Last month’s book club choice was from a bunch of bestseller and book club lists. It was one of those “family” stories with a sizeable cast of characters. You know the kind — three or four sisters with partners and/or lovers and children and a couple of pets.
I was a hundred pages into the read when I started to feel the kind of angst I can only get from a thick Russian novel. I just couldn’t keep the characters apart. I had to resort to getting out a recipe card and writing down names and identities. I felt defeated until the night of the club meeting. I was late and in the hallway taking off my shoes when I heard from the living room: “Did anyone else have trouble keeping the characters apart?”
The answer was “Yes.” The next question was, “Why?”
One confusion was easy to figure out (thanks in large part to my cheat sheet). Two of the male characters, partners of two of the women, had four-letter names with the same two first letters. But the three main female characters had dissimilar names. Perhaps the confusion was that two of them worked together. I have to admit I’ve never really thought about name choice when editing a piece of fiction. Should I? And what criteria do I use if I were to suggest a change to the author?
I know there are lots of fiction editors out there. What are your thoughts on critiquing names when editing fiction?
Previous post from Melva McLean: Writing Wrongs in Fiction.
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