Since I'm vanishing again this week to write Elder Empire, I thought I'd leave you guys with the answer to a question I get asked all the time: how do I come up with names?
Now, in the interest of writing a streamlined blog post, I have boiled down my process of coming up with names into an arbitrary number of steps so that it sounds easier than it really is!
Step 1.) What are you naming?
This is more important than it sounds. When you're trying to name something, you have to know not only what it literally is (a country, a character, a famous goblet) but also what its role is in your story.
When I named King Zakareth, one of the primary antagonists from the Traveler's Gate trilogy, I started off with two pieces of information: he's the king, he's not a good guy, and my characters start off thinking of him as this tyrannical dark lord.
That immediately starts me thinking in the right direction. I'm not thinking of names like "Chad" or "Thimble" or "Hyberian Thimblewinter" because those don't sound like names for an evil king.
Which brings me to the second step, which is...
Step 2.) Make up a bunch of names.
Just brainstorm. Using the guidance from Step 1, come up with a BUNCH of names. I use baby books, random name generators, darts thrown at boards, movie credits, consulting space oracles, any methods I can think of to come up with a bunch of names.
Then I start whittling down the names to my favorites. This can take hours.
I keep a running list on my phone, and whenever I run into or think of a cool-sounding name, I write it down. It gives me material when I hit this point again...but there's never enough on the list. Never enough.
I spend a lot of time on this section. After you've populated such a list and narrowed it down to your favorites, you pick one and move on to Step 3.
Step 3.) Does it sound cool?
I was tempted to put "Is it appropriate to the setting?" here, because it's more important, but you can make a cool-sounding name setting appropriate. It's harder to take a setting-appropriate name and make it sound cool after the fact.
This part is of course subjective, but it's still important. How does the name sound to you? A lot of times people get hung up on trying to find the perfect name for your character or your favorite magic sword, but at this point it's really more about sounding neat.
This is also why step one is first: more important people, places, and things need cooler-sounding names. If a country is only going to be mentioned once as "the exotic land to the north ruled by sentient flies," you can just come up with a name off the top of your head. Zenethar. It's Zenethar now.
If it's the country your characters live in, it bears a bit more thought.
But it's also not just how it sounds to you, but also how it sounds to other people. Get your beta readers to tell you what they think of the names. If some names stand out as being not cool enough or too cool (your bartender's name doesn't need to be Arondolio the Magnificent), just change them.
Step 4.) Is it appropriate to the setting?
This is very important, but it comes fourth because I usually do it fourth. If you think your character is a Senator who should have an ordinary name, you might think of something like "Steve." But that doesn't fit your sci-fi setting, so maybe "Sheev" instead (do it).
Steps 2 and 3 are where I play around with names the most, trying out variations. Since most of the Territories are named after mythological afterlives, I had the world's hardest time coming up with Valinhall's name.
Seriously, it was a huge pain. But the breakthrough came when I thought of Valhalla (that took longer than you might imagine) and then played around with variations of the name until I came up with "Valinhall."
That's a combination of Step 3 (looking for something that sounds cool) and Step 4 (making sure it's appropriate to your setting...and in this case, the setting was a world in which these magical dimensions are named after mythical locations).
Step 5.) Avoid overlap.
What else have you named? If you've got a main character named Simon, you probably don't want another major character named Saman. Or Sian. Or Sonim.
You want to make sure that your most important names sound AND look as different from one another as possible. You have to consider both how the names sound when spoken out loud and how they look on the page.
If one of your characters is named Simon and the other is named Lymann, you're never going to confuse that on the page, but you might out loud. Alternatively, Simon and Síman might be pronounced very differently, but they look almost exactly the same.
But the main mistake people make is naming too many characters with the same first letter. Harry, Herbert, Helen, Humpty, and Huxtable are very different character names that you're not going to confuse, but it gets real mixed up when they're all sharing a scene.
So anyway, that's how I do it. It's more of an art than a science, and I spend way too long on it during each book.
One final tip: your reader makes the name work in their head. They will come to associate the qualities of the character with the name over time, even if the name doesn't suggest those qualities at the beginning.
For example, "Palpatine" is not an especially evil-sounding or intimidating name.
What were you doing six years ago today?
I was uploading my first novel to be torn apart by what ended up being tens of thousands of strangers.
