How does it feel when someone misspells your name or uses the wrong one? You’re right, Sally, not great. Names are a part of our identity, and they’re important to us. I introduce myself as ‘Philip with one l’ when someone needs to write mine down. That doesn’t stop people getting it wrong though. It happens on a weekly basis.
It’s simple enough to check your own name, but what about when you’re writing a novel? Slips are easy when you’ve got a large cast of characters. However, fear not! Here are some steps you can take to get the right names in the right places.
Make a list
This is quick and effective, especially if you do it as you go. Write down your characters’ names as soon as you create them. I like bulleted lists, but do what works for you.
Do any of your characters have alternate names/nicknames? Note those down too, perhaps as sub bullets. This is also helpful if you change someone’s name. (If Tim became Paul, would you remember to look for Timothy/Timmy etc?)
Accents and hyphens
Accents like the é in Gabriel Fauré are easy to miss, so keep an eye out for them. In the case of hyphens, they’re also easy to include by accident. (Is it Isambard Kingdom Brunel or Isambard Kingdom-Brunel? Email me your answer before you look it up if you’re feeling brave!)
Easy ways to type accents
There are shortcuts for most letters with accents over them. In the Windows version of Word, you can also get a lot of them with a punctuation trick. (These work for other letters too.)
é: type ctrl + ‘ and then e
ç: type ctrl + , and then c.
ü: type ctrl + shift + : and then u.
For a quick-to-hand list of accent codes for PC and Mac, check out this mouse mat. (Not an affiliate link.) My thanks go to fellow editor Anna Williams for telling me about it!
Beware global find and replace
It’s tempting to click Replace All when you rename a character. But let’s take our earlier example of Tim becoming Paul. Make sure you’re matching whole words when you do this, or you might find your characters asking what the Paule is. There’s also the danger that you’ve misspelled time as tim on occasion. Matching case will help, but not if the word you’re replacing is at the start of a sentence. Everything’s set! Paul to get going.
An attrac(k)tive idea
If the program you write with allows you to track your changes, doing so will prevent any hidden unintended consequences. (In Word, the feature’s called Track Changes. With Google Docs, change from Editing to Suggesting in the top right corner.)
Pay attention to real people
If someone’s helped you with your book, thanking them in your acknowledgements section is a lovely way to recognise their contribution(s). However, their excitement might get a bit squashed if they see a typo in your display of gratitude. A few minutes of double checking is all it takes to keep them delighted to have been mentioned. Try the following steps:
Make a list
Copy all the names to a separate checklist
Check and double check it
Cross each person’s name off as you go
A lesson in alienation
Everything I’ve mentioned is important, but it applies even more if you’re contacting someone to ask them for something. Starting an email to Sean the book agent with Dear Shawn won’t do you any favours. Case in point: here’s the start of an email I got from my ex-MP before the 2017 UK General Election. (Spot the double space too. Bold added for emphasis)
Tomorrow Britain goes to the polls, and how you decide to vote here […] will be crucial in deciding who will lead our country in the next few crucial years.
Was that mistake the reason he lost his twice-crucial seat? Perhaps we’ll never know, but it definitely didn’t help him connect with me.
Thanks for sticking with this to the end, Sally, even if that’s not your name. Now you can ensure your characters are called what they’re meant to be, giving them a small amount of comfort while you destroy their lives with your gripping plot.
Join the conversation! What’s the worst misspelling of your name you’ve ever had? Comment below or email me.