Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Poor Dick Filthey, Or, Rules for Character Names Part II

I’m continuing my discussion on naming characters for your novels. If you missed Part I, and the reference to poor Dick Filthey, see this post.

A Few Special Rules for Writers of Fantasy and Science Fiction

There are a few special rules pertaining to writers of fantasy and science fiction that authors should consider before settling on a name. These are:

  1. Choose a Name that Readers Can Pronounce
    This goes for both genre and non-genre characters, but I’m cataloging it here because I think authors often shoot for inventive, alien-sounding names for characters when they’re building their stories from the ground up. If you’re creating an entire world or planet, surely you’ll be creating names, too, eh?

    So, if you make it up, please, make certain it’s pronounceable.

    Even if you don’t make it up, it pays to choose wisely. If your story is set, for example, in Italy or Ireland (or a locale that resembles Italy or Ireland), it’s too easy to pick an “exotic” sounding name (ahem, like Salvagia or Theodicar) which may bother some readers.

    (An aside: even run-of-the-mill names can become unpronounceable after a while. Try reading Benjamin or Kristiana over and over again. It becomes tiresome. Your readers may nickname your characters Ben and Kris – completely negating what you had in mind.)

  2. Nix the Apostrophes
    Why ‘do some fantasy writers in’ject so many ap’ostro’phes in their char’acter n’ames? Author James Clemen’s Banished and Banned series begins with Wi’tch Fire. In Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, the wise wizard is named Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander.

    The problem is not with the apostrophe, per se, but 1) where they’re placed in the word (Wi’tch, really ?) and 2) the frequency in which they’re used…not to mention they’re just one more stumbling block for the reader. Why make it hard?

    (Another aside: a few years ago the Evil Overlady decreed that all apostrophes in the middle of fantasy names are to be pronounced, “boing.” Thus James Clemen’s book becomes Wi-boing-tch and Goodkin’s wizard becomes Zu-boing-l Zorander. I find this endlessly hilarious. You should, too.)

  3. Don’t Mix Exotic with Prosaic
    Using the Goodkind example again: he’s named the wizard Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander, and a witch Shota, but the wielder of the sword is named plain ol’ Richard. In worldbuilding, the author should look at the whole…which isn’t to say that the names can’t be different. In my novella, Blood Soup, the Omarans have Italian-sounding names, the Borgunds are all Germanic. They’re different, but the rules of my world allow for that.

As I said last time, just because I refer to these as “rules,” it’s not necessary to adhere to anyone of them – but keeping them in mind while naming characters can only be helpful to the process, and perhaps prevent a few embarrassing names.

Next Time: Naming Resources

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