Bad Writing Advice: Naming Stuff

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

For fantasy writers, especially, naming is critical. World building demands it. Of course, world building demands a lot of things, but there are those pesky rules. No excessive backstory. No info dumps. It makes it tough on a writer.

Whether it’s characters, spells, or land features, christening everything in sight allows creativity to run amuck. So what if you’re characters speak English. Here’s the opportunity to dazzle readers with names ten years of psychotherapy won’t purge from their brains.

Here’s an example:

At the edge of the Alliance camp, Farlin crouched behind a fractured boulder where hawthorn bushes grew to either side. He sheathed his blade. Leaving the mountain republic for the lowlands never ceased to bring on unease. How much easier this’d be if he’d heeded his teachers and learned about the plains kingdoms.

Too late for that now.

As little as he cared about their affairs they deserved to know their common enemy was outflanking them. He had no love for these people, but the invaders were worse. After a quick conversation he’d return to the hills.

He stood and raised his hands. In seconds several hulking guards surrounded him. In minutes they’d recognized him as an uplander and escorted him through a camp where weary men either ignored him or imparted wary glances. At the largest tent they ushered him inside, each arm pulled back.

Around an improvised table the expected lowlands peoples were represented. The officer stopped before the eldest human present, a gray man clad in armor and sporting excessive ornamentation. Others, humans and elves all, surrounded the table.

The officer paused before retreating. “Give your information quickly so we can escort you from the camp. And, uplander, show respect.”

The leader motioned for the guards to release his arms. “All right, out with it, lad.”

He rolled his shoulders and winced. “I was farther south than normal…on a bluff overlooking a river leagues to the west and could see a large force striking camp. They were heading southeast.”

“And their original position?”

“Where? I’m not that familiar with the area. West of the bluff. There was a town.”

“A town…?”

He shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Are we talking about Nro’phen’feztrel or Nro’finn’phreztrial?”

“Huh?” He shook his head. “You just said the same thing twice.”

“I believe I was quite clear.”

“Right. Okay. The one along the river.”

“They’re both along small rivers. Are you referring to the River Tiveniteno-phennous’dra or the Tephenroennio-pimmioutus’dra River.”

“Are you serious? Which town is on which river?”

“Good gosh, man, Nro’phen’feztrel is on the Tephenroennio-pimmioutus’dra and Nro’finn’phreztrial is on the Tiveniteno-phennous’dra with Mount K’reacken’brullseat-kulkar between them.”

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry. I was looking for the tent with the leaders and instead I’ve found the entertainers? Are you guys booked solid? Are there acrobats, too? I’d really like to—”

A sharp jab in the kidney bent him over. “I told you to show respect.”

“Damn! Okay.” He rubbed his side. “You said there was a small mountain between, which one is to the west of the mountain?”

“Nro’finn’phreztrial, which is on the Tiveniteno-phennous’dra, is west of Mount K’reacken’brullseat-kulkar, but if you were looking at Nro’phen’feztrel on the Tephenroennio-pimmioutus’dra there’s a mountain east of it known as Ker’eekum’drussant-kulkar. Or are you talking about where the rivers join to form…?”

He held up a hand and laughed. “Please! Don’t. I can’t take it anymore. A lot of people are going to be buying me ale when I get home.” This was what too much sun on the plains did to your brain. “You’re having a laugh at my expense. Right?”

“Have you gone mad, uplander?”

“Am I mad? Your names bear no relation to the language we all speak. The whole lot of you have been snorting skunk scent. How about this? You send out a scout to see if the army that was near some town on some river beside some mountain is still there. If it isn’t, then look for that army farther south. As for me, I want no reward for being right. All I want is to go home.” He held up both hands. “Really. I’m serious. In fact, just forget I was ever here.”

The gray king motioned for him to leave. He turned on his heel, the two guards running to keep up. Behind him, voices in the tent were still audible.

“The man is obviously an idiot.”

“No wonder we have so little contact with the uplanders. They’re dimwits.”

They were welcome to think whatever they wanted. Enough gibberish for one day. Who spoke one language and named everything in a different language? There was a chance he’d run all the way back to Tarlon on the River Pancore.

One Reply to “Bad Writing Advice: Naming Stuff”

  1. Pingback: Bad Writing Advice: Naming Stuff | Christina Anne Hawthorne

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