What’s in a Name? (On Naming Characters)

Naming characters is one of the most exciting parts of starting a new story. Especially a new novel, since there are bound to be plenty of them.

Because most of my writing career has consisted of sci-fi and then fantasy, the names usually aren’t very common. And I’m sure that growing up with an uncommon name hasn’t hurt my bent towards the unique. This means I rarely have a whole list of great names off the top of my head, and instead I need to hunt for them.

For that reason, I developed three criteria for searching for names:

  • culture of origin
  • sound
  • meaning

The culture of origin and sound are almost inseparable. By choosing a specific culture (or a couple of cultures) for a kingdom, for instance, it helps ensure that the sound and spelling of names are similar enough to look intentional, and it makes each group distinctive. Choosing two unexpected cultures (like Hindi and Celtic) can result in some great, unexpected combinations that keep things fresh.

Meaning has been an important factor since sometime in middle school, when I first started getting serious about writing. It started with a baby name book, intended to just generate names. However, I soon realized that names’ meanings could provide even more possible ways to find just the right thing and could add some new depth to characters. No, most people won’t look them up or care, but my characters seem to know and understand, and that’s really all that matters.

My old go-to website vanished a while ago, but I think I’ve found a new replacement thanks to NaNoWriMo’s Facebook page. Behind the Name is a fun alternative that has some traditional features but also allows for some of the spontaneity that I thrive on with a random name generator.

Since the new novel already has several cultures involved in naming (from Welsh to Indian), I selected those countries and went for a whirl. The results have been just what I had hoped for. (Isn’t Bran Niamh Mac Giolla Dhuibh a cool name? :) )

How do your characters get their names? Do you have a favorite site or method for name hunting?


A Whole New World (or The Novel That’s Kept Me from Frequent Blogging Lately)

At the beginning if this year, I set a goal. Unlike previous years, it wasn’t a to-do list of writing accomplishments (though I might return to that next year). Instead, it was one word that I hoped would define everything about my year, from my writing to my personal life: action.

So far, it’s done the trick. On a personal level, I’ve started doing some things that have been sitting on the back burner for a while.

On the writing level, though, I didn’t know what it looked like. I just knew that it was time to stop dawdling and start searching for a real purpose. And I found it. It’s the reason I’ve been too distracted to blog lately.

My lifelong work on The Carrick Letters (a series I dreamed up in middle school) needs to take a back seat for a little while. Its style deserves some major tweaking, and it likely won’t be first thing I try to publish anyways. Too many hours have already been invested in it to sell it short, and it would be ideal to complete the first to my complete satisfaction and have the second very close before I try to do anything else. So needless to say, that’s not going much of anywhere right now. It needs some time to sit and brew before I can push forward.

In that case, where to? Well, back to the novel I never expected to write.

During NaNoWriMo 2012, I needed to participate (for the sake of some excited student writers and because I had a terrible itch to), but I had no ideas. One night, my husband suggested the most outrageous idea, and deciding that my creative muscles deserved a workout, I grabbed it and ran. Needless to say, that NaNoWriMo draft was rough, but it birthed an unexpected world filled with limitless potential.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this novel with its crazy mixture of fantasy, sci-fi, and steampunk. During the past two and a half years, the world and characters have slowly begun to take shape in the back of my mind, brewing like a good cup of tea. Now, there’s enough there to transform that very rough draft from 2012 into something to be proud of.

Today, it’s time to make a new goal official. This isn’t just the year of action. It’s also the year I write the second draft of this unnamed novel. And I plan to document its journey from a rough NaNoWriMo draft from two and a half years ago into its final form.

With that said, it’s time to return to that world. There are only 2,707 words down but so many more to go.

What’s your current writing project? Do you have anything brewing on the back burner?


The Silmarillion Recap: Welcome to Akallabêth! (Part II)

Want to catch up on The Silmarillion so far? Check out the Silmarillion Recaps page here.

Last week, the Men who were willing to go were called to a new homeland, the beautiful island of Numenórë. This week, a little more about these Numenórëans and their home. (Then be prepared for another exciting set of stories!)

Akallabêth part 2

Perhaps one of the first things that can be said about Numenórë is that it’s a beautiful place. Like Valinor, it’s a land created by the Valar. Instead of just being home to the Valar, though, it’s intended just for the Men who’ve answered their call for a better life away from Middle-earth. After all, Morgoth might have been banished forever, but his influence remains.

