Sarah Jane Doe

Living a fantasy

Now that my blood consists more of antibiotics and anti-mucoids than cold and flu germs, a walk past this little stationary shop here in Ubud filled me with heart and purpose: I’m here to write! Yeah! Fist-pump! Back to the room, dig out that manuscript, on with the show!

Many of you are writers so you’ll know that wonderful feeling when you pull out old work and look at it with fresh eyes and delight yourself. Hungry for this sensation, I put a tissue up each dripping nostril, turned the fan up to causing-the-woven-rattan-ceiling-to-tremble level and told the warring Asiatic squirrels in the coconut tree to keep it down, or else. Then I settled in to immerse myself in my own brilliance.

This is what I read. ‘Exposition, exposition, exposition, quip, exposition, exposition, cliché.’  Notes, notes, notes, ‘Filler, exposition, exposition, cliché, filler, exposition, exposition.’ And repeat.

In case you don’t believe me, here’s an example of just how bad things currently are. The names of my two chief evil-doers are Karl and Darius. I might as well have called them Cruel and Devious and been done with it. Our hero? Bastian. Last bastion of hope, freedom, and terrible punning nomenclature. I could cry (I may have cried).

For a life-long lover of quality fantasy fiction, this is pretty terrible news. After deciding I didn’t have the energy or implements to kill myself (I also like my housekeepers so much I hate troubling them for extra loo roll, so corpse removal would really be a whole new level of imposition) I read on to see if anything could be salvaged. Around page 87, one  of my appallingly named characters finally stops being a caricature and becomes a character. My sigh of sheer relief was fulsome enough to give the squirrels pause and this writer a glimmer of hope for the next few months of work.

Still – ouch. What happened? My only comfort is that the very first part of Game of Thrones wobbles in the same way. Lot of good versus evil, a direwolf for every child, exposition, exposition, cliché, exposition – and then good old George R.R. Martin seems to forget that that he’s setting things up for a ‘Fantasy Series’ and lets his characters run free. To, I would argue, the benefit of all mankind.

Shippey, my favourite Tolkien historian, writes that successful world building happens when the author stops giving us backstory and prescription and simply offers us a ‘corner of the eye glimpse’ of the world they’ve created – the kind that intimates that all sorts of complex events and histories have occurred; that fabulous cities exist, and people have loved and lived and died in them. For reals. It’s going to take some serious time for me to do this. Meanwhile, a little help from my fantasy-loving friends would be hugely appreciated. Names. Some masculine, some feminine. And it will be the last thing I beseech-th of thee-th*.

*Note: by ‘last’ I mean until I need help naming everything else and then move on to help with the religious-exclamations-occuring-in-slang-speech-of-the-currently-unnamed-eastern-most-city.

16 Thoughts on “Living a fantasy

  1. So. I’m sitting on a train watching Pan’s labyrinth and was JUST thinking about how wonderful it is cause it does all the things wrong. The good guy is ugly and scary (and has no name we should note) and the ‘wonderful refuge’ is only lovely cause poor Ofelia’s life is so damn crap. Am on it with the names, will try not to just do that thing where you use a normal name and spell it wrong – like Benn and Soosan….

    PS Karl needs to go. S’like having a bad guy called Bruce. Broos. Bruis. (Am liking Brews more and more…)

    Much love for you xxx

    • sarahjanedoe on June 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm said:

      Billy, excellent point on gender. I’m aiming for no wholly dastardly villains though…what makes it really hard in naming is to pick a direction. Classic medieval? Renaissance like Scott Lynch does (to great effect I think)? Pan-racial? Roman? All of the above? Someone pick a bad guy for me, please. He’s a Rumsfeld-esque manipulator.

    • sarahjanedoe on June 12, 2012 at 6:08 am said:

      A photojournalist on my trip to Vietnam was called Bruce (hi Bruce!) and the locals kept called him ‘Mr Bruise’. I asked him if he thought it as funny. He asked me if I wanted to be named like ‘a welling of blood under the skin.’ We should have gone with ‘brews’, much better.

  2. Bill on June 11, 2012 at 9:36 am said:

    Make at least one of the dastardly villains female. Just in your mind. See what does.

  3. Boo hiss to feeling sick! But excellent to see that there is some excitement in the writing process. Gosh – looking back critically is the curse for sure, but there are still gems in there. Cherish them! Miss you, lovely one.

  4. James on June 11, 2012 at 6:46 pm said:

    Grr I just left a long post that was eaten by the Facebook app. Now im waiting for an Amtrak train and some unseen piece of machinery is making a noise exactly like the flame burst things in princess bride. So far no flames. The main thing I wanted to say was that the excellence of your great blog post casts some doubt on the purported crapocity of the early stuff. Or at least points toward great things to come.

