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Monday, July 05, 2010

"I am Darth Vader. From the planet Vulcan."

I haven't talked about writing in a while, so here's a brief note about it. My main energy lately has been going to the space opera project I've had in my head for seven or eight years now; it's an idea that's been kicking around and kicking around and kicking around, until I finally decided that hell, it was just time to start writing the thing. The entire long-form story involves two princesses from some planet who leave their world to take their first trip to the Galactic Capital, or something like that. But on the way, their starship experiences some [ahem] technical difficulties and they end up on a strange planet they've never heard of before.

All the set-up and such took me through eight chapters, all well and good. All the while I've maintained two files, in which I keep lists of my characters as I introduce them (or merely mention them), and lists of the locations I either use or mention. This way I'm not scrounging about later, wondering what star systems I needed names for, or who lives where, that sort of thing. I'm not one to make big encyclopedia-type profiles for my characters -- my theory is that if the character's favorite movie or preferred sleepwear comes up in the course of the story, my character will fill in the blanks when we get to that point -- but I do want to be able to keep things straight.

So anyway, my two princesses have just arrived on Planet Whosis, which is ruled by A Guy, who has A Son.

And I don't have names for any of them. Not the Planet, not the Guy, not the Son (actually, I do have a name for the Son), not the Possibly Evil Councillor, not the Leader of the Rebel Faction, and certainly not the Odd Looking But Extremely Lethal Weapon They Use On This Planet.

Why don't I have the names? Well, I figured they'd come to me, sooner or later. That's part of the problem. The other part is that I'm actually recycling a plot that I had started to use in an old Star Wars fanfic project years and years ago, and in that fanfic, I had the habit of just stealing names outright from anywhere I could get my hands on, seeing as how I was just writing it "for the love" and nobody aside from a certain co-conspirator was ever gonna read that stuff. So, in my fanfic, the world where this weird stuff takes place was called Veridian III -- which is the name of the ill-fated planet in Star Trek Generations. I stole a raft of other names, too; only a handful of names in that whole thing were ones I coined myself.

For my purposes, I want names that sound a bit more fantasy than science fiction, if that makes sense. Lately I've been reading some of the short fiction of Leigh Brackett -- why the hell isn't she ever in print, by the way? -- and that woman had a wonderful way with names. Her Mars and Venus abound with places and people with beautiful names: Shandakor! Astellar! Shuruun. Sinharat. Llyrdis. Her names are evocative and fit in with her worlds of adventure. That's the kind of thing I want...and it's the hardest thing in the world for me to come up with.

Enter, then, this Fantasy Name Generator. I'm not going to lie, folks -- I spent a chunk of today generating lists of names and copying down the ones I like. Some I'll use, some I may not; and some I like as "starter" names but will undoubtedly tweak a bit here and there. (In the book, I've already tweaked the names of two of my three major characters.) Hey, you have to start somewhere.

Naming is not a trivial thing. It's not a matter of just making up some random name, assigning it to a character, and moving on. I'm not one to believe that names necessarily define people, but there are limits to that. It would take a pretty good writer indeed to turn a character named "Dudley Bose" into a heroic figure, but luckily for Dudley, Peter F. Hamilton is a good writer. But then, as we get to know characters, names kind of take on the qualities of the characters, don't they? Ian Fleming was looking for a boring name for the secret agent he wanted to write about, since his original notion was that the agent was a boring guy to whom exciting things happened, and when he spotted the name "James Bond" on the cover of a book on birdwatching in the Caribbean, he thought, "Wow, there's a boring name! Giddyup!" Only now, years later, the name "James Bond" has connotations that are anything but boring. You can use names that connote something about a character -- Fleming did this a lot, actually -- but I like to go a middle road: names that don't define anything literally about a character, but maybe suggest something. A little.

Anyway, yes, I'm using a randomizer to name characters and planets and who knows what else. Sue me!

2 comments:

Lynn said...

Awesome! I love that name generator.

I have a confession to make. I will probably never write a book, or even a short story but I have a fictional universe in my head and some fictional characters. Unfortunately, what little story I have doesn't seem very plausible and I'm terrible at writing dialog. But anyway, what I really wanted to say was that I always keep an eye out for possible place and character names, as well as just alien words, and I often see good ones in Blogger's captchas.

Jason said...

Naming my characters is a huge problem for me as well. Weirdly enough, it's gotten worse since I gave up on SF and started trying to write mainstream fiction. Go figure.

In any event, I feel your pain, and see no shame whatsoever in using that name generator doohicky!