Thursday, December 15, 2011

So...how did you come up with the characters' names?

The question regarding names is one I hear from people who have read the book, but I’ve tried to answer it in a way that won’t ruin any surprises for those who haven’t read the book yet. :)


NAMES

So...how did you come up with the characters’ names?


Names are important. People associate certain memories, experiences, emotions, or images with specific names they have encountered before, and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to use names that were either not commonly used or were totally made up. Also, made-up names add to the illusion of the story; they make it feel more real by making it feel more detached from the known. And unfamiliar names make the familiar names stand out and allow those familiar names—and their meanings—to add another dimension to the story. Names are important. Names are powerful. Names are hard.

When I wrote the first page or so of the manuscript in February or March of 2003 (I didn’t write another page of it after that until June of 2008), I knew I wanted the names of the two brothers to sound like the names of explorers. For some reason, ending the names with “o” provided that explorer effect, but beyond that, I had no idea how to go about naming them. So...I decided to think of a name that started with the letter a...then b...and that’s how Artemerio and Barto came to be. (They were the only two named characters at that point.)

When I picked up the story again in 2008, I kept Artemerio and Barto, decided to skip c, and moved on to d...Dunley. His name needed to be distinct from the brothers’ names, and I wanted to give him a name that sounded respectable and refined (deceptively so). I skipped e and moved on to f...Finley. After that, I moved away from the alphabet technique. Oh—before I named Dunley, there was a named character for whom I abandoned the alphabet: Wit. Explaining his name is too risky for those who haven’t yet read the story and hopefully unnecessary for those who have. :)

And if you have read the story, you know there are lots of named minor characters. Many of the names are a made-up mix of letters; some are based on “real” names that have been altered slightly. Kello, Roin, Officer Martel, Baker, Joletta—these names (and most of the rest) just sounded right somehow...right number of syllables, right mix of vowels and consonants, right feeling for the character’s role or personality. At some points, I just needed a name, any name, to be able to write the dialogue smoothly. I’d start with whatever name I could think of, expecting to go back and change it later, and then it would grow on me and become the right name. Overall, made-up or real, the names had the right sound. But...there are two names I chose for their meaning.

Folasade means “honor earns a crown” (according to babynamesworld.parentsconnect.com). I loved the meaning, and it fit so well with the story that eventually I decided to give the name to...a very significant character.

The other name is Athalia. I was on the fence about using this name for a while. Those of you familiar with the Bible will know that Athaliah was a wicked queen. A very wicked queen. So wicked that I was afraid people who are familiar with her story might be disturbed I had used her name. But the name has a great meaning: “God is exalted.” It seemed a shame for such a wicked queen to be able to ruin such a beautiful name, so I decided to take it back from the evil it was associated with and use it for good. :) It’s meant as a sort of dedication of the book within the actual story, and now it’s the name of a very good queen.

So, there you have it. Mostly.

There is one other name I haven’t mentioned yet: Vestero. All I want to say about his name is...notice the “o” ending. Everything else about his name must remain as mysterious as he. :)


So...what is the book about? And...what age group is the book for?


I wanted to address a couple of questions that seem to come up pretty often, but I wanted to make it entertaining! :) So, I decided to introduce a few of the characters at the same time and let them provide the answers.

(Background information you need to understand the dialogue: Artemerio and Barto are two of the main characters. Barto tells the story, and Artemerio...keeps things interesting. Also introduced here are Lady Wisdom and the jester. The story is along the lines of a fairy tale, and, though it is a children’s novel, the characters are “grown-ups.”)

Here are the top two questions people have had about the book:


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION #1

So...what is the book about?


Barto: What is The Pursuit of a King about, you ask? Artemerio, why don’t you give this one a try?

Artemerio: Right. Okay. Let’s see...there is a...there is a pursuit, and there is a king...and—

Barto: Wait, wait, wait. That’s a little bit obvious, don’t you think?

Artemerio: Some books are nothing like what their titles imply. I want to make clear that this book really has both a pursuit and a king.

Barto: Fair enough. But it doesn’t really give a person a clear idea of what the book is about.

