Writing and loving fantasy novels – Names and descriptions

I’ve devoured fantasy novels all my life. Yes, I mean devour and not read. You see, I lose the sense of reading as soon as my mind enters the amazing worlds and feels free to explore and discover interesting peoples, critters and places living in fantastic environments, using mind-boggling magic, and engaging in heart-racing adventures. It’s, then, more accurate to describe the experience as engaging instead of reading. Not sure how or why this hunger to enthrall the mind with make-believe adventures hits so many of us, as the large market for this genre can attest.

With an over stimulated imagination, even more so after consuming so many great fantasy novels, I had to take the chance and write one. I’m learning so much as I write about the new world that has consumed my mind, and characters that seem to ignore my outline and take a life of their own, making me feel I’m merely telling their story. It’s a deeply grueling yet intensely rewarding experience. And yet, the more I learn about the craft of writing – and more specifically within the fantasy genre – the more I realize how little I know.

In hopes to pay-back, even in a small measure, I’ll share a couple of discoveries and challenges I’ve faced (still facing) in my world-building, writing quest. Hope as well some genius writer miraculously encounters my blog and shares his/her wisdom with our group.

What about those elves?

There is a wealth of fantasy people and animals writers can use – from elves and dwarfs to dragons, or misbehaving orcs and goblins. But not in my novel (sigh). All my characters originated in such a different world, that none of the familiar entities were present. This was an initial concern for me, so much that I introduced elves in an attempt to connect my story with the known world of fantasy. Fortunately, my amazing (and always direct) critique group was fairly unanimous in stating that my inclusion of elves took them away from my story.  Elves, or any other familiar entity within the genre, just didn’t belong in my world. Key learning: don’t force familiar fantasy concepts if they don’t fit your story. My elves are no more.

How do I show all of these strange beings?

It was easier to accept that my world didn’t have the familiar fantasy beings, than to write about all the unfamiliar ones it did have. Most every fantasy reader knows how elves look like.  With all my peoples, fauna and flora so… well, different, one of my challenges has been to avoid telling that would slow down the story, yet visualizes them for the readers. I can see these beings; I should be able to describe them, right?

One of my challenges is in using familiar descriptors. Writing that an animal jumps with feline movements, or a character has a leonine glabella runs the risk of creating an image of a cat or a face of leonine aspect.  However, my eliop is not at all like a cat, and my character’s face does not resemble that of a lion’s. How else can I create the image of a glabella so effectively? Saying the space between their eyes had a little dome-like bump seems so convoluted… I’m still struggling with this. Any advice from any reader would be most appreciated.

Naming names is fun.

There are tools fantasy writers can use to create new names. Fascinating. I checked some of those, and you can come up with very cool names. I do find most of those apply better to feudal fantasy or the names get too complex for my needs. So I take another approach.

Originally, I felt creating names for my characters, animals and plants was not my forte. I struggled quite a bit. When a WiT member mentioned how good my character names sounded, I was sincerely surprised. But, yeah, they sound cool. How I go about does not have a solid method, but I’ll be happy to share how I do this.

I think of meanings or descriptors, in English or Spanish, loosely representing a characteristic of the character or the animal. Then I write a list of different combinations until I find one that sounds good to me.  Definitely not a formula. For example, I write the name backwards, transpose the syllables, play with sounds (mostly strong sounds like P, T, and soft like S, F), and group the names for each species.  I also pay attention at how it looks written. At the end, the name is so different from the source that very often can’t be traced back. For example, for my character Edigru, a warrior, I started with Rodrigo, a strong historical name in Spain, I wrote multiple versions, liked the guttural sound of gru, and in one of the combinations ended up with Edigru.  For a group of people, the Necna, I decided that most of their names include a capital consonant in the middle of their name, but other species don’t have that characteristic.  In all the names related to another species, I included a soft sound, either s, z, th, ge.

Additional resources:

Fantasy name generator tool – http://www.rinkworks.com/namegen/

The writing nut – http://www.thewritingnut.com/writing-resources/fantasy-writers/

Writing world – what’s in a name? http://www.writing-world.com/sf/name.shtml

RPG Directory – The ultimate fantasy Species list – http://rpg-directory.com/threads/the-ultimate-fantasy-species-list.29955/

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