Have you ever read, or started to read, a book that had a dozen characters in the first chapter alone? By the time you get to the second chapter, the relationships between the dozen(s) of characters becomes about as clear as a muddy lake. By the third chapter, you’ve given up and the book goes in the pile to go to the second-hand store. There’s just no way to keep up with that character tree, and still have enough energy left to understand the story.
I think it’s important to put a limit on exactly how many characters will be involved, be extremely cautious with their names, and only keep in the characters that truly drive the story. While all of the ancillary characters my bring “character” and color to a story, if you’ve confused the reader with the sheer volume of them, your reader is going to give up and move on to something that isn’t so much work. We read fiction for fun and entertainment. Reading is an escape. Why make the escape complicated?
I would venture to add that keeping character names distinct is also important. If there is a Susan, Sandra, Sarah, and Sally in the same story, I’m going to forget who is who. Distinct names for characters is almost as important as keeping the total number of characters limited. The more the reader has to go back and figure out who all these people are, the quicker you are going to lose them.
The last point I’d like to make is to choose names for your characters that are easily pronounceable. If the reader has to stop each time the name is shown, in order to pronounce it in their heads, again, you are going to lose their interest. Making up a fabulous name that only you, the author, knows how to pronounce is definitely creative, but not conducive to keeping a reader. Use traditional or at least easily pronounceable phonetic standards for your names, and reconsider the name entirely if you find yourself typing it wrong when you are writing the story. Clarity and speed of being able to read the text are more important than a fancy and “unique” character name.
There’s nothing wrong with a good old Virginia, Katherine, Shannon, or Amelia as a character name. The same goes for Stephen, Kevin, David, Austin, or Thomas. Think simple. Put the complexity in the story, where it will be more easily appreciated.
What character names have you used in your writing? Do they have special meaning? Tell me about it in the comments!
Fairest of the Faire – available now!
Schoolteacher Connie Meyers is suddenly a young widow, her husband killed in a horrific car accident. Heartbroken to find out he had gambled away everything they had, she moves to her sister-in-law’s Midwest home to rebuild her life. A trip to the local Renaissance Faire with her nieces leads to a summer job as a costumed storyteller.
Avowed bad boy and fair performer Gage Youngblood is infatuated with Connie at first sight. Despite his deliberately commitment-free life, and Connie’s don’t-touch-me attitude, he soon has her in his arms, realizing quickly she is also in his heart.
When she is threatened by her late husband’s bookie, he steps into the role of protector, his fate forever sealed with hers.
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