What I'm reading: Hour Game, by David Baldacci
The first serious work begins on our house today, and I'm hoping it won't be totally disruptive. We'll have to see. We're starting with the painting and the master bedroom closet installation. I'm hoping that the closet installers show up at the beginning of their window so we can put all our clothes away, meaning less stuff in the way of the painters.
Last week, I talked about a story "bible" for keeping track of things, and how I hadn't really done as much along those lines as I should. Keeping track of characters' names is one of the basic skills any author should acquire. Regardless of how one chooses to do it, you really have to avoid confusing your readers. I'd like to share my system.
I recently read a book by a major, big name, best-selling author. It was a good book, but I wondered why she'd chosen the character names she used in the book. And I don't mean places where she was locked into names because the characters were in the same family—that's unavoidable, so you have to be careful not to refer to them by their last names.
But in this book, a player of significance introduced early on was Doug. Then we meet who we assume will be the hero, and his name is Derek. And another who's referred to by his last name, which is Dodge. There's another character with the last name of Duke, but at least we see his first name being the one on the page more often. Oh, and there's a Dora. The hero's assistant is Marlene. The hero has a dog named Maggie.
I strive to avoid too many characters whose names start with the same letter—at least if they're on the page a lot. It's easy for sleepy reader eyes to pick up only the initial and get confused.
Since I don't have a real 'bible' yet, I'll share what I've been using. I got this from a workshop given by author Jeremiah Healy at a SleuthFest conference a number of years ago, and I've done my best to stick with it. And one other thing he suggested. Once you've named your hero (and heroine), you should NOT use those initials for any other character in that book. Of course, writing connected books, it's often impossible to keep ALL the names unique.
So, here's what I do: I create a spreadsheet. (Don't panic. You can use a Word table if Excel scares you). I list all the letters of the alphabet in two separate columns. One for first names, one for last names. Then, whenever I name a character, I fill in the name. It's easy to see if I'm filling up the M's or the L's, and I find different names.
I also color-code for my POV players, other major roles, and my throwaway names. I'm more likely to repeat an initial if the other character is little more than a walk-on.
Below my columns for names, I wrote the actual character name so I can track those, and then if I found a detail I needed to remember, such as a specific character trait, or the car the character drove, or something else I deemed significant, I'd note that as well.
This is the sort of information that lays the foundation for the story "bible". If you're intimidated (as I was) to create a major document, this might help.
If you'd like to look at my rudimentary spreadsheet I used when working on my mystery, you can see it here. It's a draft version--some names are questioned because I wasn't sure if that character was even going to show up. And, being lazy, sometimes if I decided on a different name for a character, I neglected to adjust the spreadsheet. But this should give you an idea.
Tomorrow is a real treat -- multi-published author Cleo Coyle will share not only writing tips, but RECIPES! You can't miss this one.