Artemerio: No, I suppose not. I’ll try again. Let’s see...the book is about a king sending us to solve a riddle for him. And—oh, there was the time with the—you know—with the city that was in a canyon. And there were dungeons. And cake. Lots and lots of cake. And—oh, yes! We sailed to—

Barto: Wait, wait, wait. Those things are all parts of the story, but that’s not really what the book is about, is it?

Artemerio: Come to think of it, no. I suppose not. My apologies. I’ll try again. Hmmm...I know! Here goes. The book tells the lighthearted tale of the brothers’—I mean, our—many adventures as they—I mean, we—cross deserts, climb canyon walls, face the evil Dunley—

Barto: Wait, wait, wait. That sounds like the description on the back of the book! Word for word!

Artemerio: Well...I’m sorry, Barto, but how can I answer what the book is about without giving too much away?

Barto: Good point. I have to say, this question is turning out to be much more difficult to answer than I thought.

Artemerio: We should have given this question to Lady Wisdom. I feel sure she would have known what to—oh! Lady Wisdom! Of course! We should mention Lady Wisdom. That’s not giving too much away, is it?

Barto: It can’t be helped. And she is at the very heart of the story.

Artemerio: Lady Wisdom. What would I do without her?

Barto: Fall for Dunley’s evil schemes. Endanger the lives of—

Artemerio: Right. But I didn’t really mean for you to answer that. Let’s get back to the original question. What is the book about? I wish to refer again to the title. The riddle Barto and I set out to solve asks what it is that all good kings pursue. The book is about the answer. Next question.



FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION #2

So...what age group is the book for?


Lady Wisdom: What age group is The Pursuit of a King for, you ask? Artemerio, why don’t you answer this one?

Artemerio: My dear Lady Wisdom, I would be glad to. Let’s see...what age do children start reading? Well, not that age. It is a little more difficult than beginning readers can handle.

Lady Wisdom: So what you mean is that you think children under the age of eight or nine might find it too challenging?

Artemerio: Yes, that sounds about right. And even if they are eight or nine, if they aren’t up to reading books with two hundred or so pages, they might not handle it well. And we don’t want that. Bad things happen to unappreciated books. Oh—and same thing if they are not used to books without pictures. That’s two hundred or so pages of only words. No reason to overwhelm any of the young ones. They’ll be ready for such books soon enough.

Lady Wisdom: But the story itself?

Artemerio: Ah, yes—the story. The story itself is suitable for children younger than eight or nine. The deciding factor for who is old enough to hear the story is, well—attention span—because, again, it’s two hundred pages or so long without pictures. But as far as subject matter goes, it is tame enough to be appropriate for little ones. And, actually, it is the sort of story that is good for them. It’s the sort of story that fills a person’s head with the right sort of thoughts. Of course there is an evil character. Of course he makes very bad plans. Of course there are swords...that sort of thing. So, I recommend that parents with any concerns at all about the subject matter read the story first.

Lady Wisdom: And if adults do read the story, will it hold their attention?

Artemerio: Excellent, Lady Wisdom! We must not leave that part out. Yes, if adults read the story, it will hold their attention. The story is simple enough to be enjoyed at a very basic level. For example...Barto and I are sent to solve a riddle for a king...the evil Dunley attempts to stop us...there you have a classic, basic, good-versus-evil clash that’s simple enough for children to follow. But there are twists and turns to the plot that keep the story exciting and unpredictable, even for adult readers. And the symbolism! I could go on and on about the symbolism. But to answer your question, yes, the story will most definitely hold the attention of adult readers. It’s very much for them, too.

Lady Wisdom: So, just to summarize what you’ve said—the story is simple enough for children to follow but has enough depth to appeal to adults. The suggested age limit is eight or nine, but it may be higher or lower depending on whether the child is up to handling books with two hundred or so pages and without pictures.

Artemerio: Exactly. My dear Lady Wisdom, what would I do without you? Wait—I know, I know. Fall for Dunley’s evil schemes. Endanger the lives of—

Lady Wisdom: Let’s just say that the story would be very different if any of us were missing.

Artemerio: My dear Lady Wisdom, you are being too modest! Without you there would be no story. And even if there were, it wouldn’t be worth reading. And if people did read it, I’m sure they would be the wrong age. And if—

The Jester: Please—does anyone have another question?