Quick Edits is a short feature where I give quick editing advice on how to handle common problems in fiction writing.
I haven’t done a QE in a long time! I’m excited to bring it back 🙂
To know and use someone’s True Name is power.
You might wonder what this has to do with writing fiction. As authors, we have power and control over our readers while they read our books. We use this power to create stories in their imaginations that, hopefully, elicit the emotions we’re looking to pull from them.
The names you choose for your characters play an important role in this. Is your yuppie lawyer named Tyler? Or Brittney? Or Ahmed? Each of these names will bring up a different vision for your reader, before you’ve even begun to describe them physically.
William Edward Charles Weddingham III
Who do you envision when you see that name? A stuffy, suit-garbed, man, perhaps in his 50s, perhaps British? What if I told you that yes, he’s wearing a suit and tie, but he’s Jamaican with rasta braids tied back into a long ponytail down his back and when he’s not working in his investment firm, his friends call him Chuck?
Play with stereotypes to your advantage. You can play directly to them. Or you can break them. (I encourage you to break them 😉 )
Avoid Naming Echoes
One thing I see with relative frequency, particularly with newer writers, has to do with what I call “naming echoes.” This is the tendency to name characters with the same first letter: John, Jessica, Jerry. Sometimes, it’s deliberate (sometimes authors think it’s clever), but usually I think it’s unconscious.
Regardless of the “why,” it’s generally not a good idea to name characters in a similar way, whether that’s first letters or names that sound like each other. This is because readers will often read quickly, especially if they really want to know what happens next (yay!). If you have both John and Johanna as character names, it would not be difficult for a reader to mistake which character did what thing.
As a reader, I’ve done this. Nothing pulls me out of a story faster than a reference to something one character did when I think a different character did it. Then I have to go back, find the scene, and re-read it. And that messes up my entire experience of the book. To be clear, it’s my fault that I misread. But it is an easy fix for an author that will avoid the problem altogether.
Have a look at your WIP. Do you have a “naming echo” issue? I tend to lean toward female names that end in ‘a’ for some reason. So when I’m naming my characters now, I pay attention to that specifically. I also seem to like “J” names a lot (as evidenced by this post 😉 ). So I keep an eye out for those also.
Figure out your own “naming echo” issues so that when you name characters, you do it intentionally.
Are there any editing issues you run into that you’d like covered in the Quick Edits series? Drop a comment below!
MandySeptember 11, 2020 at 11:55 pm
I read this this other day and had it in my mind when reading over a scene. I realized that not only did I have a name last sound echo, but that there was a problem with one of the names overall. Ack! At least I caught it.
VenessaSeptember 12, 2020 at 1:00 pm
Whew! Yes, at least you caught it!! 🙂