As an educator of Sociology, I can tell you that sociologists believe we form lasting impressions of the people we meet within the first ten seconds. That's pretty fast, and I've found, often wrong. The impression, that is. But isn't it funny how that first impression sticks with you, hiding its sometimes nasty little face in the recesses of your mind, even after you've gotten to know a person, and realized that your first impression was wrong?
With our characters, it takes a lot longer than ten seconds, but it doesn't mean that the first impression is not important. As writers, we need to be very sure that our characters begin to initiate a good first impression, even if we intend to have that impression change later on. But "good" is relative, isn't it? Think about it... 'good' doesn't have to mean your MC is Miss Wonderful... it could also mean Miss Wonderful is actually a 16 year old high school witch... and not in the dictionary's definitiion of "witch," either. But your first impression could be 'good,' or perhaps a better word would be 'correct.' Keep in mind, however, that as your character grows and changes, your readers' impressions of her will change, also, so don't mislead them with a too-far off first impression.
So... how to form that first impression? I think the very first thing you have to do is give her a name, because let's face it, people's names will almost always dictate how others perceive them... correctly or incorrectly. Now sometimes that means you have to do your RESEARCH...I know, that's a 4-letter word, but you better get used to it!
The reason for research? It depends upon what era you are writing about, and no, it doesn't have to be a historical novel as such. For example, some of the most popular names in 2012 are: For Girls: Emma, Sophia, Chloe, Madison, Taylor; For Boys: Mason, Ethen, Aiden, Lucus, Alexander. But go back just a few years to 1980: most popular names then were Jessica, Amanda, Ashley, and Megan; Michael, Matthew, Joshua, and Ryan. Even further back to the 1920's: Mary, Helen, Mildred, and Gladys; Robert, James, Edward, and Earl.
If your story setting is in the early 1900's, even up to about 1960, you are going to be hard-pressed to find a girl named Madison, or a boy named Aiden. By the same token, in today's world, you run the risk of having your novel put down by the first page if you name your MC Mildred. First names should be indicative of the era, without question.
Besides the era, another assumption your reader is going to make about the MC's name, right out of the starting gate, is that of Ethnicity. However, that is a post for another day! Part Two is coming up!
Until next time,
That's a wrap.