July 14, 2012

Spoiled Villains

I've mentioned before that I sometimes get hung up on name meanings when I'm naming my characters in my WIPs. My current WIP is riddled with significant names, which has provided all kinds of fun for my CP, Elodie. Other projects I've started planning have strayed from this somewhat, but that's not really the point of this post. So moving on to the point...

Um...No, you don't have anything in your teeth.
If you're a writer and you like your characters to have significant names, make sure that it doesn't turn into a big fat spoilerfest. That is to say, don't use foreign language names to 'disguise' the fact that your villain is the supremo bad guy. Because what happens if your readers actually know that language? Surprise! You've ruined the big reveal from the get-go. Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter (translated literally from French: Vol-de-mort = Flight of Death) is okay because we know very early on that he's the bad guy. Similarly, Dr. Totenkopf in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (translated literally from German: Toten-kopf = Dead Head or even something akin to 'skull') also works because there's no real question that he's the villain. But if the villain isn't revealed until the conclusion, don't give it away with a spoiler-y name! So, so frustrating. Gah!

I'm not going to point fingers at the latest offender, but I found myself ready to fling the book across the room when the 'big reveal' (not) actually happened. Throughout the whole book I kept thinking that maybe the name was a red herring or something...wrong. The author just thought a French conglomeration of words was sneaky and/or clever.

Again: wrong, faux, falsch, falso.*

Spoilers suck pants. Avoid them in you're writing. That's my free piece of writing advice for today, for what it's worth.


* I'm not even sure if these are right, but whatever.

16 comments:

  1. Good point! Plus, I always think: "Wow. His/her parents wanted him/her to be evil." Which TOTALLY takes any remaining believability out of the story.

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    1. Yeah, no doubt. In this case it was his surname, but then I think I'd maybe consider getting it changed or something. :)

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  2. Ooh, excellent points!

    (I totally want to know what you read XP)

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    1. I would totally have mentioned it because it was a really good book, but I didn't want to spoil anyone on the villain if they haven't read it yet. :)

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  3. I only recently started paying attention to name meanings and origins. Normally I would just name a character based on gut feelings alone. Now I double check my character names with those baby names websites. Personally, I prefer bad guys with regular names, like Peter, or Bob. :D

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    1. For some reason, in this WiP it felt important to me, though in the revision process I care a little less. I do think it's important to have names that work with certain eras or types of stories, though. :)

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  4. I feel the same way. My first novel(a fantasy) was written with everyone's names in mind. With the contemporary I am revising, the characters come with their names whether I like it or not. The "antagonist" is the MC's boyfriend who is a sexy Irish dude named Cass(Cassidy). :)

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    1. Yeah, I think as I write more, my character names (in other WiPs) just sort of come to me because they feel like they fit. I'm not nearly so hung up on name meanings now. :)

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  5. Very interesting. I saw an agent tweet a few weeks ago that she had seen a lot of names that actually meant 'shit' in another language. I asked her about it, and she said it wasn't even the same one over and over. It was several languages. Strange.

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    1. I laughed so hard when I read this. Really?! That's just terrible. I'm always wary of giving my characters foreign names if I'm not 100% sure of its meaning. Plus, there's always the concern that it will sound like something dirty in another language. Not the same word, but sounds like a word commonly used for something inappropriate, you know? :)

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  6. Good point; if you know the bad guy is the bad guy all along, not a big deal.

    I choose names I like, and that are era-specific (for historical). I don't tend to delve much into the meanings of the names, although I think that has a stronger effect in fantasy. In contemporary stories it feels a bit overkill unless it's handled well.

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    1. It really kind of ruined the big reveal for me, which was a little irritating. Great book, but why would she do that??? I think era-specific names are really important. I've been planning a story set in Victorian times, and I wanted to make sure that the names I chose were actually used then, so I did a little research. I'm sort of losing the compulsion to give my characters names with significance. Thank goodness for that! It was a giant time-suck. :)

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  7. What's especially interesting with Voldemort is that his name is a bit spoiler-y, since it speaks to his ultimate magical ambition: to flee death. That was why he created the horcruxes. So it's not necessarily an obvious spoiler, but it certainly says more than "I'm the bad guy--fear me!" :)

    I try to be careful with character names, whether heroes or villains, to make sure they are culturally appropriate. I'm not always as strategic as to give them particular meaning for the story, but I don't want to give a 16-year-old American boy a name that would be inappropriate for his time frame and upbringing. Unless, of course, there's good reason. A 16-yr-old boy called Obadiah might sound a little odd, unless you learn his parents were particularly into the biblical Minor Prophets, or perhaps came from an Amish family. But I should probably think more of symbolic names. Everyone likes a little symbolism--in moderation, of course. :)

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    1. Ha! You're totally right about Voldemort's name actually being a little spoiler-y. Hmmm. I think sometimes authors don't give their readers credit for being able to figure this stuff out. Sometimes what's meant to be a clue/hint turns into the worst sort of spoiler, which is never good.

      I'm careful about character names as far as being era-specific and culturally-specific, but I'm starting to lose the need to make sure their names are significant. It was a massive time-suck, so I'm relieved. :)

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  8. Huh, aside from Harry Potter, I don't believe I've every come across a book where the villain's name actually gave him away! But I must try to avoid those books...
    Normally when I write characters, I just tend to go for names that I just really like!

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  9. A little symbolism goes a long way. HP is full over too aptly named characters. Remus Lupin, anyone? If I were a werewolf I'd have bitten Remus too, just out of spite :)

    I try to make the names in my story 'fit', but I'm not too hung up on the name's meaning.

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