    Names names I am terrible at names. I had to come up with 2 dj names recently and I went with Sushi Hero II and BadYucky. So that gives you a baseline. Having said that I really am enjoying the ‘uck’ sound. I think it has a lot to do with how fun swearing is. Anuck, close to enoch, root in the Latin. Having said THAT, Huck Finn is an iconic hero so maybe uck is a heroic sound and you could pervert it. What about ‘Huke’ sounds like a fluke worm. Yuck. ;)

    • sarahjanedoe on June 12, 2012 at 5:29 am said:

      This is odd because in the first few pages I had to name a fluke worm. I renamed it a grep worm. I’m telling you James, the challenges are in all the wrong places with this book.

      Thanks for your generous response – the sharing of those DJ names was very brave. :) I may just call my hero James.

  5. Go team Sarah! Hope the illness departs and leaves you feeling wholesome again soon. I’ve been pondering your naming challenge… it’s so hard!! My favourite novels tend to create a language or linguistic root for their naming sequences – either based on existing languages or created ones (you know, if you want to go all Tolkien). I like it when names are just names… they fit within the cultural context of the character, and then become imbued with the character as the story unfolds. If you find a language that inspires you, you can just use existing names (and avoid that whole feeling of ‘have I created a string of syllables like a baby would do?’ If you are a Gilmore Girls fan, the episode when Kirk finds a lost dog and tries to identify its name by making random noises springs to mind…). I also love the suggestion to make one of the villains female :)
    Good luck and can’t wait to see this at some stage!

    • sarahjanedoe on June 12, 2012 at 5:46 am said:

      The names may all end up being based on Bahasa Indonesian now. This could really work. Who’s the philologist now, J.R.R., eh?
      (it’s still him)

  6. Simon on June 12, 2012 at 5:33 am said:

    Bah! It lost my reply as well .. damn!

    In summary:
    Every unique name that fits a character type has been used/modified/and ultimately abused online.
    Trolling through a World Of Warcraft forum will give you at least 20 million or so unique character names. The internet has milked anything unique. It’s insane. So if you feel like trolling through a million names you know where to go.

    My advice? Making a simple basic-named character perform unusual feats can make them seem more believable and amazing through their actions:
    King Darius the Eye of Evil is attacking the fort! *yawn* ..
    King Jim Jones the Defiler is attacking the fort! *hmm .. OK we better go check to make sure we’ve at least locked the gate and cancelled all cordial orders*

    I’m glad you’re feeling better! Though if not give me a yell so i can have an excuse to come back ;) x

    • sarahjanedoe on June 12, 2012 at 5:41 am said:

      Not the cordial! How will we defend the city without CORDIAL? Your points are excellent ones. You guys are all amazing. Uniquely amazing. Like your names.

  7. Toby on June 13, 2012 at 1:51 am said:

    Hi Sare

    Nice blogging. Personally I likw GRRM’s naming technique of taking a non-fantasy name and giving it a twist with a deviant spelling or changing a letter: Jon; Robb; Joffrey; Jaime etc. He also does it with other nouns — master becomes maester, sir becomes ser and so on. Of course he does plenty of more trad. fantasy names as well (Tyrion, Daenerys etc.), but the more ‘normalish’ names give the setting grounding and make it feel more like a variant of our world as opposed to somewhere completely alien.

    So that’s my advice: pick some normal names and twist. …Also, put in a Tobias.

    W/r/t the exposition, all I can say is: show, don’t tell.

    Break a finger

    • sarahjanedoe on June 13, 2012 at 5:04 am said:

      Thank you Tobias. Great advice (except for ‘break a finger’ – I’m a one-fingered typist. Actually, I guess that means I have nine to break…) x

  8. Bill on June 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm said:

    Villain – how about the Operative from ‘Serenity’? He’s not terrifying because he’s evil, he’s terrifying because he believes in what he is doing, and he knows that he’s working with the end goal of creating a society he has no place in.

    If you’re going to start weaving bits of Balinese myth in, a nice thing to start with might be the ocean / mountain thing. The gods live in the mountains, the demons live in the ocean, so the holiest parts of the temple or traditional housing complex will always be furthest inland.

    A nice, simple idea you can incorporate into any fictional mythology you like – it’s kind of an animistic, island-bound variation on Muslims always facing towards Mecca.

  9. sarahjanedoe on June 14, 2012 at 2:13 am said:

    Billy, I want to read your fantasy series. Not kidding – start!

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