Not long ago, a post was going around Facebook and various writing and book blogs. Apparently J.K. Rowling had finally revealed the correct pronunciation of Voldemort’s name (silent T).
I have to admit that I was a little “that’s what you get” about the whole thing.
If you write fantasy or science fiction, you spend a certain amount of time world-building. This world-building can consist of the actual planet your character is on, the society in which he lives and even language. When some writers play with language for their stories, they create names for the characters. Rowling had Voldemort (silent T). McCaffrey had F’lar and Robinton.
Done well, if you add more layers and more details the story becomes more real. But it can also be confusing for the reader if this reality involves a lot of author-created (polite term for made up) character names, place names and nouns. The author has to be careful introducing these elements because if you pile on too many too fast the reader has troubles keeping track of them. You also can’t have multiple names that sound too much alike — starting with the same letter, having the same number of syllables, or rhyming. That confuses the reader too.
As Rowling, and many a writer before her, discovered, it also becomes problematic when the reader isn’t sure how to pronounce the author-created names. You can provide a handy-dandy pronunciation guide but I have to admit that as a reader these grow tedious really, really fast. I’ll flip over to see how to say the first two or thee names but then I don’t them.
As vital as your fantasy world is for a strong story you also have to make it truly accessible to your reader, pronunciation and all.