What's in a Name?
Moving onto a couple more questions that have been waiting for me in the Ask the Author section – both relating to choices of names in Legion of the Damned.
“Reading through Legion of the Damned currently. What is the origin of "Santiarch"? At first I thought it was the chaplain's name, but now it appears to be a title of sorts?”
“In other news, now that Legion of the Damned is in my (digital) possession, I'm happy to report it's being thoroughly enjoyed so far. (And from what others have said hereabouts the initial reactions seem to be impressively positive.) More'n that, I can't stress enough my appreciation for what you've mentioned in your previous response: the time taken to add in a detail. But in any case, it's thoroughly enjoyed in the reading, even though I'm only still just starting the book. Also, Ichabod's a cracking name for a space marine.”
Thanks guys. Both these questions relate to names and the naming of things. I take names very seriously. Nothing creates a sense of character more than a name. Nothing creates a sense of a location or (as in science fiction) a place removed, than the names of your characters. In answer to the first – the name or title Santiarch really came from mixing the titles Reclusiarch and Master of Sanctity. Although the codexes are a good guide, they cannot possibly cover the individual terms and cultural differences of thousands of Space Marine chapters. These chapters are going to call different things different names and titles. The trick here is verisimilitude. It must sound like something that already exists but actually be something new. This both interests the reader but confirms expectations. Authors want readers that are kept entertained by detail as well as plot, but at the same time don’t want to confuse them. In a science fiction setting, it is surprisingly easy to lose readers. Something that appears concrete and obvious in your mind sometimes simply isn’t conveyed as well as it could be in the words you have selected and the reader finds it difficult to make the split-second connection you need them to. Personally, I prefer Santiarch to both of the original terms – but I’m biased.
This relates nicely to the mention of detail in the second question. I feel that fictional worlds should be rich. If you are going to invite readers into another world (as with science fiction, fantasy or perhaps even historical fiction) the least you can do is furnish the damn place with interesting detail and descriptions. There are some readers – and authors – who don’t like doing this. This is fair enough. We live in a time heavily influenced by televisual formats. If you ever read books on how to write scripts and screenplays, you will see the same thing. The use of even single adjectives is frowned upon. Straightforward mentions of colour, size or emotion are denounced (by authors – who think everyone should write like them and even readers who aren’t writers) as what people like to term purple prose. This is a ridiculous term. There is prose. Good prose. Bad prose. Readers can enjoy both but there is not a cast iron rulebook about what writers can and cannot do. It seems the fashion today, however, to write bland and featureless prose. This fashion seems to have taken over fiction writing also – even though it is totally misplaced. Everything is cut down to its barest essentials. This is fine for screenplays – but I don’t write screenplays. One of the reasons that many writers don’t bother with detail is because it’s one of the most difficult things to manage in fiction. It requires one hell of an imagination to create worlds even down to the change in your character’s pockets and some writers simply aren’t up to it. Either that or they can’t be bothered to convincingly furnish their fictional worlds. So they use short cuts like not including any detail at all and denounce any that do as writers of purple prose. I personally think that this ‘short changes’ the reader. Most readers would rather read detailed and well-crafted descriptive prose than a failed script masquerading as a novel.
In respect to the name Ichabod and the names of the different Excoriators, I chose to give them a common origin. The Excoriators all share a similar culture and so it helps if their names sound like they share a quality of some kind. Authors can just make names up but I tend to resist that unless the name has a particular phonetic sound that I want. In the case of the Excoriators I went largely for biblical sounding names. This gives all of the characters a unity that is appreciated by the reader – even if it is only an unconscious appreciation. In the reader’s mind everything seems to fit – and this is a good thing because it contributes to wilful suspension of disbelief (which authors cannot do without!)