Saturday, 27 July 2019

Weekly writing prompt: full names


List Full Names

Your weekend writing prompt is a list exercise: get your pen and notebook, and for ten minutes, write down character names, full names if you can, as many as you can in ten minutes. They can be absolutely straightforward ("John Smith"), wildly absurd, include titles real or fantastical, whatever you wish, including a mishmash of all the above. Don't worry if a bunch of them seem banal to you; the benefit of list exercises like this is you don't have to come up with One Good Idea, you can come up with loads and have plenty of space for rubbish ideas or ones that seem rubbish at the time.

If you want to take it further, at the end of the ten minutes, read back over your list of names. Which ones leap out at you? Which ones give you a sense of who that character is, some hints about them? You could pick one (or more) and jot down some quick cameos about them, a few of the things their name tells you about them.

Sometimes a brand new central character can emerge from an exercise like this, with their own story to tell. Sometimes when you're next looking for a secondary character, one of these will be just right. Equally, it can be just an exercise in its own right, developing that particular muscle, especially if you often struggle with naming characters.


This is the 12th of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Characters Unlike You, as the character ideas that the list of names generates often takes us in unexpected directions, into quite different characters from what we'd usually create. You can also see all the previous prompts here.

Characters Unlike You is the only workshop with spaces still available: it's running on 17 August (10am–4pm) and costs £65 for the day. More details here.

The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. You can also add yourself to the waiting list for workshops that are full, as spaces do sometimes come available.

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