I learn something from every book I read. Today I re-learned the danger lurking in character names. In one paragraph, the author had Jamie, Jennifer and Jimmy. One danger is using a name that is acceptable for either sex. I had to think back to remember Jamie was not a guy. A couple of paragraphs later, a last name was mentioned. Oops. Whose last name?
Yes, the full name was given earlier, on a page I read yesterday, and I couldn’t remember the connection. I’ve read books by that author before—a national award-winning writer who is VERY successful—and I’ve had the same problem. First names give way to last names over and over—takes awhile for me to get them all straight, and I “ain’t no dummy.” Makes me wonder how easy it is for other readers to keep ‘em straight.
I have always tried to make it easy for my reader to recognize my characters’ names by the same rule a speaker is supposed to follow. The KISS rule, “Keep it simple, Stupid.” (The Stupid refers to the speaker and the author.)
I give ‘em a name, continue to use it, and keep in unlike any other character’s name.
In my upcoming memoir, I had to change names of real people because there three men with the same name: Bob the hunter, Bob the game warden, and Bob the judge. I changed the hunter’s name, but each time I mention the warden or the judge, I made it clear who was who. By the same token, I try to keep the story/writing above the “simple” because if I don’t, I’ll lose the reader in the first couple of pages.
I think the most important aspect of writing is to avoid confusing the reader—and thereby losing the reader, who won’t come back for another book.
Susan’s novel When Darkness Fell won the Indie Award for best Regional Fiction. Her first novel The Bottom Rail placed as semifinalist in the Georgia Author of the Year Awards for first novel. Two short stories won first place in their genres from the Knoxville Writers Guild in 2015. She has won numerous awards for fiction, nonfiction and poetry at various SWA workshops. She has eight published books, two at the publishers.