I’ve seen a few posts recently about names – especially character names – in fantasy novels, and how they can either draw a reader in or repel them….and how varied readers’ responses can be, to names carrying a fair swag of diacritics, or at the other extreme, to names that can feel over-simplified.
I thought and felt long and hard about names in my novels. Adjustments have been made along the way, which have included paring back the two invented languages scattered throughout, leaving a trace of both only in spell-words. The other area of naming I’ve paid special attention to is words that ‘set the scene’, that create the environment of the story-world. In the ‘show, don’t tell’ model, there are two main aspects I use to give the world of Siaris a feeling of internal realism. One is context; using only the context of a naming noun. The other is creating an unfamiliar word that has real word associations or suggestiveness in its soundforms. Even more effective is to combine the two; then the need to ‘tell’ drops away.
For instance, if I write, “Sitia leaned on the balcony rail, and gazed out over the iphemile spread like snow across the mountains. Its clear, sweet scent settled her mood,” the reader will (I hope) be picturing a carpet of white flowers in an alpine setting. The flowers interact with the senses of the character, which gives them a specific context and purpose ie; they have soothing properties. That is the basic level. The next level will work for readers who have some knowledge of plants and/or herbal medicine. The ‘mile’ in ‘iphemile’ is a pointer to chamomile, the tiny white real world flower, originally found in hilly/mountainous areas, used as a tea to calm unsettled nerves and treat insomnia. The ‘iph’ in this flower name is suggestive to ‘eph’ in ephemeral, meaning something transient, in this case a seasonal plant. So the fusion of the two should suggest a delicate, seasonal white bloom that carpets mountainsides.
Here’s another example: “The long, sonorous notes of a kulu drifted through the trees, signalling another dawn.’ The combination of ‘notes’ and ‘dawn’ give the word ‘kulu’ its contextual clues, that it is a type of bird, in dawn chorus mode. But what type of bird? This is where the double clues become important; long, sonorous notes and the similarity of the sound ‘ku-lu’ to ‘cuckoo’ are designed to trigger an association, yet still have an exotic feel.
Despite this element of construction, most of my name creations are in the first instance unconscious. I’m an intuitive writer, and it is often when reading back what I’ve just written that the associative wordplay becomes clear….and it’s a real source of delight to observe what auto-suggestions my mind in ‘writing flow’ has come up with!
If you’re a fantasy or sci-fi writer and world builder, how do you create your names? Do they seem random? Do they ‘appear’ from your unconscious and magically suit their purpose? Or are you a meticulous constructor with an over-arching sense of order? How do you ‘flavour’ your world?
To sample more of my world-building, the first novel of The Siaris Quartet, Daughter of Hope, is available from Musa and Amazon. The second novel, Reunion can also be found at Musa and Amazon and other online stores.