To quote and paraphrase T. S. Elliot, "the naming of characters is a difficult matter..."
How do we pick names for our characters? Do we go with whatever comes to mind? Do we look for meaning? Do we want something unique, or common and relatable? Obviously this will be different depending on what kind of book we're writing. When I wrote the romance, I went with a somewhat common man's name, and named the woman after one of my horses.
When it comes to fantasy, though, do we make whole new names up? Do we borrow names from Earth? If the names are too foreign, can our readers pronounce them? If the names are too familiar, does it break the illusion of a new world?
I struggled a little with this when I wrote my first book, Runaway Magic. I knew I wanted to call my main character Aili, a name which means light, and comes from both German and Irish origins. I personally prefer names with meanings more often than not, though that's not universal. Kyson is of British origin and literally means "son of Kyle."
Do most of my character's names have meaning? Absolutely. Actually, it's a bit of a lazy way to name them, but by knowing I want a name that means something, I can go to a webpage I use: www.meaning-of-names.com. Common meanings are listed with links, making it easy. Need a name for a Fire Mage? Click on fire as a meaning and there I go - Hana is born as a character.
It's great because it also tells me where a name is from. I tend to use names from all over the world and many different cultures. Andvari is Norwegian and means "mythical treasure guardian." As Aili is an unusual treasure to the forests, it seemed to fit well. Leya is a Spanish name that means loyal, and that pony sure is.
This doesn't mean every name is chosen that way. Ilia and Kyson were chosen because they sounded right for the character. A few names of passing characters are simply made up completely. Some characters are so minor to the story that they're never named, though they have complete lives in the world outside the books.
The website was even more helpful for a book I'm writing that is dystopian and on Earth, as it's about a community that gathered together from all over the world to survive. I was able to choose diverse names for each culture represented in the community. Names can be searched by region as well as meaning.
Every author has their own way of naming characters. What matters is finding a method that works for you. Do you honour a friend or loved one and use their name? I have. Other people don't, because characters may not be similar, and you don't want to offend someone. Do you go with something made up and unique? I have, when it's right for the character, or I don't need the character again. Do you search for the name by meaning or region? There's lots of webpages and books to help with that, if you choose.
It's interesting to me, but the character usually forms in my head before I name them. That's how naming by meaning is so easy for me. I can pick an aspect of their personality and name them after that. Other authors start with a name and build the character from there. Either way, find what works for you. Maybe try different methods, until and unless you have a favourite. What inspires you? Do that!
Well, it's happened again. That bratty Aili decided it wasn't enough to hijack the ending of my last book, Facing the Fire. Now she made me rewrite the first part of the third book. It's going to all work out, and nothing I've written is wasted, but my story starts earlier than I thought.
I love that my characters are developing and becoming more their own people. Each book gives more background on someone and lets us learn more about them. We learn a lot more about Kyson in book two, and Aili gets a surprise in the ending that carries her into book three. Even Andvari shows more of his background in the second book.
Now when I'm writing a story my characters are often telling me how they'd respond to what I'm putting them through. I'm no longer having to form them so much. They're showing enough individuality that I just know how they'd respond.
Book three, yet to be titled, also lets me introduce more characters, and even build on some previous characters you meet in book two. Even my secondary characters have a history and their own preferences. Some are more serious, some more playful, and some are enthusiastic about their hobbies.
Aili learns a lot more about herself as she interacts with people, and she's going to visit a busy camp with a lot of people to interact with. It's when we spend time with others that we really learn who we are. She's still growing and learning her place in the world, and for someone who grew up almost alone, she's going to be stretched like never before.
We all have to ask "who am I?" Aili will spend some time looking back and looking ahead. With her band changing with each accomplishment, she is growing up quickly in status in her world. Can she keep up? How about you? How did you feel, navigating the challenges of becoming an adult and learning who you were?
Not everyone is friendly right away. Not everyone likes to open up to strangers. We all approach life differently. This is true for my characters as well. Sure, you meet him early in Runaway Magic, and he's a part of the main story and Aili's life, but just who is he?
Scouts work as partners. It's always great when someone has your back and you can depend on them. Andvari and Kyson have been Scouts together for a long time. Well, long in Aili's opinion. She's young enough that anything older than her is really old, and Kyson and Andvari have been partners for longer than she's been alive.
He's the strong silent type for sure. He has a lot to say, but you only hear him say it when he cares about your opinion. He and Aili don't start well. It takes a while for them to begin working together. The thing about being out in the bush when your lives depend on each other, well, that speeds up the process.
One of my favorite things about book 2, Facing the Fire, is you get to see and learn more about Kyson. You see him and Aili interact more, and you see him interact with more Scouts, too. That's right, Facing the Fire involves more characters and more fun. Who does he get along with? Did he really just tell a joke?
Book 3 is already in the works, plotted out, and being written. You'll see Kyson more there, too. After all, as partners, he goes where Andvari goes, and Aili does, too. He's a powerful Master Mage in his own right and has interests of his own. One thing he loves for sure is wolves. He's big into wolf conservation and study.
