Posted by RLL for REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE. © RLL, 2012.
Questions for authors follow familiar literary lines. Where do you get your ideas? What made you take up writing? Who inspired your work? What bleak satanic pact did you sign in your or someone else’s blood, to get your work published?
My ideas come from my mind. Where do your ideas come from? A sub-division of that area is the matter of inventing names for characters. How did you come up with that character’s name? In a few stories, I did away with names altogether. Characters took on labels.
Girl. Green Piano. Whatever. (All characters from ten tales of old japan*or lies if you prefer.) Canada
In other cases, I’ve been forced to use actual names. Shocking. This is the preferred method, avoiding the labelling of characters MAN ONE, WOMAN FIVE, ROBOT SIX, WOLF TWELVE, NON-WOLF ANIMAL EIGHTY-THREE, and so on.
Gilach Mac Gilach, featured in Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords, derived his name from Alistair MacLean. That’s as complex as things need be, particularly if writing fiction that ends up labelled as fantasy.
Newsflash kiddies. All fiction is fantasy.
My advice, which you are free to ignore, is to keep things as simple as you can. Veer from the straightforward, or easily-explained, and you may hurt your readers’ brains. Fantasy and science fiction writers like to run amok with syllables. It’s in their synthetic blood.
Science fiction and fantasy vied with crime and adventure as I read novels and endless short stories. I wrote science fiction, fantasy, crime, and adventure as a result. Though I soon reached the conclusion that I detested the labels fantasy and science fiction.
The terms fantasy and science fiction were used by publishing companies to foist badly-designed book covers on a semi-suspecting public. I haunted the library, ignoring the book covers and paying attention to the stuff between those covers. From that, to this.
Only in fantasy and science fiction do writers truly run amok with syllables. The trouble with throwing in multi-syllable fantasy or science fiction names is the exponential generation of utter clutter. This is often evident in newspaper summary pieces for science fiction television shows.
THIS EPISODE: Furqha’ha’un Biguen prevents Gharspace from crumbling at the edge of the Kloeiultizar Zone. Over in the Dvbeeinharbaux the Zakwey initiate Krakaduim against the Verlikiliki, while Warketoid Vumnish delays dealing with the Sapakoinub J’Haren – with tragic results.
Yes, for the English language.
You have to nail a lid on that. Then pour concrete on top. And drop a lead block on the result. With more concrete to follow. Throw in some garlic, just in case. Then erase the hard drive and take a magnet to it before hammering the construction to destruction.
I’m always left with the feeling that I’m not quite sure who did what, to what. It’s often quicker just to watch the episode, and discover that a rogue loner hero blew up something he shouldn’t have. Threatening dire consequences which never materialise, or are easily explained away.
Looking at the stuff I’ve published, you’ll see that I occasionally develop a theme in naming characters. Whip Walnut takes his name from chocolate. Other characters in Walnut’s story have nutty names. Being bloody obvious is no crime. It’s another way of being thematic, and appearing grown-up.
Patti Smith provided inspiration for a character. No one sued me. I had an idea for a story featuring Kim Basinger. No one sued me. I turned James Ellroy into a criminal character. With his record, there’d be no point suing me.
You do want to watch out, when inventing characters and passing out names. There are a lot of telephone directory characters running around in fiction. James Bond came off the front page of a book on birds. Ian Fleming was looking for a bland name for his hero. He found one. Fleming went to school with Scaramanga, and turned that annoying person into a villain.
Do I do that? No. People who piss me off don’t make it into my fiction. I refuse to immortalise them. Many writers cheerfully fold, spindle, and mutilate their foes in fictional form. I don’t waste the energy. Well, whatever sees these people through the night…
Characters take on more character with the addition of certain sounds. I lost track of the comic book villains created by Stan Lee. Many of those ended up with the letter K in their appellations. The hard C or K sound goes rather well with imagining villainous activity in the possessor of a crunchy name.
Quick poll. Dracula. Frankenstein. Heathcliff. The letter V also features heavily in villainy. Score double points if you name a villain Viktor or Vladek. Add a few points if some form of rank provides a hard crunchy sound. Comrade Colonel Rosa Klebb.
