Continuing on from my It’s all in the name post, I wanted to discuss the names we give to our fictional places.
Sometimes our fiction is based in a real place; London, Paris, New York, etc. Sometimes it’s manifested in an imaginary part of the real world, such as JK Rowling using London for the muggle world in Harry Potter.
As fantasy writers, we can make up a whole world, molding it and sculpting it into a form we want.
Whether we free write or go all out on the planning, we need to achieve a balance of creating a believable world; with the reader understanding it, and our characters. There needs to be a solid structure that combines the story and its characters to the fantasy adventure and the real, physical, world.
I’m a tad picky when it comes to fantasy – reading and writing them.
If I can’t pronounce most of the names and places in a book then, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to enjoy it as much as I could. I want to get lost in someone elses imaginings. But I don’t want to be flummoxed.
I want to feel empathy for the characters and their tale. If I can’t say their name, I stumble and stutter, and quite honestly I feel a little ignorant. I can read a textbook on engineering if I want that! When I read fantasy I want to be completely in another world, I want an adventure, I want to fall in love and cry. I want to be frightened and excited. I don’t want to feel as though I belong in the Kings court wearing a jester’s outfit. Urgh, that brightly coloured outfit, with bells?! No, thank you.
If you write fantasy or fiction that is based on an imagined world, understand that your audience might not know that QWESDATY is pronounced Cath-day. Don’t make your readers feel stupid.
When I’m creating the world(s) in which my stories are based, and where my characters live, I have to make sure that the place names are pronounceable and also realistic.
Research! This is probably my favourite word. I do so much research, even for a fantasy of my own imaginings. Yes, some people are surprised by this.
Discover! Another favourite of mine. When I research I discover new things, new facts, sometimes it’s useless trivia. However, it all keeps my mind moving toward the goal of completing a story or novel, and it helps me. In motivation and creativity.
Today, I enjoyed learning about origins of place names:
- Sted, means stead. Or simply a place.
- Tun or Ton means a farm or hamlet.
- Burgh is birth.
- Try comes from the word tree, where people would meet.
And there’s so many more here.
I went on to explore my own local history too. Why is a road so called? I found an article about one of our city centre roads that was once known as Blood Lane. What a great name. Such an evocative name, stirring up all sorts of images and thoughts within my mind. It’s so named because linked to the market it was a very busy road on trade days, sadly it was a very narrow road too. People and animals were crushed by carters heading along it. What? Yes, Blood Lane was indeed bloody! It wasn’t a rare occurrence either.
It happened every week!
It was the community who named it!
Now, I don’t know about you, but if they decided to call it Blood Lane, why didn’t they do something about it?
I now have a great idea in my head about the place, the activity of that place, the people who used the lane and how awful it must have been knowing that when you walked along Blood Lane, you were dancing with death. or at the very least a nasty accident!
Oh, and by the way, I am so going to use this name in my book – Is that plagiarism? (I should look that up)
As well as the history lessons, think about the theme of your book before giving out names to the streets, kingdoms, rivers and such. I have a deep magical thread weaving in and out of my story (I think the title might give that away) so, I wanted this to also reflect in my name choices. Anyone who shares the same philosophical and spiritual roots as I do, will understand the choices for some of my place names. However, their names are still rooted in real world origins, with historical significance as those streets, towns and countries we all grew up on and around.