He may not talk about himself much, but when you spend enough time in the bushes with someone, you'll get to know them well. Read the books and you'll get to know Kyson well, too.
Yes, it’s that time again. Aili is ready to share another adventure soon. The second book is nearly fully in the final draft, and editing begins this week. Before the end of October, Facing the Fire will be available for sale.
That also means I’ll begin planning her next adventure incredibly soon as well. As it sometimes happens, I have ideas where I’d like to go, but Aili had other ideas of her own. She decided certain things needed to happen when I was writing the ending of book two, and now I have something more to tackle in upcoming books. Teenagers!
When I first considered writing a series, I was hesitant. Some well known authors I had been learning from expressed that sequels could be a unique challenge, but I didn’t find it so. If anything, it was easier to write than the first book. Mind you, the first book I was still learning how to write a novel.
So, what happens in the second book? You learn more about the main characters. You learn some back story for both Scouts. You see Aili tackle her challenges she faces after the final scene in the first book. You get to meet more Scouts and learn more about her society.
What about the third book? I’m still in the planning stages. I won’t start writing it until the second book is ready to be published. I can promise you’ll learn even more about everyone, Aili will have new adventures, she’ll face a whole new set of challenges, and she’ll get to see more of her world. For someone who grew up in a city, even a large city, she’s never explored her country until she set off on her own in book one.
Keep an eye out. Book two is coming soon!
Everyone in Aili’s country wears a neckband. It has become a part of their culture, it’s been done for so long. When bands were originally used, they were made by mages who wanted an easy way to identify who was another mage and who was not. Earlier in their history the mages did allow non-magical folk to live in their countries, usually refugees from various disasters. Mages preferred to mark themselves instead of forcing outsiders to segregate or mark themselves.
People aren’t born with the bands, but they are given them within days from birth. As a person grows, the band grows with them. Their magical abilities and deeds are recorded by the bands through both colour and decorations. The bands start as a plain bronze, and change once a person’s magic becomes active. Normally this is around the age of five or six. Aili is incredibly unusual in not having her band change for a prolonged period.
The colour of a band affects a person’s status in society. Little children have bronze bands, and not much is expected of them as they grow and get ready to study magic. Once they are ready, around five or six years old, they are assessed for magical ability and their bands change to silver. Silver indicates a student. Silver bands have a small and flat plate with the magic teacher’s name on it. When a person passes their formal exams, their band turns gold and they are a full mage. They’re ready to find an occupation and take their place in society as a full adult. If their knowledge and abilities progress, usually as a person ages, their bands may turn platinum and they become a Master Mage.
By far the largest group are regular Mages. Much of the population have gold bands. Master Mages are not rare, though. They tend to gravitate to either academics, usually at the University, or they join specialist groups, like the Scouts and Border Guards. The population is fairly stable in the country, with families tending towards only two or three children generally, and people live in harmony with nature. Not everyone forms a family, which prevents the population from growing beyond their resources.
So, what does someone do when their band doesn’t act normally? That is Aili’s problem...
Come on, You can’t have a forest without wolves, now, can you? I love wolves. On one of my backpacking trips in behind Banff, we got to listen to the wolves howl as they moved through the valley. That was an experience of a lifetime.
My favourite part of the Zoo is the North American animals. These are the animals I grew up seeing. The wolves were always one of my favourites, because I never actually saw them in the wild, only heard them. I also adore watching the river otters and can watch them all day, but that’s just an aside. In fact, today’s Instagram picture is from a Zoo trip many years ago. I love wildlife photography, and the Zoo is a great place to practice.
Aili also loves wolves, and so do all Scouts. In the first book, you meet the wolves on the non-magical side of the border. In the sequel, coming soon, you meet the wolves that inhabit the forest Aili grew up playing in. They play a much bigger part of the story, even letting you see one of the main characters in a new way as they interact.
Wolves have a complex and fascinating social structure. Demonized through story throughout history, many people fear or hate wolves. That’s a shame, really. They keep an ecosystem healthy and prevent overpopulation among the grazers. That’s why all healthy forests should have wolves.
Like many of the main characters in my novels, both published and in progress, his name has a meaning. Andvari means guardian. Well, guardian of treasure, to be precise. He’s third in command of the Scouts, which means paperwork. Lots of paperwork. Still, he’s never too busy to have fun and sneak off on missions.
Based in the Eastern Border Woods, he and his Scout partner Kyson patrol the area regularly, along with the other Scouts and the Border Guards. The Scouts regularly cross the border to keep an eye on the non-magical folk, ensuring the border remains hidden and the magical boundary is strong.
Middle aged, magically powerful, and a gifted Earth Mage who specializes in concealment magic and sneaking. He’s more than capable of looking out for a student who can sneak around and avoid being seen when she wants. Despite his large size, he’s athletic and graceful, moving through trees undetected.