Now it's my career.
It feels weird to say "six years." On the one hand, it absolutely does not feel that long. On the other hand, I feel like I've been a writer forever. It's like I've never had any other job.
And then I remember my other jobs, and I'm even more grateful for you all and your willingness to read my elaborate lies.
How about you? What has the last six years brought you?
Last week, my mother was cleaning out the house where I grew up, and she found this:
...in the fourth grade, we had to make a fake magazine for a school project. I created this masterpiece, a laminated edition of Time from the distant future year of 2019.
The cover story is my creation of a genetically engineered hybrid between dog and rabbit, which is clearly a huge breakthrough in genetic science. In this article, I make sure to reassure the reader that this mutant creature is very safe and will not break out and harm anyone. As would be any person’s reasonable fear.
I stand by this prediction of the future, which means I must learn a lot about genetic engineering in the next couple of months.
EDIT 5/14: Wow, this has generated SO many comments. I'm diving in.
Over the last few weeks, I've had a couple of phone meetings with Michael J. Sullivan and his wife, Robin (mostly Robin), and they've had great success Kickstarting print runs of their books.
They suggested Kickstarter as something I might consider, so I thought I'd bring the idea to you, the fans.
Here's the concept: I don't need funds to write a book (the reverse, really: I need to write a book for funds), so I wouldn't be Kickstarting a book so much as special-edition print runs of that book. So there might be a limited-run signed hardcover version, paperbacks with alternate covers, whatever. Exclusive stuff.
If we Kickstarted something like Cradle #7, Uncrowned, the Kickstarter audience might even get the book early.
But these are all ideas at this point. Just dreams floating around in the ether. The compelling part of this to me is that Kickstarters are fun, this gives an opportunity to get fans involved, and it allows me to try projects I normally wouldn't, like limited-edition hardcovers.
What do you think? How would you feel about a Kickstarter? What sorts of things would you want to see as rewards? How was your week? Has everyone seen Endgame yet?
Like many of you, I saw Avengers: Endgame last night, so I thought I'd briefly share my thoughts (without specifically referring to anything in the movie for those who haven't seen it yet). We can talk about the movie specifically in a few weeks, when more people have seen it, but for now...
What an amazing experience. It's hard to compare it to any other movie because the universe Marvel has created is so unique, and the characters are so well-established at this point. The result is that Endgame is an unprecedented achievement of storytelling. It's twice as long as a normal movie, but it seems to tell as much story as any four Marvel movies put together.
By far the greatest element of the movie is how it manages to cram in so many stellar character moments. Every character--like, every character--gets their moment in the spotlight, and it's a triumph for the characters and the audience both.
Before watching the movie, I didn't know how they could possibly create a worthy successor to Infinity War, but I was okay with that. Infinity War would have remained great anyway.
But they actually did it, and I can scarcely believe it.
P.S. Writing continues. I'm going on another writing retreat next week, during which I expect to make significant progress.
I don't have any significant news to share this week, and yet I'm trying to blog more frequently than twice a month, so as promised, here's a review!
There were a few requests for "my favorite roguelike" and other similar indie game requests, but I'd really like to review Risk of Rain 2 because it's what I'm playing now and it's great.
The first Risk of Rain was one of my favorite games. I'm not a completion player, but I played that one to 100% several times because you unlock new things as you complete achievements.
It was a 2D platformer with light roguelike elements, which here means your whole run ended when you died, so you had to start over, and the levels were randomly arranged (though not randomly generated). Basically, you ran through each level killing enemies and collecting items, which were permanent passive buffs to your character. Each character you picked was different, and the items drastically changed how you played, so you ended up with some wildly different builds by the end of the game.
The signature element of the Risk of Rain series is a real-time timer at the top right-hand corner, which steadily ticks up the longer you take. Every second, the game gets harder. So if you spend your time scouring the level for every item, you might get stronger, but your enemies do too. You have to strike a balance between progressing quickly and getting strong enough to handle the next level.
The gameplay sunk its hooks into me pretty much immediately, and I played the crap out of the first game. If my copy were a book, it would be worn and dog-eared, with a broken spine and faded ink.
When they announced a sequel about two years ago, I was delighted! And then they said it would be in 3D, and my heart sank.
