Still learning how to write, I don’t always do the right thing at the right time.
The writing luminary Orson Scott Card has rules for naming characters (here and here). The primary rule is that character’s names should not start with the same letter or sound. A sensible rule.
The image below lists all of the named characters in Vengeance Will Come and highlights the problem.
(Those in grey are minor characters who don’t get a point-of-view. Some appear repeatedly, and others are only in a single scene).
Too many names?
There are, arguably, too many names and if possible I’ll cull a few of them during the course of the revision by de-naming them.
The reason for so many characters is two-fold. I admit I find it awkward and unnatural to refer to someone multiple times without assigning them a name. Occasionally I’ll give them a nickname (like “Tuxedo” or “Double Muscle”), but doing that too often also feels unnatural – unless that’s a point of view character quirk. Also, like a good fan of Robert Jordan I plan to take a few of the minor characters and elevate them in subsequent books.
Breaking Uncle Orson’s rule
This is a problem I should have fixed much earlier, but better late than never. You’ll also notice in the original image there are a heck of a lot of characters named with similar letters (S, T and M). So here are my proposed changes:
I’m achieving a few goals with these changes:
- I’m de-stacking the heaviest use letters.
- I’m strategically changing the gender of Teskan (see upcoming post about gender balance).
- I’m structuring names in-world. It’s always bothered me that some characters have two names while others only have the one. This was just how it was and I had no good reason for it. Now I do: important individuals (the elite) in the world get two names, whereas everyone else gets one.
The only difficult, and possibly controversial change I wrestled with was “Three”. My opinion pivoted like a see-saw.
On the one hand some reviewers found it understandably difficult, because it’s a real word with a different meaning. It can therefore trip the brain up for a while.
However some respected reviewers liked it and were upset at my thoughts of altering it.
It does breach Uncle Orson’s rule, and is especially dangerous because another major character (Terefi) use the same letter. I can’t change Terefi because of the origin of his name.
But I was also really fond of the name. It’s so different that I think it helps put an “other world” spin on it. (Which, in hindsight, is kind of ironic because we have some crazy names being used on this planet). As I originally conceived it, it is also more than just a name, though that won’t become apparent until later in the series.
So eventually the see-saw motion stopped and Three remained.
A final warning
The other draw back I’ll warn you about is using words that the grammar checker will work itself into a lather over. Because three is a legitimate word, but capitalising it in the middle of a sentence is not kosher, the grammar checker has a perpetual hissy-fit. Even worse (and I’m not sure I should admit this) “Three” started off as “X”. Just a bad move; I don’t think I could get the spellchecker to ignore the single letter.
Hopefully these changes will help to balance out name-usage and make it easier for my readers. Now it’s just a matter of retraining my brain and muscle memory to type the new names instead of the old.
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