When the Numenórëans are brought to their new home, Eonwë (herald of Manwë, the leader of the Valar) stays to give them some important instructions and guidance for their radically new lives. Besides the gift of living in this pristine land, the Numenórëans have also been blessed with long life. That doesn’t mean that the mortality of Men is gone. That was a gift straight from Ilúvatar (the Creator of everything). However, they now can enjoy longer lives, free of sickness. Not only that, but the Numenórëans come to be known as wise, tall, and just downright amazing.

There are three main places that need to be discussed when talking about Numenórë, because they are three places that are often referenced throughout this chapter.

Andúnië

This is the main city and the primary haven on Numenórë. It’s on the western side of the island, closer to Valinor than Middle-earth.

Meneltarma

Situated in the center of the land, this is the sacred mountain, known as the Pillar of Heaven. At the top is a holy place, set aside for Ilúvatar. There aren’t any temples or anything there. It’s just a beautiful, open area, which seems right up Ilúvatar’s alley. At the foot of this mountain will be the kings’ tombs, once they have some kings.

Armenelos

Founded by the one and only Elros (Elrond’s brother), this city is home to an impressive tower and citadel. It’s situated towards the center of the island, not far from Meneltarma.

Next week, more about Elros, Numenórë’s first king.


The Silmarillion Recap: Welcome to Akallabêth!

Want to catch up on The Silmarillion so far? Check out the Silmarillion Recaps page here.

After a little over a year, we’re headed into the final book in The Silmarillion, Akallabêth! Hard to believe this crazy adventure started in April 2014 as just a whim.

Last week, the third and longest book of The Silmarillion, “Quenta Silmarillion,” ended. This means that it’s time to shift our focus from the ongoing quest for the Silmarils (which was a driving force in the “Quenta Silmarillion”) and to instead turn our sights on Elros’ descendants and Men.

Akallabêth part 1

The Secondborn of Iluvatar have had quite a history in Middle-earth so far. While the Elves received most of the focus in “Quenta Silmarillion,” Men have played an important role since their first appearance. And since this book is, basically, all about them, it’s time to recap that history.

Men had only just arrived in Middle-earth when Morgoth found them and began harrying them. However, not all of them stood for it. Some heard rumors of “a light which [Morgoth’s] Shadow could not dim” (Tolkien 309), so they set out to find it. The three main groups who did this are known as the Edain. They became friends with the Elves, learned from them, and fought by their side against Morgoth. Life was hard, but it was better with the Elves. (Just ask Bëor and Finrod.)

When the War of Wrath began, these Edain are the Men who fought along with the Valar and Eldar. And it’s no wonder. They’ve been loyal to each other all along. In fact, when the war ends, Men are given the same sort of summon that the Elves were: to leave for another, better land. The Edain (and presumably Elros and any descendants he has at the time) answer the call, but plenty of others don’t. And it’s a shame for them.

In Middle-earth, Morgoth’s influence is still a corrupting force. The surviving Men who fought in his armies flee back eastwards, from whence they originally came. There, they use fear to dominate their long-lost kin and become kings that can only be described as evil. This isn’t their only problem, though. They also have dragons, orcs, and Morgoth’s other servants to deal with. It’s a mess.

And the Valar know it. They meet together to discuss a solution. The initial decision is aimed at the Men that listened to the Valar’s summon. Using Ossë, Aulë, and Yavanna’s talents and flowers courtesy of the Elves, they bring a new island out of the sea, specially made for Men. Then, with calm seas, Manwë (the leader of the Valar) ensures that Men are able to reach it.

S.B Roberts 2015

S.B Roberts 2015

This island is known by several names: Elenna (which means Starwards), Anadûnê (Westernesse), and (most notably) Numenórë. It’s neither in Valinor nor in Middle-earth but is truly a special place.

Next week, more on life as a Numenórian and the beginning of their history.


The Beauty of Introversion

Some of my friends on Facebook are the type who enjoy quizzes… and sometimes I hop into the fun, but most of the time, I prefer to just stay on the sidelines. However, one that a friend posted a couple of days ago caught my eye. It was one on introversion.

Last year, I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, so when I saw the quiz she developed to help people understand their level of introversion, I couldn’t help seeing how I rank. (See how you rank in terms of introversion here.)

Let’s just say, total introvert. (41 points worth, to be exact.) No surprise there.