In my story about Whip Walnut, the hero doesn’t have those hard crunchy sounds. His adversaries have them. The Kernel. Coconut Shy. There’s no way to get around the hardness in a heroic name, if the name adds character. Albert Crabbe. So villains don’t have a monopoly on those sounds.
What heroes tend to have a monopoly on is the name JOHN. Usually, not exclusively, coupled with a surname that starts with the letter C. You may argue that it’s a coincidence that the future messianic hero of The Terminator is John Connor. That the Holier-Than-Thou hero of medical drama er is Doctor John Carter. Okay. Argue away. I’m not convinced by coincidence.
Jason Bourne is a character who deliberately shared initials with James Bond. That was a dig, on the part of one author. Any more contenders? Jack Bauer. Another nod in Ian Fleming’s direction. I suspect Jim Beam does not fit that pattern.
How good does a hero have to be, based on name alone? Angel. The Saint. Characters with good built into their names. How devilish a villain can we create, going by what I’ve written so far? We’d need to throw in a rank or title.
Crime Controller Doktor Viktor Khaos-Karnage, KMD. That last bit doesn’t stand for anything. It’s just another way of sneaking an extra K into the name. He’d need truly villainous henchmen. I imagine they’d have to be cohorts of his. Red ones, at that. The Crimson Cohorts of Crime Controller Doktor Viktor Khaos-Karnage, KMD. Available for weddings, births, funerals, and all points south.
Ruined by choice? You could always stick to bland labels. Hero. Villain. Secondary Villain. Though introducing a Traitor, Double-Crosser, Stoolie, Snitch, or Psycho-Bitch may tip your hand a mite early in the proceedings.
Was I really stuck when I called two characters by the same name in slim*thriller…opting to have MacLean and MacLean investigate murky doings? No. I expect a lot from my readers. You are stuck with my decisions, get on with it.
Awkward names for fictional creations? Do I really need to explain the inappropriateness behind Fanny as a character’s monicker? In
, fanny is used to describe a person’s backside. Elsewhere, it isn’t. Leading to uproarious laughter whenever an American calls a bum-bag a fanny-pack. America
I’ll gloss over unfortunate book titles that come to mean something different when offered for sale in countries other than the author’s country of origin. Authors themselves may fall foul of this cross-cultural problem. Well, that’s just too bad.
Shall I give advice on naming characters? Have I already given out advice? I’m not entirely sure. Here’s a solid piece of help. There’s nothing to prevent your naming a character James Bond. Just avoid giving him a hatred of women, love of the booze, and a penchant for murderous violence. That may lead to litigation.
Make a character’s name easy to spell. Unless you employ great use of the technology. In which case, call the hero BUTTER all the way through the book. Then nail him to the page at the editing and formatting stages.
Find and replace BUTTER, so that your man becomes Feiliks Kharkeyovich Votamoidhanolski instead. Unless he’s the villain. At that point, elevate him to the rank of Comrade Colonel. Or Kernel, if you’re feeling silly.
Finally, be prepared to lie to people you know.
“That Sam Smithson, the axe-killer, who happens to have your distinct laugh, taste in lumberjack shirts, and love of unsweetened coffee? Of course I didn’t base him on you, Sam. Coincidence. Look at the hero, Abraham Lincoln. Didn’t even know there’d been a President by that name. I did no research whatsoever. Made it all up. Honest. Not as honest as Honest Abe. Er…”
Though you should be aware that you may have to lie in the other direction.
“That Sam Smithson, the axe-killer, who happens to have your distinct laugh, taste in lumberjack shirts, and love of unsweetened coffee? Of course I based him on you, Sam. He gets all the best lines. His humour is derived from yours. Hell, that dirty joke in chapter three was lifted word-for-word from that dinner-party you hosted in the depths of winter. No, I won’t be giving you a cut. Sam. Where did you get that axe from?”
Some people like that sort of half-arsed tribute. Naming no names. (That’s probably for the best.)
NEXT BLOG: THE WINDOWLESS WOOD-PANEL ROOM.