Editing Tip #37

The Name Game, Pt.2

name gameI touched on this idea in Tip #18 but I feel as though I missed an integral point. We authors need to be aware of the quality of the names we choose for our beloved characters in a variety of ways. I mentioned having names look or sound too much alike but there are other discrepancies to be aware of too.

I’m currently plodding through a self-published first-read book I won from a Goodreads giveaway. The premise of the story in the given blurb sounded fantastic – I couldn’t wait to dive in. However, the first paragraph of the first page told me numerous things about this book that had nothing to do with the story line.

Seeing as this is not the review for that book (I’m still less than half-way through it) I will focus on one of the glaringly obvious difficulties of it:

The character names are too complicated.

Yes, I get that it’s High (very high) Fantasy and that this universe has a language all its own. However, if a name is so foreign looking/sounding that a reader has to make several attempts to figure out what it is then you’ve lost your reader.

I look at the complexity of the names this author chose, and the sheer number of tongue-twisting mind-wrapping configurations of the alphabet I need to learn, and memorize, pulls me out of the story. Every time I see one of those names I fight with it in my mind until I give up and settle on something vaguely familiar so that I can get back to the story at hand.

If you need to include a lexicon at the back of your book, you’re trying too hard.

One way to avoid this problem is to limit yourself to the number of letters you’re using to create your character names. If you go beyond 8, you’re delving into potential problem areas.

Another way to get around this is by using familiar combinations of sounds in a new way.

Lastly, if you do create a complicated name, or series of names for your characters, find a way to shorten them for ease of remembering.

I utilize a combination of all three suggestions. The name of my main character in my sci-fi/fantasy novel The Chronicles of Xannia: Time’s Tempest is JUTAYA. She refers to herself as TAYA, as do her close friends. The name Taya is not a common one in Canada, where I’m from, but I have heard it from time to time and it’s easy to remember.

My other two main characters are named ZAITH and DEZMIND. I’ve never met anyone by the name of Zaith (zzz-A-th) and I had a lot of fun developing the 5-letter name. Dezmind is a butchered form of the very familiar Desmund but really it’s a short form for DIAZ MINDEXID LISLE. Lisle is the guy’s last name, we all know Cameron Diaz so that’s familiar enough but perhaps too familiar being attached to a famous American actor, so I had to play around with it a bit. If you say Dezmind out loud and then say Diaz (Die-as) Mindexid (Min-dex-id) you’ll hear the similarities between his long formal name and the new, shorter, more recognizable nick-name.

Now, I’m not saying my chosen character names are perfect, but they are memorable and unique at the same time.

Don’t confuse your readers with multiple-syllabic alien sounding names that are difficult to pronounce. The point is to be distinctive (if that’s your goal) but distinguished.

Happy Naming!

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Categories: Editing

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