Because of high fantasy fiction’s nature – epic fantasy fiction or otherwise – creating character name confusion is a risk.
High fantasy fiction doesn’t normally operate with character names like Sarah, Darnell, Christy or James.
Chances are high they’ll be designated something like Hagarana and Vit, Wunti and Alanarria. It only makes sense that, when a story is set on different worlds, readers should expect some significant differences from the reality they know.
But they shouldn’t have to expect character name confusion. That’s what the Writing Challenge – nay, plea! – addresses below:
Cut down on your characters. Or at least don’t give them hideously confusing names.
This is less of a challenge and more of a plea from someone who loves reading fantasy. I can’t tell you how many fantasy fiction books I’ve picked up, only to give up after page three because of all the foreign character names I’ve had to keep in mind.
No doubt, some readers are far superior to me and have amazing memories that can keep track of three dozen made-up names. But for those of us who are deficient in this area, show some mercy. I’m begging you.
“But… but… but…,” you protest as a high fantasy fiction writer – epic fantasy fiction or otherwise. “But my three dozen characters are necessary!”
That may or may not be true. Giving you the benefit of the doubt though, here are a few good practices to try:
Don’t mention them all on the first page. First chapters often involve a lot of exposition, which is fine unless the end-result is confusing or boring. Since that’s what too many character name drops usually are, take it easy in that department. Let readers get to know your protagonists well enough to remember what they’re called before too many other personalities make their presence known.
Don’t give too many similarly sounding character names. I know it’s really tempting to call triplet brothers Noran, Noren and Norin. But that’s problematic if they’re reoccurring figures that need to be distinguished. Don’t make your high fantasy fiction readers have to flip backward in your story to remember who is who. That’s not the direction they should be going.
Give your characters room to be vivid! This plays off that last line in good practice #1: letting readers get to know your protagonist well enough to remember what they’re called. The high fantasy fiction/epic fantasy fiction Lord of the Rings series is full of confusing character names. Frodo. Gimli. Arwen. Legolas. Yet it’s not full of character name confusion. Readers feel strongly connected to each of those figures because of how J.R.R. Tolkien introduced them, presented them and allowed them to grow.
That’s your goal as a high fantasy fiction writer – epic fantasy fiction writer or otherwise. In fact, that should be the goal of any storyteller across any genre.
So seriously consider what and how many character names you select. I know they feel intensely familiar to you at first breath. Now make them that way for your readers too.
Without that character name confusion at play, your high fantasy fiction manuscript is off to a stronger start! Epic fantasy fiction or otherwise.