Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Guest Blog: Susan Gourley


Thanks, Jon, for inviting me to your blog. Today I’d like to talk about naming characters and more specifically how I named the characters in my fantasy series, The Futhark Chronicles.

How do authors decide what to name their characters, their fantasy worlds and the objects in it? I personally seldom name a character after a real person especially if the real person is a family member. That’s a good way to get in big trouble.
I have to make up names or use names I recalled from somewhere in a foggy memory. But it’s not always random.

In my fantasy series, The Futhark Chronicles, I’ve heard comments about the word Futhark. I didn’t make it up.
Futhark is the more formal name given to what is commonly known at the Runic alphabet. Elder Futhark dates back to 300 B.C. and is still used today though often in a younger form. By using the word Futhark as the name of my word, I knew connections would be made on search engines. People looking up Futhark, interested in using runes, are also likely to be people who read fantasy novels. I hope.
In my book, Bayard, is the warhorse belonging to Cage Stone, the hero of The Futhark Chronicles. In legend, Bayard was the immortal horse in Charlemagne folklore. My Bayard isn’t immortal but he’s special.

Not all names I use are of mystical lore or legend. Cage Stone, the half-elf featured in my fantasy series, is a man trapped by destiny into his role. As the series progressed the chains on him draw tighter, making his name seem very appropriate. The Keepers of Sulbreth finds him coerced into helping the king fight demons. Cage learns more about his forced involvement in the war with the foul beasts in Beyond the Gate.

It’s also important to not make names too similar. A certain very long fantasy series has so many characters and many with similar names the reader almost needs a list to keep them straight. And make the names pronounceable. Lots of accents and odd spellings can distract a reader from enjoying the story.

Avoid names associated with completely sympathetic characters. Certain traits would be expected in a character named Hitler or Vader. A name like Belle would give rise to other expectations though some might call it overused. You can use small variations with names like I did with my main female character, Sabelline.
Are there names as a reader you think are overused? Have you ever been taken out of a story because of the distracting names?

9 comments:

Jenny said...

Thanks for the blog, Susan. I just wanted to jump in and say I have been distracted many times by character names, specifically radical pronunciations and crazy accenting.

You want a good book to be a smooth read and when a name requires looking it up in an appendix or something (or keeping lists...sheesh), it takes your head out of the story. Sometimes it's only for a few seconds, but sometimes that's long enough.

It doesn't mean authors can't use their imaginations to make up unusal names (please do!), but keeping them in the flow of the story and accessible to us as readers is always a plus for me. :)

Hilro said...

Hey, cool, Bayard is the name of our street. Thanks for the advice. I'd suggest another place to shop for names is a big dictionary with obscure or common words or a combination thereof.

Cate Masters said...

Great post Susan. I appreciate an author who uses names authentic to the story line.
Sometimes I use the good old phone book to peruse possible names. Not much hangs me up while writing, but names, believe it or not, can stop me cold if they don't fit the character.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Hey Susan! I didn't even think about using names that would turn up in Google searches. Mine were choosen very randomly. Although I did stick to short and simple!

N. R. Williams said...

Excellent post. I agree names are crucial. I have a book I use called, The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon. It's huge, it gives the meaning and origin. I used to have a good dictionary that is now lost that I used to name one of the characters in my fantasy.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Helen Ginger said...

I'm stopped and taken out of the story if I can't pronounce the name and I have to stop and try to sound it out.

Jon Sprunk said...

I want to thank Susan for this post, and encourage everyone to check out her books.

Ava Quinn said...

Lots of times I'll use rolling credits in movies and T.V. programs to look for different or appealing names for my characters.

Unpronounceable names don't usually bother me very much. I'll usually just call them Bill or Jane instead and move on. Yet what will jar me out of a story are certain pet names that annoy me- especially if they're overused.

Great post, Sue!

Stephen Tremp said...

I'll be honest. I get most of my names for characters off books. I'll take an author's first name, another author.s last name, a characters first name, a friend's last name. I keep it simple. My protagonist, Chase Manhattan, does have a story. Originally, the story took place in Manhattan. The word has MAN in it. And HAT. John Wayne wore a hat. So did Indiana Jones and other tough guys. And since he was always chasing down something or someone was chasing him, Chase just seemed like a logical first name.