How an sf writer names his characters

Scott Westerfeld, a writer of wonderful young adult sf novels, has posted a great little meditation on how he names his characters — balancing out the need to have names that taste futuristic, but that don't jar the reader on every reading. It's a great little piece on how writers think about language, made-up words, and the way that names evolve over time.

Uglies takes place 300 years in the future. Names probably won't be the same as now. So I needed something that's not a current name, but that doesn't make your brain fritz when you read it. So I chose a regular word in English.

That's right: "tally" as in "count." As in "Hey, Mr. Tally-man, tally me bananas."

Thus, the little spell-checker in your brain doesn't ping every time your eyes scan across those letters. (And the real-world MS Word spell-checker doesn't draw a squiggly line under it.) "Tally" is capitalized, of course, so you know it's a name, but otherwise "tally" reads as a perfectly normal word.

But not too common. When's the last time you actually used the verb "tally" in a sentence, like "Let me tally those Scrabble scores for you, Old Chum?"


See also:
Midnighters: YA horror trilogy mixes Lovecraft with adventure
Conclusion of Westerfeld's Uglies and Pretties trilogy is out
Vampire novel as a work of first-rate science fiction
Cool-hunter detective story