Coming up with names, especially in fantasy (in my opinion) is difficult. In other forms of fiction, you have a great deal of stuff already in place for you. If you’re writing a modern crime thriller that’s set in Chicago then you already have street names, places, foods, drinks, and even a huge list of people names to choose from. You can assume that most of your audience is familliar with the things you’ll be mentioning in your story. It’s a fun challenge, but it’s not the same as creating everything from scratch. I’ve mentioned before how I had spent years playing in online role-play forums and groups and when the “I” showed up for this challenge, I thought of talking about how the name “Itralos” came about.
Some of my role-play friends and I wanted to create a fun setting to play in, but the first challenge for this is naming the place. I’ve had a system for naming things in fiction for a long time and it involves using dice.
Dice are a staple in most forms of gaming because they allow fate to play a part in events. How large or how small a part that will be is up to the players and the Game Master, but in the best games, dice are a tool for fairness and variety and not something to define how things will happen. They are also great for decision making.
When I can’t decide on something, I bring in dice. Since Itralos was to be a setting joined in for online forum-style gaming, or shared adventure storytelling in chat rooms, my friends and I utilized the built-in dice chucker that AOL had at the time. I don’t know if it’s still around now; it’s been several years since I visited an AOL chat room.
In one of these chat rooms, the root idea for the name of Itralos was born:
J.R. “So what should we name it?”
S. “I’m not sure.”
J.R. “How about we each think of a letter and go from there?”
J.R.”Alright, we’ll roll a 1d3 (because you could do weird stuff like that in AOL dice chucking) S, your choice is 1, P’s is 2, I’m 3.”
I can’t remember what the other letter choices were between the three of us, but the die was cast and we settled on the initial letter. The result was I.
Then we each created a name that started with that letter, and the die decided for us again. I’m pleased to say that Itralos was my suggestion and I was happy the die was in my favor for it.
I’ve used this system for determining character names, place names, and other names when I couldn’t settle on a single idea. I’ve yet to use the dice for anything more detailed or involved, like creating a character’s backstory, but that’s not something I’d rule out either…
“Okay rolling a 1d10, even numbers he’s an elephant trainer, odd numbers he’s a retired army general.”
The randomizing factor in throwing a handful of dice to help decide something is certainly a way to spark your creativity and think outside of the box for things.
If you use dice as a means to decide between two or more choices, and you really don’t want what the dice ends up choosing, then you know you aren’t really in love with that choice and it can be eliminated. So whether you end up with what your dice select or not, you at least narrow down your variables and can be closer to a decision you’ll be happy with. And then you can get back to writing.