in your fiction. You might even start to envy your fictional characters, for having such strong friendships. That’s a good sign, because it shows that you believe in your own characters, and can feel the strength of their friendships.

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Avoiding Filter Words in Your Fiction — March 27, 2018

Avoiding Filter Words in Your Fiction


Filter words or phrases, in fiction, create distance between the direct experience of a character, and that of the reader.

Lucy heard the door slam. If we know we’re in Lucy’s mind, we don’t need to be told that Lucy heard the door slam. The door slammed. That is sufficient. It’s more immediate, and uses fewer words, to convey the same information.

Whilst there will be instances where filter words are actually useful, these are few and far between. Most of us tend to overuse them.

A few to look out for include: saw, heard, felt, noticed, realised, knew, and wondered.

These are all popular ones, but we will each have our own favourites, so it’s very individual. If you can identify filter words that you personally tend resort to, it should become easier to find and eliminate them, during the editing process.

When it comes to prose style, it’s often these seemingly minor issues that make a significant difference, to the quality of our writing, as a whole.

Removing filter words is a simple task, and definitely worth the effort.

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Child Death in Fiction: Dealing With Tragedy in Your Writing — March 9, 2018

Child Death in Fiction: Dealing With Tragedy in Your Writing


I have already written posts about killing off characters, and the grief experienced by those left behind.

I would suggest reading both of these, if you haven’t already, as much of the information is applicable here, and I won’t duplicate everything.  My post about how I approach mental health issues, in my fiction, also relates.

I felt the need to address child death, in particular.

It’s such a specific, and heartbreaking, subject – and one with which I myself deal, in my fiction.

One way in which child death can occur is following a terminal illness, and this is something with which I actually haven’t yet dealt, in my own work.

In such cases, the child, along with loved ones, could have potentially been fighting a long, excruciating battle, which he or she has finally lost. The story may have been following the characters throughout the exhausting process of hoping and praying, and trying out various treatment options. The grief, when the death finally takes place, could be laced with a degree of relief – and, at the same time, guilt, for feeling this way. Of course, all of this would apply, no matter how old the person was, who had died in this way. But something like this happening to a child would make everything that much more intense, and add an extra layer of tragedy to the outcome.

Then there is death by sudden illness.

Again, this hasn’t come up in my own writing. An example that comes to mind, however, is cot death. Shock, and possibly total disbelief and denial, are likely to be reactions. Guilt, blame, and questioning.

Accidents, resulting in death, are an area in which I do have experience, from a writing perspective.

For me, this has generally been in the form of road accidents. In terms of how it will affect loved ones, there is certainly much in common with the sudden death due to illness. Shock and denial are likely – as are the guilt, blame and questioning aspects. Some of the close family members may be witnesses. Of course, that could also be the case with the cot death example. But with a car crash, it’s very possible that some of the child’s family were actually involved. Survivors’ guilt could be an issue, and it may even be that the accident really was the fault, or partial fault, of whichever family member was in the driver’s seat.

Miscarriage is another form of child death, and can be overwhelming, and also isolating.

The effects can be felt by fathers, siblings and others, as well as the mother. And there can be a lack of validation, because people don’t generally regard the loss as a bereavement, in the usual sense. Which it still very much is. A couple in my novel, who later lose their daughter in a road accident, do also lose a baby, prior to this, through miscarriage. The double loss, along with other relationship problems, contributes to the mother’s eventual breakdown, and effectively, the disintegration of the whole family.

Abortion results in an even more complex form of grief, and is one of the most controversial, and deeply painful, subjects out there.

One of my characters does have an abortion. Her pregnancy is the consequence of her being raped, at the age of fourteen. The girl’s own mother bullies her into going through with the operation, believing that she is doing the right thing. However, the guilt, along with the loss of her baby, leaves the young girl feeling suicidal.

And yes, suicide is another form of death, which it is too easy to avoid, as writers.

