Don’t use lazy character names. I’m a professional television writer. I read a lot of scripts, and one of my biggest pet peeves is when someone phones it in with a lazy character name, like Joe Wilson. No disrespect to anyone named Wilson, but it’s a very common last name. If you name your character that, it’s like, what’s the first thing that just pops into your head? Joe Wilson, I’ll just name him that. It’s lazy.
I don’t like to spend a lot of time when I’m writing a script coming up with names either. I just keep a list in my phone. Yesterday, we were on a road trip. We were driving through the town of Arbuckle and I thought, well, that’s a great last name. How come I haven’t named a character Arbuckle before? So as I’m writing in my phone Arbuckle, I’m like, well, wait a minute. What if his first name, or what if his initial is R, and his last name is Buckle, but people go, oh, you’re Arbuckle? No, no, I’m R. Buckle. Yeah, Arbuckle. No, R. Buckle, and R stands for… well, what does it stand for? R stands for Red, and I can’t call myself Red Buckle, because for obvious reasons. It sounds stupid, but Red’s my middle name. Well, what’s your first name? My first name is Buck, and so I can’t call myself Buck Buckle. When I was in grade school, I called myself Buck Buckle. People thought I had a stutter, and I just can’t, so that’s why I’m R. Buckle, okay?
So already this character is a thousand times more interesting than Joe Wilson or whatever, because R. Buckle, what does that do to you? What does that do to that person? He probably wanted to be invisible all his life. He didn’t want to be called on. He didn’t want to have to explain his name. That’s an interesting character, a character who really hates every version of his name. Have we seen that before, a character who hates every version of his name? I haven’t written anything yet and already it’s way more interesting than page one of Joe Wilson. So don’t have lazy writing. Just give it some thought. If you love your characters, give them the courtesy of giving them a great name.
Now I can already hear a contrarian posting on this saying, “Well, my character is an everyman, so I want them to have a generic name.” So that is just rationalization. That’s justification for you not doing any work, for you being lazy, and in life, laziness will not get you anywhere. Laziness will not get you ahead in Hollywood. It won’t get you ahead in any field. There’s no such thing. If your character’s an everyman, he’s no one. He’s everyone and no one at the same time because he lacks specificity. So do your character the courtesy, and your reader the courtesy, of giving them a great name.
For more tips on what it’s like to be a professional TV writer, or how to become a better writer in general, and be more creative, you can follow me here, on Instagram, and everywhere @MichaelJaminWriter.