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Naming Names August 2, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, fantasy, ideas, music, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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One problem I have in any work of fiction is figuring out names for my characters. Constructing an entire language and then fitting in sensible sounding names is possible in fantasy work, but in sf and mysteries and westerns the names ought to sound right. They ought to be unusual enough to remember but common enough that the reader doesn’t laugh at them or simply dismiss them out of hand.

Fred Saberhagen said he used to construct alien names by taking the 3 letter combinations on the spines of Encyclopedia Britannica volumes and putting them together in different ways (Fred used to be a tech writer for EB) In these days of online everything, why have a complete set of encyclopedia gathering dust? I used a random word generator for a while, taking pieces out of the constructions but the program fell by the wayside since it was DOS-based. So many fine programs have gone that route to extinction 😉

One item in writing that seems to be true is the way readers “understand” written names. They use a reading shorthand and abbreviate every name down to the first letter or two. A monstrously long name gets shortened to the first letter. Similarly a very short name is shortened more. I avoid using names that start with the same letter unless I specifically want to mix two characters together in the reader’s mind. Works nicely in mysteries to flop out red herrings. If there is a hive mind in sf, having all the aliens with the same starting letter in their name is useful.

Otherwise, don’t have your good guy and bad guy have similarly inaugurated names. You don’t want to mix the two into a blurry mess for the reader. Unless you are one of those deconstructionist postmodern literary writers, of course.

Back to the thrilling conclusion to Hot Rail to Hell. I’m down to the last, more or less, 30 pages of the draft. Got the cover lined up and scene break illo. This is a bit larger than I’d prefer (350 pixels high rather than 100) but is worth it considering the novel. The final ebook will take a bit longer to get out than I anticipated because I intend to publish in two editions, one barebones and one deluxe with an essay on how the book came about, writing it and then a bonus short story about one of the characters.

Go on, get out of here, take names, kick butt.

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