>Fancy handles

>Yes, I’m banging on about names again. I make no apology. I like names. Names have power.

Naming things – characters or worlds or, well, just stuff – can be a thorny problem for the writer of speculative fiction. Do I keep it simple or go off the deep end? Do I invent new words and languages or rely on the old ones? Portmanteau words are a popular option – bolting together two or more everyday words to make an shiny new one. That durable SF building material plasteel springs to mind. If you’re not sure whether to go for plain or fancy, you can do both, which has the added advantage of adding texture to your worldbuilding. Hence Frank Herbert’s planet Arrakis (fancy), also known as Dune (plain), is inhabited by the monstrous Shai-Hulud, AKA sandworm. You get the picture.

Fancy handles can get silly of course. I’ve encountered too many doorstop-sized fantasies populated with characters who go by names like Zzpan-ga-molzniuk or Jhsyn-hss. I hate that. Tolkein never made that mistake, sticking mostly to names you could actually pronounce, yet which looked exotic on the page. And, like Herbert, he used the many-languages trick to add depth.

So what’s my approach? Whatever I say here, I’m sure to contradict it in the next piece of fiction I write. But by and large I favour plain over fancy. So when I created the huge cast of dragons for Dragoncharm and its sequels, I used down-to-earth names like Fortune, Wood, Gossamer and Wraith. Names are like fishhooks – keep them sharp and simple and you reel the reader in.

And there’s this fantasy detective I’ve written about from time to time. He’s starred in six short stories (plus a hot-off-the-press but as-yet-unpublished manuscript for a novel called String City) and his name isn’t mentioned once. His anonymity started as a writer’s conceit in the first story and just continued from there. Writing in the first person lets you perform stunts like that. He does have a name – I just don’t know what it is. Maybe one day he’ll tell me. Until then, he’s the boss.

Like I said, names have power.

Comments

  1. >Aha, I've got the problem with names going on at the moment. I'm slowly but surely building up a fantasy world for an original fiction, and I've even got a couple of characters I'll want to put in it, but no names as yet. Like you said, they need to be sharp and simple, but what the initial inspiration for them is going to be, I don't know. All I'm going to say for now is, thank you for giving Fortune, Velvet, Scoff et. al. easy names – especially in a setting (dragon stories) where they could easily have had names that tied one's tongue in knots. ~ Satine

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