Again, controversial, dark, and complicated. And, in my view, too important to be ignored – or worse still, dealt with poorly.

When it comes to child death, in its various forms, I believe that we do need to go there, in our fiction.

Research any specific issues that come up, in connection with your particular stories. Also, allow yourself to go deep, and feel the raw emotions. When you find yourself able to do so, you’ll know that you’re doing your characters justice. And potentially, your novel could be a source of support and hope, for many of your readers.

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Creating Believable Characters — February 25, 2018

Creating Believable Characters


Characters are definitely the most important aspect of any story, for me.

Of course, other aspects, such as plot and setting, are also important, but characters are, in my opinion, the heart of fiction.

As mentioned in my character development post, I tend to approach the development of my fictional people intuitively, and my characters feel like real people already, even when I don’t know much about them.

I aim to learn more about them, as I go. That’s how the process works in real life, after all.

I don’t find it beneficial to complete generic character profiles, for the sake of it.

To me, this encourages writers to make things up, simply in order to fill in the boxes – or else, to list, often quite basic and superficial, information, the vast majority of which they know already, such as main characters’ names, ages, and hair colours.

If I have to write down that my protagonist, Lucy, has red hair, in order to remember something that obvious – to me, that would be worrying.

So, what does help your readers to believe in your characters, and start relating to them as real people?

Because, after all, it’s this level of connection that will make readers care about them – and want to invest their time in reading about them.

Backstory is one vital aspect of creating living, breathing characters.

Everyone has a history, including fictional characters. Consider all aspects of this story – first for major, and then more minor, characters.

Think about it, without necessarily writing anything down – at least, initially. If someone’s starting to confide in you, but realises that you’ve been taking notes on them, the whole time, they’re going to become more reluctant to open up. Why should characters be any different, in this respect?

If you relax, and allow yourself to drift into a kind of daydream, but one which you’ve entered with specific questions in mind, you’re likely to make more progress.

Do keep in mind that the reader will only ever need to know a tiny percentage of this backstory material.

And you should definitely not info dump: the natural tendency of many writers, when it comes to backstory.  I cover the subject of info dumping in my post about common first chapter mistakes.

Your characters need to have understandable motivations.

Even if they act in ways that you yourself never would, you must feel empathy towards them, and know why they do what they do.

Once you understand their motives, what drives and inspires them, you’ll need to find ways to convey this to the reader, during the natural course of your story.

We all have flaws, and a character who comes across as “perfect” isn’t going to be popular with readers.

Who is supposed to relate to such a character?

Contradictions, or apparent contradictions, are very real.

How many times do you expect someone to do something, and they do the exact opposite? It happens – and should occur with your characters too, from time to time.

Do traits from real people ever find their way into your fiction?

If so, that’s fine. It’s part of what makes characters believable – or it can be.

A healthy sign is when it’s mixed up, somewhat. One or two traits from a particular real person in any one character is okay, but don’t overdo it.

If you’re anything like me, you will identify aspects of yourself in most, if not all, of your characters – but none should be entirely you, unless you are writing an autobiography, or a memoir.

If you’re struggling at all with the issue of whether to use real people as characters, I’ve written a post on this precise subject.


I hope that this helps you with the important, and exciting, task of creating believable characters.

Everyone approaches writing differently, so perhaps the more generalised character profiles will work for you.

But, if these aren’t enough, taking the time to delve into your own mind, and those of your characters, could potentially make all the difference.


I would recommend reading my posts about POV and writing dialogue, if you haven’t already. Also, my post about exploring character motivations.

In Literary Fiction, character development tends to be emphasized, so my post on that subject may help, if this is a type of writing you’re interested in.

My short writing craft book, Creating Believable Characters, is available in paperback on Amazon. Alternatively, the Creating Believable Characters Ebook can be downloaded, free of charge, via Obooko.

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Why Write About “Depressing” Subjects? — February 5, 2018

Why Write About “Depressing” Subjects?


