Rahima's Inner Views Blog

Posts on Creativity, Writing, and the Inner Life

EVOKING A DIFFERENT WORLD

When reading a story set in a fantasy world or time, do you find it odd when the characters’ names are old familiar ones from our everyday reality? I always wonder why people in a strange time/place would have names like Steven or Julia. Also, why would they use the same words to refer to time or distance that we do? Convenient for the writer perhaps, but too familiar for me as a reader wanting to immerse myself in a different world.

TIME AND DISTANCE:

In my fantasy trilogy, The Star-Seer’s Prophecy, I tried to evoke a different world in subtle ways. For example, I avoid using our familiar measures of time. For example, instead of “minute,” I use “moment.” Instead of “week,” I use “quarter-moon.” Many cultures measure time by that clock in the sky, the Moon. For distance, I just referred to how many days a trip took.

And I had fun making up names and words to help evoke a different world. I used two methods for creating these new words: listening/intuition, and research.

LISTENING:

For most of my characters’ name, I start by ‘listening’ for a name, using my intuition. Sometimes, that’s it. I get it on the first try, like Zhovanya as the name of the Goddess. For others, I play around with the sound of the name until it fits the character. And for some, the name evolves as I get to know the character better. For example, originally Kyr’s name was Arik (which I believe relates to an old Nordic word for eagle). Somehow, I didn’t like the hard ‘k’ as the last sound of his name, so I changed it to Kyr (“keer” like “peer”), which to me sounds like the high, lonely cry of a hawk or eagle.

Over time, I noticed that there was a pattern in the way I was naming men vs. women, and changed a few names to fit that pattern, though there are some exceptions. You might check out the Cast of Characters here on my website, to see if you can detect the pattern.

I also ‘listened’ for the magical commands used by the Warrior-Mage, Rajani; for the names of magical potions; and for the sacred chants.

RESEARCH:

Dauthaz: In the case of one character, I found his name through researching the roots of words in the Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto. The Soul-Drinker’s name is Dauthaz, which comes from the Old English and Germanic roots of the word ‘death.’

Khailaz: This is also how I created the name of the land where the story takes place, and the terms used at the Sanctuary. The land is named Khailaz, which is a prehistoric Germanic word, ancestor of our word, ‘whole.’ Adding the suffix –itha to khailaz produced khailitha, the root of our words, ‘health’ and ‘heal.’

From this, I made up the words kailitha (divine healing energy); Kailithana (a priestess-healer); Kailithara (healing work of the Kailithana); Kailithos (one who is undergoing the Kailithara); and Kailithama (sacred chamber in which the Kailithana works with the Kailithos).

Other Words: I don’t recall exactly how I tracked down the roots from which I constructed Aithané (Listener, Confessor), Phanaithos (Speaker, Divulger), or Phanaithara (Divulgence, Confession). I believe they come from Greek roots meaning to listen, and to speak.

A few other words, I just made up. For example, I derived zhan (life force energy) from Zhovanya.

Now, admittedly, I am not Tolkien, creating whole languages, and races of fantastic creatures. My focus is more on the inner world and healing ordeal of my hero, Kyr, than on detailed world-making. However, I did do my best to evoke a different place/time by creating new words and names, and avoiding overly familiar names and terms.

What About You?

As a reader, which do you prefer: familiar names and terms; or new and different ones?

As a writer, what is your approach to evoking a different world?

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2 Responses

  • Jul 4, 2012

    I use quarter-moon as well for one culture, whereas another uses weeks. This because one culture still is moon-oriented whereas the other is more metropolitan (using a moon chalendar is a bit impractical since it changes a lot). I like taking a common name and changing it into something that sounds right to the language that character speeks, like Simon -> Simideon and Eric -> Erchim. I love making up names and very rarely use common ones 😉

    Hege Jul 4, 2012
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  • Jul 4, 2012

    In an alien setting, I’m all about the new and different. I’ve heard people say they have trouble wrapping their minds around strange names, but I just don’t see having people with the same names as people I know in a culture that has no connection with Earth. If my characters are humanoid, I’ll try to keep things reasonably pronounceable, but the more alien they get the more important I feel it is to express that point with cultural references as basic as names before branching out into other “oddities” to make the point.

    Beyond that, I also find inspiration in pieces of words and other odd sounds that seem to fit.

    Phoenix Jul 4, 2012
    Reply

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