My Methodology for Creating Character Names
A Reviewer’s Critique of My Fantasy Story Names
I was reading a review on Amazon of my fantasy story, Moon drale, and the reviewer’s response to my choice of story names fascinated me. Now I will grant that I come up with some “interesting” fantasy realm names, and when creating character names I always presume my readers are brainy enough to deal with them. But perhaps I’m the one who is not brainy enough! Anyway, here is some viewer input. I’ll start with the positive. We all need encouragement now and then (smile).
One reviewer gave the book five stars and wrote, “Excellent story. I thought I had all the characters figured out, but I was wrong. It kept me on my toes.”
The reviewer who had a hissy fit about the names also appeared to have trouble with the length of the book, but then, the length of a book is simply the length of the book. Here is what he wrote:
This isn’t really a short story but it certainly isn’t a full length novel. It’s kind of a novelette and as such it’s difficult to really create characters or explain situations in much detail. Nevertheless Mr. Edgell does a fairly decent job creating sympathetic characters and drawing the reader into the storyline. I cared enough about the main character to follow along until the end.
The big issue here and what seems to be this author’s Achille’s heel is goofy name choices. Stringing a bunch of consonants together or generating an 8 to 10 character mess does not automatically create an interesting or mysterious alien sounding name for a person or a place. And writing words backwards is just sheer laziness. Keerc Elttab? Keerc Enip? Seriously? And why is there an East Yorel and a Yorel Tsae?
The name issue wasn’t as bad in this book as another from the same author which was so abominable as to be unreadable but it was getting close.
Overall I enjoy the writing of Mr. Edgell and I’ll be looking for more of his work but I sincerely hope he outgrows this ridiculous labeling difficulty.
Well AaronzDad, unless my memory is faulty to the extreme, and although you may not believe it, when I was creating character names I had no idea any of the words mentioned spelled something else backward until you wrote your review. Spelling words backward was not my name making method. [An added note: It does look like my memory was faulty and I must have spelled names backward. Wrote the first draft many years ago. Oh, well!] Thank you for the review, and I apologize for tormenting you with my name choices.
An unintentional Flaw
Having studied Greek, Latin and a bit of its sister language, Spanish, and being used to the unique names found in the Bible, I suppose my approach to creating character names has an unintentional flaw. I assure you, my readers, I will work at correcting it. As to those who initially read and evaluated Seed of the Defiled (the book I believe the reviewer was referring to when commenting that the names were “so abominable as to be unreadable.”) I only had one comment about struggling somewhat with the names, and that was a non-fantasy reader. The other readers were fantasy sci-fi aficionados and did not appear to think the names were problematic.
So how do I go about creating character names as well as names of realms, countries and places for my fantasy stories?
My Approach to Creating Character Names
First, I try to keep the names of people and places unique to the nature of the realm I have created, a flavor to them that says something about the realm and its people. I also try to create names unique to the kind of people groups within the various counties the realm might be divided into. Elvin names should sound elfish. Dwarf names should sound a bit heavy and gruff. Miffit name should have a homey, light sound and nature. Those are the kind of factors taken into consideration when creating character names.
Second, I identify the various people groups in my story along with their nature; a warring people, a gentle people, a reclusive people, a strange sort of people like mudfuddles or wolfmen, etc. Their names need to “fit them,” and there needs to be a certain regularity of form that connects the names to the people group. That is where with certain people groups leaving out vowels come in, such as Kandr, Bilkn, etc.
What is your opinion? Should I go back and add vowels, making Kandr, Kander and Bilkn, Bilkin, etc.? I value your feedback.
Third, I sit down and start making up names in groups for the people groups, long lists of possible names that basically fit the required regularity of form for the group in consideration. As a story develops I choose names for each individual from the people-group names that I feel specifically fits them.
The process for creatures, realms, countries, cities and town is much the same, and in making those choices they in turn must fit the people groups. Countries need to fit the realm and cities and towns the country, etc.
You might also enjoy The Council of Elrond website’s interesting article on creating character names.
Do I Succeed at Creating Character Names?
How well do I succeed at creating character names for my fantasy stories? The answer to that question falls to my readers. You are judge and jury! I look forward to your feedback. And, in that my books are all “print on demand” I have the option of going back and making necessary changes. And thanks to AaronzDad’s feedback I am presently working on making some changes to several names in Seed of the Defiled. The changes will likely not fully satisfy him, but I do appreciate his input. Although positive input encourages and keeps me going, constructive criticism helps me hone my craft. Honest constructive criticism was one of the great values of the years I spent in a writer’s group. I look forward to your comments.