This post was originally published on my previous blog.

So, why would anyone love writing or reading dark fiction?  Or survivors’ poetry?

In December 2017, I did publish slightly revised versions of two other posts: one regarding my personal writing journey, and another about writing modern historical fiction.

I considered also republishing this one, but decided against it, at the time. I didn’t see it as a priority, because I have other posts that cover much of the same ground, including one regarding my approach to mental health issues in my fiction, and another about the process of writing dark fiction. There are also elements that overlap with my post on character development.

However, on balance, I have decided to go ahead, and share it again.

I feel that there is enough here that could potentially be of value, and it doesn’t do any harm, in my opinion, to revisit some of the same subjects, when they are ones that are close to our hearts. So here goes…

I don’t know where to start with the subject, but it’s an important one, so I want to address it.

I know that more people are familiar with my poetry than my fiction, as there isn’t much of the latter “out there”, as yet. The fact is that I deal with dark and controversial subjects throughout all of my writing. I am focusing more upon my fiction here, although much of what I say applies across the board.

Firstly, my fictional characters are not me.

They each contain aspects of myself, to varying degrees, but none are me, as such. That isn’t how fiction works.

Some experiences of certain characters are heavily autobiographical, but there will always be fictionalised aspects, and it shouldn’t be important for a reader to know what is based on my actual life experiences, and what is not.

That’s not to say that readers won’t, or even shouldn’t, be interested – and often, I will be happy to clarify and share my own stories, since I’m a naturally open person.

There is definitely an element of therapy to writing for me, that is essential to my survival – to my sanity, such as it is.

I do write to explore subjects and situations because I’ve been through them myself, or something similar.

Yet, this is not always the case.

I have had, for my writing, to research subjects, including heroin addiction and abortion, and many others, of which I have no direct, personal experience. Is it “depressing”, if you like? Yes, at times. I would say it is deeply painful, and also makes me more compassionate – and, at times, paralysed by my own inability to fully understand, and do justice to the subjects.

The social issues won’t go away by ignoring them.

That said, is it sufficient that many of us attempt to write about them, in our fiction? Isn’t there more that we can and should be doing? Sometimes it isn’t easy to know what to do, but I can’t close my heart or mind to these themes, to which I feel drawn.

I’m so restricted by my own health and circumstances, and I don’t have the answers – only more questions, and they replay, on an endless loop, inside my mind.

I think that the best answer is that I would find it more depressing to ignore the issues, and I don’t know if I will ever achieve what I ideally want to through my work, but I just have to keep going. I hope that this made at least some sense.

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Writing an Epilogue: Does Your Novel Need One? —

Writing an Epilogue: Does Your Novel Need One?


So, today we’re discussing epilogues.

No, I’ve not yet written a post about prologues – and to be honest, have no immediate plans to do so. Epilogues interest me more right now, because I’m planning to include one in my WIP.

Some people believe that you shouldn’t use epilogues at all, and many feel this way about prologues, too.

I don’t share this opinion. However, both prologues and epilogues should certainly be used with caution. Ultimately, you will know, in your heart, whether you need one or both.

There are readers out there who routinely skip both prologues and epilogues.

I can’t understand this personally, as they’re part of the story.

There are definitely cases, in which the author might have done well to skip them, or at least scaled them down somewhat.

Incidentally, I don’t imagine that many people would be tempted to miss out on an epilogue, having cared about your characters enough to finish the rest of the book, even if the same readers might have lacked the patience to read a prologue – but, as I mentioned, I can’t really comprehend skipping any part of the book.

One instance where you might include an epilogue – and this applies to my own story – is following a time lapse: a gap notably longer than those used throughout the rest of the novel.

The passing of time wouldn’t be the only factor involved, but would be one consideration. The characters may need to be left to their own devices, for possibly six months, several years, or even decades. The exact period of time can vary greatly.

There must then be sufficient justification to re-join your characters.

