A reader recently contacted me and asked the following:

"I am half way through Gallows Gem, and it is quite exciting. How did you conceptualizer the plot? How did you think of all those names? And how do you pronounce the names? Have you thought of posting an audio file of pronunciation?

Good questions! Here are some thoughts:

Conceptualizing the Plot: I think that all authors are different in how they figure out what the plot is and how to go about telling the story to get from point A to point Z. In the acknowledgements of Gallows Gem, I noted how the project started as a mess and how I needed to bring order to the narrative and figure out a plot from a lot of disparate pieces. 

What really helped me as I went along was that I had a very good feel for at least three principal characters (Charano, The Red Fox, and Ruknor), so I knew where they would want to go and how their arcs should unfold. That provided half the formula. I needed to get Charano into the citadel and then into the Saint Garyn Temple, first with his plan in mind, and then reacting to the sweep of events carrying Prallyn along towards disaster. I needed to get the Red Fox to intersect those plans. And, I needed Ruknor to renege on his promise and return home.

That left me to figure out what they would be up against, but I focussed on the characters, not the narrative. That allowed me the space to see where powerful, driven people would take Prallyn as it lurched towards the abyss. Ferina Saradin, Siko Bikoyo, the Duke of Blackabbey, Archprelate Lovyn, Prelate Stanfyr, Miss Thrynn took the narrative to where it needed to go just by advancing their own interests and being true to themselves. At some point I did have to make sure the timing was all aligned, but I really just hung on for the ride in many ways.

Thinking Up Names: This is tricky, because the names have to ring true with the culture from which the character hails … I couldn’t have a Baranthu warrior called Steve after all! The Baranthu names were heavily influenced by East and Southern African naming conventions, and that was easiest in many ways. They likely stand out for readers in Gallows Gem. The Thryll names often had a practical descriptor, “eg. Stoutwall or Blackabbey” or had a “Y” in them, just to give them a common look and feel. 

I have taken this a step farther in Harbinger … for the Fjordlanders, I took either some genuine Norse names, or I tweaked them by changing, adding or subtracting a letter (Helgya arising from Helga, for example). When they get to Straeland, I gave the names a Germanic feel by doing the same thing to German names (Wolfgar arising from Wolfgang). It seems to work.

Pronunciation: An audio file might well be a good idea … especially seeing as I now seem able to generate them! In the absence of such guidance, though, I dare say that a reader is right to pronounce the names in whatever way adds verisimilitude to the narrative. I won’t hold it against you! 

ian at ianmckinley dot com (written this way to guard against spam … you know how to interpret it) © Ian McKinley 2016