There was no way it could be good. Design elements almost never survive the transition from 2D to 3D, and no doubt they knew that, but they wanted to challenge themselves. I could respect that, but I was still disappointed. All I wanted was Risk of Rain 2: More Risk of Rain.
So I paid halfhearted attention to their development over the last couple of years until they surprise released their sequel on Steam about two weeks ago.
Lo and behold, the game is fantastic.
They managed to capture the same feeling as the original, despite having to re-design practically everything to account for a third dimension. The same enemies have new attacks that take advantage of the 3D space, new enemies work with new mechanics, and the shooter gameplay is smooth and well-polished.
It's only in Early Access for now, and I hear they've promised to add an endgame like the last one had. Right now, unless you voluntarily end your run, you just loop levels over and over until the difficulty is so crazy that you have to die.
I can't wait for the ending, which was one of my favorite parts of the old Risk of Rain, but already my friends and I have over 20 hours into it.
Oh, did I mention it's multiplayer up to four players? It is.
Give it a shot.
I hope you guys enjoyed my totally real schedule for the next 60 years, but Andrew Rowe really beat me this April Fools' Day.
I've already linked it on my Facebook, but I'm putting another link here. It must be shared.
[EDIT: April Fools...OR IS IT?]
I've been consulting with THE TEAM, and after months of planning, I'm happy to announce our tentative schedule for the remainder of the year and forward (as far as we know it).
As always, these dates are subject to change, but this is the plan we'll be working on going forward.
March 1, 2019 - Cradle 6, Underlord (complete)
June 1, 2019 - Elder Empire delayed
August 1, 2019 - Cradle 7, Uncrowned
December 1, 2019 - Elder Empire delayed
March 1, 2020 - Cradle 8, Bloodfallen
June 1, 2020 - Traveler's Blade Trilogy 1, Daughters of the Wind
August 1, 2020 - Elder Empire delayed
September 1, 2020 - Cradle 9, Northstrider
December 1, 2020 - Elder Empire delayed
March 1, 2021 - Cradle 10, Nethergate
June 1, 2021 - New Series: I Reincarnated into an Online Game as a Healer
September 1, 2021 - Elder Empire delayed
December 1, 2021 - Cradle 11, Mazerunner
March 1, 2022 - Cradle 12, Breakingdawn
September 1, 2022 - Traveler's Blade Trilogy 2, All The Travelers Die
December 1, 2022 - Cradle 13, Slipperylip
February 1, 2036 - Earth invaded by slug-people.
September 1, 2079 - Elder Empire completed
It's a rough plan, but this is the goal we've set ourselves. Personally, I'm optimistic we can make it.
The last post has way too many comments, so we need a new blog, but I've been so busy that I don't have a whole lot to say.
That sounds contradictory, but it's true.
I was going to do a quick review of Us, but that's not really a whole blog post so much as two lines: "All the acting, directing, and dialogue are excellent, but the rules of the world are vague, confusing, and contradictory. B+/A- depending on the degree to which world-class acting and writing can make you forget that what's happening doesn't make a whole lot of sense."
So in that case, I turn to you! What movie (or game) would you like me to review next time I don't have any news for the blog?
I'll review basically anything except books. I don't want to use this space to pick on other authors, so the only time I'll review a book is if I think it's fantastic. But I don't mind tearing apart movies or games...or praising them if they're awesome.
Anyway, tell me in the comments which filler content you'd like to see! Go!
And, of course, real news will be the priority if there is any to share.
As most of you know, I took last week off for a post-book vacation. It was awesome, very refreshing, and I only had to wrestle 3-4 manticores. Usually I have to take care of at least five a week, so that was a nice break.
But since I got back, things in my personal life have been hectic. Nothing dramatic. It's just a mix of prior commitments, catching up on what I missed while I was gone, and some random crap hitting my family all coming this week.
Bottom line: this week was a lot harder than I expected. However, catching up on work has meant also catching up on the fan response to Underlord.
You all are amazing.
I came back to an endless stream of encouragement. A truly crazy number of positive reviews, messages expressing excitement, and so much discussion of the story that I couldn't read it all.
I'm just very grateful for you guys right now. You've been more supportive of me than I deserve, and I thank you.
Of Uncrowned and Killers Progress:
"Calder battled Lindon for supremacy."
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