Why could the book not have ended, as it was? You should be able to answer that. My novel commences in 1983, and ends in 1990 – but I show a glimpse of life in 1993, for my protagonist, Lucy, and a few other central characters.

Is there a need for closure, beyond the last page of, as it were, the main story?

Maybe you need to show that there’s hope, beyond tragedy – or struggles, beyond the seemingly “happy ever after” aspects of the story’s climax.

In fact, all of those apply to my own work, as complex and contradictory as that might sound.

Another reason for including an epilogue is to emphasize the novel’s underlying theme, in some way that couldn’t be fully achieved, during the course of the main plot.

As well as considering why you should include an epilogue, think carefully about the possible reasons why you should not.

It could be that the story really is over, but you’re finding it hard to let go. Of course, as a writer, you’re going to know – or, at least, want to know – what happens next to your characters. It’s natural. The question is, does your reader need to know, too? Are you making the story stronger, or are the characters overstaying their welcome?

Or, on the contrary, are you ending it too soon, and trying to condense what should be a sequel, into a quick “P. S.”?

That brings me to my next point: length.

In general, an epilogue shouldn’t be significantly longer than the longest regular chapter. Very short epilogues can work but, if it’s turning into a novella, or another novel – maybe that’s exactly what it’s meant to be.

Being honest, I’ve felt conflicted about many aspects of my WIP, including the ending, which changes, whenever I believe that I know it.

The characters don’t necessarily agree with my outline, or want to make my life, and writing process, simple.

Whether or not you choose to include an epilogue is, as I’ve stated already, a personal choice.

They’re devices and, in my opinion, can be highly effective.


As always, it’s a case of doing what we feel is best for our stories. It’s often a question of trial and error – so don’t be afraid to write that epilogue, even if you end up having to discard it. Since when has the writing process been easy, after all?

On the subject of endings, I’ve also discussed how to write your novel’s climax – and, if you need specific advice on killing off characters, check out my post, on that topic.


Follow me on social media, for regular, writing related posts.  I’ve also written a post recently about using social media, as a writer, which may be of interest.

When Life Happens, and Writing Doesn’t — January 11, 2018

When Life Happens, and Writing Doesn’t

The title says it all, about where I’m at, right now.


Health issues are happening. Stressful life events are happening. Writing? It will come. Pressure from within is the last thing I need – and guilt.

Baby steps are the way forward.

Starting somewhere, as opposed to either everywhere or nowhere.

New year, new start.

It isn’t exactly working out that way. Yet, now and again, I hear my characters’ voices, letting me know that they are still there, inside my heart and mind.

As for the blogging – well, this is my second post of 2018.

Such as it is. There will be more, and they will be better.

It’s okay to struggle sometimes.

That’s what I would tell anyone else, after all. It isn’t always easy to believe in yourself and your dreams, but since when has anything worthwhile been easy, right?

Previous related posts include one about procrastination, and another about slow progress.

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Writing Believable Dialogue — January 7, 2018

Writing Believable Dialogue


Dialogue is the representation – as opposed to replication – of realistic conversation.

By this, I mean that it should sound like real life conversation, to a point – but not entirely.

It would be better to consider character dialogue in terms of edited highlights.

In reality, people ramble, go off at tangents, and frequently use phrases such as “um” and “er”. This is boring to read through, so keep it concise and readable.

As with all aspects of telling a great story, conflict is necessary.

Pleasant conversations, where all is happiness and light, and there is no disagreement or problem between your characters, are pointless.

Cut to the drama, wherever possible. Remember that dialogue is a tool, and should be used to move the story forward.

Use dialogue to develop your characters.

Differentiate the dialogue of various characters, in as many ways as you can. Consider the range of vocabulary that each would use – individual word choices.

When you actually reach the point of being able to “hear” the characters talking, in your own mind, you will know that you have created real people.

Then, you will know instinctively, if a line of dialogue doesn’t fit – because it will not be something which this person would actually say, in the particular context.