But make no mistake; it’s a badge of honor. Even before I read Susan Cain’s book (which is excellent, by the way, regardless your score), I valued introversion. I’m sure it stems from my mom, who scored just as high as I did. Growing up, she was my ideal of a well-rounded woman: beautiful, brilliant, nurturing, well-read and well-educated, and able to shingle a roof along with my dad or change a tire in her Sunday best. As I grew up and realized I was naturally as introverted as she was, I worked to find the same balance she did: the ability to be friendly but not to abandon the appreciation and need for quiet.

While it’s not usually in the limelight, introversion is filled with strength — strengths that Susan Cain expresses beautifully. We think and feel deeply. We see things other people don’t. We listen well and create deep relationships. We tend to be very creative. We’re the other side of the coin, and we’re just as important as extroverts (even though they make themselves more noticeable).

So even though society trains us to feel bad about being shy, having only a handful of close friends, or preferring to stay home and watch a movie, don’t. Instead, enjoy the beauty of being an introvert and know there is strength to it. (And if you’re looking for a summer read, seriously, grab Quiet. Just talking about it makes me want to read it over again.)

How did you score on the quiz? What do you think of you intro/extroversion?


Remembering Sir Christopher Lee

Yesterday, I heard the sad news that Sir Christopher Lee passed away. So it seemed apropos to reflect on his life. After all, from being a British commando during WWII to being an actor to singing in a heavy metal band (yes, I’m serious), he had an incredible life.

My first exposure to his acting was probably in Shelley Duval’s Faerie Tale Theatre, a show I evidently watched obsessively when I was three or four. According to IMDB, he was in one of the many episodes, and while I can’t remember it off the top of my head, I’m sure that I saw it at least once.

But, of course, the first time I really noticed him was in The Lord of the Rings films, around the time that my fascination with Tolkien and his world began. While he undoubtedly played the best Saruman imaginable, he couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. Not only was he a huge fan Tolkien’s works himself, but he had actually met Tolkien. (Read more about that here.)

He was in a myriad of other movies since then, from Star Wars to Alice in Wonderland, but there are some lesser known projects that he was involved in as well that deserve a mention.

First, can you imagine a more incredible voice to read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart”? It’s everything that you would hope for.

And one of my favorite discoveries (which I pull out every Christmas)…


The Silmarillion Recap: The End of an Age (and the Beginning of the Next Chapter)

Want to catch up on The Silmarillion so far? Check out the Silmarillion Recaps page here.

Last week, the Silmarils and Fëanor’s sons met their end. Now, the final repercussions of the War of Wrath and the last part of the “Quenta Silmarillion.”

Quenta Silmarillion Chapter 24 part 10

The war is over. Morgoth has been defeated. Fëanor’s sons and the Silmarils have met their fates. Now, it’s time for the Noldor who left Valinor so many years ago to return from exile. After building countless ships, the Noldor join the Valar and the Vanyar — the Elves who have lived in Valinor all along — sail back into the West, leaving Middle-earth behind.

However, not all of the Noldor choose to leave. Three stay: Cirdan the Shipwright, Celeborn of Doriath, and Galadriel (yes, the Galadriel). They chose to stay with Middle-earth and be a part of its fate for a little longer.

Some of the other notable Elves who stay behind are Gil-galad (who will play a role in the next part), Elrond Half-Elven (Eärendil and Elwing’s son), and Elros (Eärendil and Elwing’s other son).

Speaking of Elrond and his brother Elros, remember back when Eärendil first reached Vailnor and was given a choice? He, his wife, and their descendants were given a choice: to have the fate of either Elves or Men. (After all, they are descended from both.) Elrond (obviously) chose the fate of the Elves. Elros, on the other hand, chose Men. And while Elros might not be a very familiar name, let’s just say he has a very well-known descendant. But that’s for the next part of The Silmarillion.

The last person to meet his fate is Morgoth himself. He is throw out the “Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void” (Tolkien 306). Needless to say, this means he won’t escape any time soon. Especially with Eärendil and others carefully guarding him.

However, what the Valar can’t fix is what Morgoth has already done. For years, he’s been planting his lies and hate. Over the years, they’ve only festered and grown, and now they are deeply rooted in the hearts of Men and Elves. And this will play a role in the fate of Middle-earth from here on out, especially in the next chapter.

Next week, meet Elros’ descendants: the Dundedain (aka, the Numenoreans)!


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