Ask Robin on a Monday


So I rang a very nice touch of Stedman Doubles tonight at Old Eden where the calls were all in weird places (which is something that happens with frelling Stedman*) and I had to perform both cats’ ears and coathangers** and I did it all*** and I feel all flushed with success.† And this morning wasn’t half bad either.†† So while I’m feeling as if I have the answers to everything††† I thought I’d tackle an Ask Robin.

My question is about characters’ names. I’ve tried writing some fantasy stories, so I know how hard it can be to come up with new, mythical-sounding names. But when you do it, there seems to be a system to the names. What I mean is that although the names are completely made up, groups of names fit the cultures/countries they are in. I’m thinking particularly of the Damar names, where the names all fit the Damarian culture and linguistic sound, even though the culture and the names are all fictional. Do you have a system for coming up with names? I heard from one writer that he takes common names and re-invents their spelling so that they look exotic. Do you do anything like that? Or do they just come to you?

At least some of the answer to this is somewhere on the web site, but I can’t find it. I would have sworn it was in the FAQ under one of those general writery questions, but . . . I can’t find it. Arrgh. So if this looks kind of familiar to you and you can find it . . . will you please tell me where it is?

I’m also amused that the asker says ‘groups of names fit the cultures/countries they are in’. Yaay. Success. One of the biggest, hairiest challenges about writing fantasy or science fiction is making your ‘imaginary’ countries and creatures feel real, feel like a consistent whole—or an inconsistent one, for that matter, the way the sometimes-more-and-sometimes-less consensual reality we live in here is so often drastically inconsistent.


Robert Abbett and A Princess of Mars


Many SF enthusiasts may not have heard of Robert Abbett. He made his mark in mainstream illustration, but would do science fiction and fantasy art from time to time. He painted all the covers for a paperback series of Tarzan. But he first tackled Burroughs’ Martian stories.

This to me is one of the best A Princess of Mars covers ever done for the series. Painted in the mid-sixties, it captures that era of paperback style: from the handsome Napolean Solo look of John Carter, to the blue eye-shadowed, brunette Deja Thoris.

Look at the moment caught here. It’s an odd slice of painting. Who’s he battling and what’s Deja fearful of? We don’t know, but we can suspect it is large, green, has four arms, and goes by the name of Thark.

From the wonderful color scheme of warm flesh against cool greens to the slap-dash brushwork, this painting has carried my interest for 40+ years. I love the way Abbett’s brush strokes carve around Deja’s shoulder and hair; I love the angle on John’s back and shoulders. Even the foreshortened sword is right on.


I really like the blog written by Robin McKinley, being the huge namenerd that I am (names being place names as well as character names). I find that kind of thing fascinating, and I get so excited at interestingly thought out names. Subtle nominative determinism is definitely my friend!

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