A major role of dialogue is, as I mentioned, to move the story forward.

As such, dialogue is often the perfect place to convey necessary information. However, be careful not to “info dump”. Dialogue must sound natural.

And, on the subject of natural sounding dialogue – please take care not to overuse character names.

As in:


“Hello, Mary. How are you today, Mary?”

“Hello, Tom. I’m fine, thank you, Tom. How are you, Tom?”


Okay, so it’s not normally this bad – but, at times, can come close.

Pay attention to real conversations, and you’ll realise that we don’t generally use each other’s names that often: mainly at the start of our interactions, or when trying to emphasize a specific point.

Said is not dead.

It’s generally much better than “exclaimed” and the like, which draw attention to themselves, and are principally used for the sake of it, in a misguided effort to keep dialogue “interesting”.

Some variations, such as “asked” and “yelled”, have their place, but “said” is an “invisible” word, and should be your default option.

Mix it up with action tags, and instances where no tag is used at all. The latter is more difficult when three or more characters are present, but can be used effectively in dialogue between two characters.

Make use of subtext in your dialogue.

It’s unrealistic, as well as tedious, for characters to say exactly what they mean, at all times.

Multiple layers of meaning add that subtle touch, that will make readers believe in your fictional people and situations.


Hopefully, these tips will help you to write believable dialogue – an essential aspect of creating strong, and highly relatable, characters.

My posts on character development and describing locations in realistic fiction, may be of interest.  Also, some additional thoughts on writing convincing dialogue.

I would also recommend a post from Standout Books, for another perspective on the subject of writing awesome dialogue.

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Believe in yourself and your dreams.

Writing About Mental Health in Fiction: My Approach — November 15, 2017

Writing About Mental Health in Fiction: My Approach

paula-writes-an-imageAs someone who suffers from both physical and mental illness, my own experiences definitely influence and inform my writing.

I deal specifically with many issues, including drug and alcohol addictions, and rape and sexual abuse, in my fiction.

Not every subject that I write about is one that I have experienced personally, although I can always relate, on some level. I have never had drug addiction issues, for instance, although I have had problems with alcohol, in the past.

When it comes to mental illness – yes, definitely, I cover that too, as a writer, but not in the usual, neatly packaged way. For myself, it’s a priority to reflect realities that are not usually represented.

Most of my characters are either not diagnosed with mental illnesses, or the diagnosis is not mentioned.

It’s idealistic to suppose that everyone who has a mental illness is diagnosed – and correctly diagnosed, at that – and also, that everyone who is diagnosed with a mental illness necessarily has a mental illness at all.

I refuse to endorse the psychiatric system by going along blindly with the “this diagnosis treated by this type of medication”, textbook version.

I have also had enough of the myth that, following a suicide attempt, people are routinely admitted to psychiatric hospital.

I have never been an inpatient in psychiatric hospital. When I have taken overdoses, for the most part, no-one has actually realised at all. My parents, and others around me, have assumed that I must be sick from drinking too much.

On the few occasions when I have been treated for the physical effects – far from being admitted to psychiatric hospital afterwards, I have simply been sent straight back to full-time work, as soon as physically able. Literally. In fact, it was the same after being raped.

I have not had therapy, and any dealings with the mental health services have ended up causing more distress than if I had simply “got on with it”, and not sought help at all. And, yes, there are others in similar positions. Mine is, by no means, an isolated case.

The lack of support received is effectively then used against those of us who have been denied help, since we receive fewer “illness points” than others who have received medical attention – which, in turn, affects subsequent decisions about medical care, or lack of.

I do have a character who attempts to take her own life, and others who experience suicidal thoughts, and my characters don’t receive the “textbook” version of the NHS service, which is not the reality, for most of us.

I understand that many people have traumatic experiences within psychiatric hospitals, but this is already represented in literature. The experiences of those who are forced to “get on with it”, and offered no support whatsoever, need to be portrayed, as well.

