Ways We Learn About Characters
The main character in my latest novel has an unusual first name, but that's not unusual for me. I usually name my main male characters short, monosyllabic unusual names (primarily Welsh or Scottish origins). I don't know why. I like the way they sound and feel. I like the fact that they can be snapped by another character rather quickly.
This time, it is a nickname and not an immediate derivative of his birth name. I had no idea how he got this nickname (and still have no idea, honestly) other than it works for him. When I say his name, I have immediate access to everything I wanted or needed to know about this character.
He happens to be the first gay narrator I've written (which will surprise people who know me as I self-identify as not-straight/queer/bi). I love writing him and his love interest, they have a fantastic dynamic.
I was talking (emailing) with my friend B last night while picking his brain for origins of this character's nickname and I pointed out that if all of my male characters got together, they would probably also notice that their names were all similar.
This conversation is paraphrased (with permission!)
B: (jokingly) are you writing crossover fic of your own characters?
Me: No! I can't. Because (this character) would sleep with all of them.
B: I just learned so much more about all of those guys
Me: Just about this one! Everyone else has a heterosexual love interest.
B: Yes, but the fact that he would succeed in getting straight guys into bed...
Oh. Duh. I hadn't really turned that around in my head. (This is why everyone should have a B in their life: a very good reader who is not a writer and a very willing sounding board).
What we learned in that short conversation was a few things. This new character with the weird nickname is, in my head, charismatic enough to seduce guys who would otherwise consider themselves straight. How does that change what I already know about him?
It gave me a little more insight into how my other characters see him when previously, I was doing a lot of brainstorming about how he saw others. Now I know that they see him as an occasionally cocky, charismatic, and slightly unstable person. They're drawn to him. He's magnet and people enjoy spending time around him, they will do a lot to spend time around them, and they're willing to move a little away from their rigidity (in whatever way) to earn his attention. I think that they're also aware that he's not entirely stable and he can be an incredibly unsure person (aren't most cocky young men rather insecure at their core?). I think he's a bit like that person we all know: he's a trainwreck, and we're drawn to him, and we don't know why, but maybe we can be the one who fixes him. I think he's likely to bring that common tendency out in people.
We often talk about our main characters' perceptions of everyone around them. But sometimes it takes a funny off topic conversation to shift the frame a bit so you can see them from someone else's perspective.
I still don't know how he got this nickname.