Names: Naming Characters and Places in Fantasy Writing

One of the first hurdles that comes up in writing fantasy can pop up before you even dive into worldbuilding and character building: picking names. I have heard of writers who use a placeholder name while they brainstorm other elements and then change the name once the right one reveals itself. But I can’t even imagine beginning my story without having a few names down to begin with.

This is one of my favorite parts of the pre-drafting stage. Names ground me in where I am and who I’m working with, and in some cases, give me ideas for setting aspects or personality traits for characters. When your book is out there in the world, your fans are going to know your characters by name. If you’re lucky enough to have international fame, your names can become a household phrase. Think of the Harry Potter series. Instant brand recognition. A true fan knows countless spells and can recite to you every Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts and which book they came from. Names are important.

Character Names

When I start with a book idea, I often start with an idea for a character. Usually, a personality trait or a specific conviction for the character comes first. From there, I move on to picking a name. Sometimes I’ve already got the perfect name picked out, but more often than not, I’ll head over to a baby names website or a name generator. If I know a meaning I want, I’ll search for that. If I have a letter in mind, I’ll sort alphabetically.

Make sure to craft first, middle, and last names. The whole package can be incredibly satisfying. I like to say my full names aloud to hear how the different pieces flow together. I would highly recommend using this technique; you’ll find that the right name just clicks in your head and on your lips at the same time.

Here are a couple links that I find useful:

Fantasy Name Generator: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/

Random Name Generator: https://randomwordgenerator.com/name.php

Baby Name Generator: https://www.motherandbaby.co.uk/baby-names/baby-name-generator

Baby Name Genie (one of my favorites!): https://www.babynamegenie.com/baby-name-generator

World Names

Your universe is going to be made up of a lot of names across every level: universe, world, realm, state, city, town, village, etc. And not all of them are going to need to be come up with before you start drafting. But you do need a few basic place names down in order to start.

Now, I’ve heard conflicting opinions on whether you should try for simple names or super fantastical, difficult to pronounce names to make your story unique. While I think having names that have a little fantastical element to them is important, I think hard to pronounce names leave your readers guessing and posting on Reddit trying to figure out how to say them. I like a healthy mix of the two in a fantasy novel. Enough names that I can say out loud and then a few where I’m just like “how in the world did they come up with that, that’s so cool!”.

My world’s names are very simple. All of the noble houses pull their names from the elements and the day and the evening and war and peace and then just insert “House of” or “House of the”, depending on which one. I did that purposefully because I like the duality of contrasting houses. Day vs. Evening, Water vs. Fire, Light vs. Darkness. I want to play off of what you think those noble houses should be all about and then flip some of them on their heads.

Once I have the main names down, I usually come up with the main geographical features names. Mountain ranges, oceans, rivers, and the like. I tend to do all of the main ones up front. Then I come up with my city and town names as my characters travel to them. Eventually, I’ll fill all of them in, but it isn’t necessary before I start writing.

Here are a few links to get you started:

Realm Name Generator: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/realm-names.php

Mountain Name Generator: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/mountain-names.php

River Name Generator: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/river-names.php

Water Name Generator: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/water-names.php

Fantasy Kingdom Name Generator: https://springhole.net/writing_roleplaying_randomators/fantasykingdomnames.htm

Place Name Generator: https://www.namegenerator.biz/place-name-generator.php

Happy brainstorming, everyone!

A Beginner’s Guide to Imagery

This article was a specific request by my sister, Morgan, and I am hoping that it will help out many beginning authors who need a little extra help when it comes to thinking about imagery. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject; in fact, I think incorporating imagery is something that takes a lot of dedication and practice to get it just right. But nevertheless, I would like to share some thoughts on the subject that I believe would help get you in the right mindset.

Setting

One of the most important places to incorporate imagery is when describing setting. You want to be as descriptive as possible. Half of the battle in writing good fantasy stories is making your readers feel fully immersed in your universe. The easiest thing to do is start by incorporating the five senses. I know it sounds incredibly simplistic, but the following questions should showcase why this works so well.

  1. What does your character see from where they are standing? What does the scenery look like? Do they notice the colors and the hues of locations or objects? What people are visible, if any? What are they doing?
  2. What can your character hear? Do they hear people speaking, the bustle of daily life around them? Are they listening to music echo through the streets? If they interact with a certain character, how does their voice change the tone of what is being said?
  3. What smells are lingering? Does the air have a certain scent to it? Is there food or flowers nearby that can waft through your character’s nose?
  4. Don’t forget; the air can have a certain taste too, especially when other scents are involved. Taste should be used sparingly except in cases where you really want to emphasize the environment or if your character is eating (but also should be used sparingly in that case).
  5. What is your character around that is tangible? Do their clothes feel tight and restrictive, or loose and light with fabric that easily slides across their skin? What are they holding? Is it significant enough to be worth mentioning?

Now: something important to remember. Just because you have a lot of information to use doesn’t mean you should use it all. Imagery has to be used appropriately; you don’t want to overload your reader with too much detail. The story becomes too muddled and cluttered. You want to incorporate just enough to shape the world you’re trying to convey: no more, no less.

Characters

When it comes to characters, the best way to incorporate imagery is to capture personality through visual cues.

How does your character walk? Do they carry themselves with confidence, or do they hide with slumped shoulders and a closed off stance? Body language communicates emotion. It is a great way to comply by the “showing not telling” mantra.

Describing communication is also important. Does your character have an accent? Do they emphasize certain syllables on words that is unique? When they are happy, how does their face change when they’re speaking? When they’re listening, what is their neutral face? What happens if someone shocks them?

Again, as with the above section on setting, make sure you keep things clear, but also simple. Clogging characters with physical descriptions or other imagery also detracts from what you are attempting to accomplish in terms of description.

So, there you have it! A simple guide to basic imagery work. I hope to expand on this as the blog expands and as I improve my imagery skills myself.