My protagonist, Lucy, has symptoms of anxiety, which I convey in the “show don’t tell” tradition.

The subject of whether or not she has a diagnosis isn’t mentioned. She doesn’t.

Her mother, Helen, does have anxiety too, and is diagnosed – and this can be seen through the fact that she is addicted to prescription tranquillizers.

I have the benefit – the extreme privilege – of being a writer, and as such, I believe, a responsibility to speak out, on behalf of others.

I have done this, at times, through my poetry. As a writer of realistic, modern historical fiction, I hope to achieve more, in this respect. I shall certainly try.

Writing is my therapy and my passion. It has enabled me to survive. There is no greater blessing.


Believe in yourself and your dreams – always.

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My post about Sylvia Plath, and my feelings regarding the term “suicide poet”, might be of interest.

Some thoughts on addressing controversial subjects in our writing



Character Names: 8 Tips for Naming Your Fictional People — October 19, 2017

Character Names: 8 Tips for Naming Your Fictional People


Do you ever struggle with the naming process, when it comes to your characters? Most of us, to some degree, do.

Choosing names for our fictional people can be fun. It can also be time-consuming and frustrating. These tips have helped me, and hopefully some of them will be useful to you.

I should mention that the tips are applicable to realistic fiction, and I don’t cover naming characters in genres such as fantasy. Names used in these genres tend to be specifically invented, or extremely rare, and I don’t personally have experience in this area.

1. Use baby name websites, such as Nameberry and Behind the Name.

There’s so much valuable information on these sites, making them excellent resources for writers.

2. Baby name books can also be useful.

As a writer of Modern Historical Fiction, I actually find it a bonus that the name books I own are somewhat out of date.

3. Search online for popular names from specific years, for your own country, or the one in which your story is set.

This is, again, particularly relevant for writers of Historical Fiction. Remember to take into account the age of specific characters, regardless of whether or not your setting is historical. If your story is set in 1983, for example, you may look up the most popular names for 1983 – but possibly the most popular baby names of 1960 or 1970 will be more relevant.

4. Avoid having too many character names that begin with the same letter, or have a similar sound, particularly if those characters are going to appear together in many scenes, throughout the story.

If two names start with the same letter, but have a different number of syllables, and don’t have a similar sound, it may work. There are twins named Jade and Jessica in my work in progress, and this feels fine to me, but Jade and Jane would be confusing.

5. It can be tempting to simply give characters your favourite names.

We all do it, to some extent. Just don’t name all of them as if they were your own children. Presumably, not every character in your novel is supposed to have the same parents, or be from the same background. Try to consider what particular fictional parents might realistically have named their children.

6. For surnames, phone directories or similar lists can be useful.

I sometimes take names from the authors on my bookshelves. Non-fiction titles often work best for this. Ensure that first and last names sound right together.

7. Once you have a first and last name combination that feels right to you – and preferably before you have become too attached to it – do a Google search, to ensure that there isn’t someone well-known with the same name.

We might assume that, if someone was famous, we would have heard of them, but that isn’t necessarily true. Certainly in my own case, I wouldn’t have a clue about some of the celebrities out there.

8. Don’t overthink the process.

Enjoy naming your fictional people, and remember that you can always change the names, at a later date, if any of them don’t work out.

It’s usually best to have names in your notes and draft, even if you aren’t entirely happy with your choices, and intend to alter them. It’s equivalent to having a working title for your WIP and, like that title, your character names are by no means set in stone.

From a psychological point of view, it tends to be easier to work with a provisionally named story, containing characters with “that will do for now” names.

I mean, Girl A. and Girl B. and Bloke A. and Bloke B. in “Untitled Novel”…? Enough said.


Need more advice and inspiration, on the subject of choosing character names? Standout Books also have a post about how to name your fictional people, which I would highly recommend.


My post on character development might be of interest.

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Believe in yourself and your dreams.


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