Fantasy writers are unique in that they take a flat piece of paper, build a world on it, then populate that world all the way down to the size of the points on an elf’s ears. Swear words, pets, fashion, politics, and what’s for dinner–we create it all. It’s a true work of love!
My favorite task in starting a new book or series is the naming of characters. That involves a series of steps (for me, anyway). First of all, I must decide where my world will be based, e.g., language, customs, mythology, etc. Usually I use the Celtic world, followed by Germanic or Japanese. The latter surprises some people, but I lived in Japan twice in my life, for several years. In my “Ring-Witch of Nesht” series, the codes the dragons live by are based on bushido, the codes of morals developed by the samurai. I tweaked the Eight Virtues of the Samurai until they were dragon-centric, and became the Eight Virtues of the Great White Dragon. Such fun! They are like a religion to the dragons, and the dominant dragon, Gaulte, has realized that his Clan might not be able to live by those rules and live with witches, as well. How will the others of his Clan handle that?
Once I’ve placed my characters into a suitable culture I get to start developing them, including what they look like, their strengths and weaknesses, are they rich, do they fight, do magic, or something else, and so on. And then their names. I’ve been accused of trying to make them hard to say, impossible to remember, and just plain weird. A character’s name may change several times before I find a fit. I say them aloud, talk to them, give them a voice…in short, they’re now a person. More fun!
Now each major character is ready to climb into my head and take over. Seriously, sometimes it’s difficult to make them behave. So, we start working on the story. And that’s a story for another day!