Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

We're shuffling back to Tuesday for the weekly post because it is the only weekday I won't be in class this upcoming quarter - oh, yes, you heard that right.  It's been a great ride, but I am so ready to graduate, ladies and gentlemen.

In the first draft of Gone With The Wind, so the story goes, Margaret Mitchell had named her heroine Pansy.  It wasn't until later that she changed the name to Scarlet.  Now, it seems almost inconceivable that Scarlet should be named anything else.  What would a Pansy be like?  I picture a plain, naive, sweet girl - or maybe a frumpy governness.

For me, names are inextricably linked to character.  I find that characters don't fully form in my head until they have a name, and oftentimes, the name I've chosen will influence their development.  This makes renaming - the few times I've had to do so - a grueling process.  How do you find a different name that feels exactly the same as the original?  And that feeling is an elusive, ephemeral thing:  I couldn't necessarily articulate what the names I've chosen convey to me.

For some of my fantasy novels, I've done full-blown naming languages.  Some writers find this excessive, but honestly, it's something I enjoy doing.  I love coming up with the basic rules of word construction - maybe this language lacks the aspirated H sound? - and lingual drift, then watching the evolution.  A side bonus is this also gives me a source for naming cities, rivers, countries, and so forth, which is something I often have trouble with.  (That's another post, I think.)  There is a fantastic basic primer that I use for generation, plus - if I feel ambitious - a list of (I believe) the 150 most commonly used words.  I'm no Tolkien:  the physics of linguistics, how sounds are produced in the mouth, how to "properly" represent subtle differences in sound that are represented identically in writing - all these things are outside the scope of my creations.  Maybe some day.

For other works, I've simply created an internal sense for myself about how names from a particular culture or region should feel.  (Are we getting the impression I'm a very kinesthetic person yet?)  Sometimes, this is a specific analogue to the real world - similar to Welsh, Greek, Native American - and sometimes not.  Other times, I'll set forth particular rules for consistency.  For instance, in Journal of the Dead, all female names have a silent H in them somewhere; and to avoid a typical naming disease, female names never end with an -a.  Male names almost always end in consonants.  

In Unnatural Causes, the desert countries in which the story takes place have a very distinct naming convention.  There are no "stand-alone" internal vowels - it's always some kind of dipthong.  The only exception is the letter y.  Names can, however, start or end with a single vowel.  This gives me names like Roendair, Iluenn, Eshaira, Nydrian ... and it also sets up a nice contrast between them and the familiars, whose names don't follow these rules (Vil, Duvalis, Koric), and the lone westerner, Davsin.

... I would just like to observe that spellcheck is flipping its lid right now.

Which brings me to the use of contemporary names.  I genuinely dislike real world names in secondary world fantasy, unless there is some hidden connection to our world in the backstory.  It jerks me right out of the story.  Obviously, all fantasy worlds are in some way modeled after ours, if only by contrast, but to have characters named - for instance - Alice and Thomas lampshades it too much for my taste.  (Go here if you're unfamiliar with Lampshade Hanging)  On the other hand, names that are "real" but not recognizably evocative of our world are all right with me.  For instance, Pazia (from Fatecraft) is actually a Hebrew name meaning "golden."  (I seem to be drawn to names in this particular vein ...)

And what about stories set in our world?  There, I find a whole new set of challenges in naming ...

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