Thursday, July 6, 2017 | By: The Write Way Cafe

The Problem with Character Names by R.R. Brooks

authorThe Write Way Café welcomes R.R. Brooks, a prolific author who asks what's in a name?

Do fantasy authors have a problem?  I’ve encountered readers of my novel Justi the Gifted who can’t deal with character names of any oddity.  My sister read the book, an epic fantasy, liked it, but complained about the character names.  She couldn’t pronounce them and couldn’t distinguish so many.  Another person who received the novel as a gift said he couldn’t handle all the strange names.  A third reader echoed this concern.  None of these readers had ever read a fantasy book, which may have contributed to the problem.  I now have a  pronouncing list of characters I give to buyers.  Even slipped them into the bookstore copies on consignment.  I wish I had included it in the book and will do so in the next book.

To be fair I should mention that other readers, including my twelve-year-old granddaughter, did not mention names as a problem, but I wonder if the fantasy genre is prone to the character-name barrier. This seems true when the setting is an imagined world. Mark Lacy’s The Dreamtunnel Sequence uses names like Enkinor, Visylon, and Banshaer, which are tough (the author does have a glossary of names, but it is hidden in the back of the book). Renee Scattergood’s Shadow Stalker has characters named Cathnor, Cali, Kado, and Auren, different but short. Tolkien, the grand master of the epic fantasy tale, hits us with Frodo, Meriadoc, Gandalf, Legolas and dozens more in the Lord of the Rings. Yet readers embrace Tolkien even without having three movies with these characters. Fantasy novels with imagined worlds entered from this world do get by with common names. Phillip Pullman uses Lyra and Will in His Dark Materials where it takes a subtle knife to cut into the imagined word. J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy uses ordinary names, but Neverland is entered from this world. Just close your eyes, imagine happy, and fly.

Justi the Gifted is entirely a story about the Kingdom of the Zell, an imagined place where names are not the same as in this world. Epic fantasy by definition involves different groups and different locales, which contribute to the number of strange names. Name confusion is not confined to fantasy books, of course. Harry Bingham’s Talking to the Dead, a delightful British mystery, has two characters named Brydon and Bryony who I did not glean were different persons of different genders until well into the book.

I continue to wonder if the veteran fantasy reader has trained him/herself to deal with strange names. Regardless, part of the solution to removing this barrier is to choose different names, maybe shorter and quite distinct and starting with different letters and sounds. The real solution is to so establish the character by description, action, dialog, and quirks that only a stone would fail to know who they are. Scrooge and Marley have strange names, but who could confuse them? What’s your thought?

R.R. Brooks is the author of the epic fantasy tale Justi the Gifted (A gift of the gods is good, but what if it is damaged?).

Barbarians, bringing death and slavery, invade and all but destroy the Kingdom of Zell. The only hope for the people's salvation lies with a young peasant boy. Gifted with a sense of justice by the god Li, this child, named Justi, will grow to be a young man blessed with the power to save the kingdom, meanwhile cursed with a power to kill-a power beyond his control. The prophecy of this wounded land has foretold of Justi's coming and his meeting with another of the gifted, a young and beautiful girl his age who carries a great secret. But those who stop at nothing, influenced by the dark power of Dar, use kidnapping, assassination, and seduction to block their union and prevent them from fulfilling their destiny. With help from many Zellish, Justi must use powers at his command to avert disaster and to face the one fear that has haunted him: killing an innocent.

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About R.R. Brooks:  Bob Brooks (R.R. Brooks) spent his career doing pharmaceutical research and development.  Now living in western North Carolina, he’s published fiction and nonfiction, including science fiction and fantasy stories exploring strange encounters and issues of doubt and belief (e.g., “To Believe or Not” and “The Diest”).  He is the author of the epic fantasy novel Justi the Gifted, released in 2015 by Leo Publishing.

His themes for novels are eclectic.  A psychological mystery novel The Clown Forest Murders, co-written with A.C. Brooks will be released in a year or so by Black Opal Publishing.  A science fiction tale of espionage is being finalized, and second fantasy novel to conclude the adventure of Justi is underway.  He is a member of the Blue Ridge Writers Group, the Appalachian Round Table, the Brevard Authors GuildInternational Thriller Writers, Inc., and the N.C. Writers Network.  He maintains author’s pages on FacebookAmazon, and Goodreads.


HiDee said...

Great post! For years, I've kept a list of unusual names and unusual spellings of common names. Blame it on my mother since she spelled my name uniquely. :) Thanks for joining us today and sharing some good points.

Mark R Hunter said...

Getting the names right is a problem for all fiction writers, no matter what the genre -- but I can certainly see how it's a large more difficult for fantasy!