It’s been too long since I wrote a legit blog. Time is relentless in its march. Still, I want to talk about names. Really, I want to discuss made-up names and words of all kinds. Maybe the benefit of what I’ve learned will help you in your writing endeavors. If not, at least it should be interesting.
If you’ve been with me from the beginning, you probably remember the tragic first edition covers on my first two books. I’m embarrassed to show them now, but it makes a point. (Just to ease my mind, I’m putting the newer versions, too.)
To this day, the Space Balrogs won’t call my first book anything except, “The Cracide.” Which is what the title looks like on that initial cover. Since then, I’ve learned it’s best not to title a book after a made-up word at all. Not only because I get confusion by people who think the book is about killing God as some kind of anti-religious statement (which it isn’t, it’s about killing a Theocrat who claims to be God), but a lot of people aren’t attracted to the title at all because it inspires confusion more than curiosity.
I went to a book signing where Terry Brooks shocked the entire audience of fans by informing us that Shannara is pronounced Shan-uh-ruh, not Shuh-nar-ra. Every person there had been pronouncing it wrong for decades. I’m guessing after a lifetime of correcting people’s pronunciation of his title, he wishes he hadn’t used a made-up word in the title, too.
Exacting Essence isn’t much better. It sounds cool (to me), but nobody knows what it means. So again, it causes confusion instead of curiosity. So, by making bad decisions in the past, I’ve learned to title books using only common words people already know. It is much more likely to inspire them to want to learn about the book. Here are some better book titles.
Uniqueness in titles isn’t as important as getting the reader’s interest. Common words can make a really good title.
I think this has also affected how I think about made up words in the book as well. I have a few in Salvation, because it’s a straight up fantasy and monsters and towns need names. But even though there have to be made up words in it, I think I would advise authors to use as many common words and when they are made up, spell them in a way that’s easy to understand.
Schism is the name of the planet. An actuator is a legitimate machine part. The sense of something familiar being used in a new and “magical” way is more intriguing, I believe, than if I named the planet Blarghdorugh and the machine R.T.C.I. (Reality Transforming Computer Interface). There is a place for fancy made-up words, of course, but less is definitely more.
So what brought this up now? My work-in-progress involves me deciding what to call a city, the people in it, and various aspects of their culture. So I have been revisiting some of the wisdom I learned by past mistakes. The title will not be a word I make up. The city must be called something that sounds like a real city, named as real people would name one. And the characters will have names that are “futuristic” in the sense that they are names people might really use as a result of a real societal evolution… not Zaphanianna or some other nonsense that readers can’t pronounce. It’s unlikely that after people used the name Matthew for thousands of years it will suddenly disappear in 100 years and nobody will be giving it to newborns.
If I save just one author from making the same mistakes I did, this blog will have been worth the effort. 🙂