Though Aili can’t cast spells, he helps her uncover her abilities, and is open minded enough to try different things with her. Not everyone is flexible enough to handle powers outside of spells and incantations, but he’s up for the challenge.
Approachable and easy to talk to, his skills with people are partly how he advanced into the leadership position in the Scouts. Despite their differences, he and his gruff Scout partner get along well, a partnership based on mutual respect and years in the bush together.
Andvari is not based on any one person, but was inspired by many people I met on my martial arts journey. He reminds me of the best traits of my teachers.
"I have no status and no place in a magical world, when I have no magic. All I have is my pony," she whispered...
Every story needs a main character, and Aili is the brave adventurer that the Forest Guardians series follows. She's not as alone as she feels, but we don't always remember that when things feel darkest.
A young woman transitioning into adulthood, or at least she would be if she had magic, Aili is confronted with finding her place in the world. We all must do the best we can with what we know, even if we don't know enough and can't see the actions of those around us.
So, what do you do when you don't fit in and you can't see a future you like? You go make your own future, in Aili's opinion. A young woman of surprising non-magical talents, she spent part of her childhood playing in the forest near her home city. With a thirst for knowledge and a love of reading, a girl can learn a lot in a library, when nobody bothers her. After all, what would you say to the girl with no magic?
She grew up with Leya, her faithful pony companion, whom she helped train. Leya let her get deeper into the forest than she ever could on her own, deep enough to meet the wolf pack...
Awkward around people her own age, Aili spent her time with a few adults who taught her skills and talked to her like she mattered. What will she do when she encounters boys and social expectations (book 2, in progress)? Well, Aili would rather never come out of the forest again, but how likely is that, really? Especially considering who her teacher is! And just what is he going to teach her, anyways?
To me, the best part of stories is the characters who bring them to life. Without our characters, what’s left? Sometimes a character may even be the wind, or a spirit, or animals, but something always acts in a story. If not, where’s the story?
How do I write characters? First, I imagine who I want to go on an adventure with. Who will I encounter? Who are my allies and who am I unsure about? Who or what am I fighting against? Sure, there’s no secret that my protagonists are based at least loosely on me, either as I am or was. If I write a story I want to read, I’ll get an adventure from it. But...what about everyone else?
Inspiration for characters comes from all over. Who do we know that we admire? What traits do we wish they had? What makes them human, I mean what are their hopes, dreams, fears, and flaws? Without all these, they’re not really real, are they?
Okay, so we’ll take a concrete example right from my first novel. The character of Leya, Aili’s pony. Where did she come from?
For starters, I love ponies. I ride them every chance I get over horses, as they’re quirky and full of personality. I love my horses, too, but there’s something about the ponies that I just do well with. They have enough attitude for a massive horse, all stuffed in those little hairy bodies. I know ponies.
Alright, I know how ponies think and behave, what their likes and dislikes typically are. What now? Well, Leya can’t just be any pony, she needs to be her own pony. What does she specifically like? What does she hate, and who doesn’t she tolerate? In her case I based her off a couple of ponies I actually have in my paddocks here at home. I chose some traits from each that I thought would blend well into one personality...horsinality? I worked out what she fears, what her favourite treats were, where she likes to be scratched. Everything I know about my own ponies, I worked out for her.
This works for human characters as well. While I may not know all my character’s backstory, I learned more about one just this sequel in fact, I know what they like and don’t, what they want, and how they react to things. Readers can discover more as future books progress. Even if much of this information never makes it into a book, it gives me a consistent person to work with. I have a notebook with information on each character, where this gets written down.
So, who are they? Who’re their friends? What are their hobbies? Do they have a favourite food? How well do they read, and what language(s)? Bring them to life and let them play. How do they dress? Are they tidy or messy, clean or dirty? Write a dating profile for them if that helps, or think of a facebook profile to organize what you know. Or do like I do and keep a record in a paper book, leaving room to add more information as they adventure in more stories.
Make a character...Go write!
Why do I write? I love to explore new worlds and meet new people. I love magic and adventure and possibilities. I love that when reading as well. I have authors I love who write book series in fantastic worlds with amazing characters.
Tomorrow I begin my hopefully final edit of my novel. To be truthful, I can’t wait to make everything as quality as I can and have an actual paperback book. I want to page through it and adventure with my characters all over again, again and again. I have done this with other authors’ books as well, with characters I love.
It’s one of the big things that drew me to writing, actually. I always get myself lost in a world, whether one of my own design or with my fanfiction. Designing my own world for the series I’m writing has been an adventure in itself. He got me a notebook so I can make notes on everything, from the places I make to the people involved.
Now that I’m getting the sequel on its way, I can develop the world more. Things that played some role in the first book get explained and explored more in the second book, and probably more books after that. Being able to flesh out aspects of a world is exciting. What do I want to happen? Is it a nice place? Are there social issues? It’s all up to me. Do I want to make the world more mixed, with some desirable and some less desirable traits? It’s all up to me!
I’ve been writing stories for myself for years. Now, I’m a published author. No genre is off limits, though I have some favorites.