March is NaNoEdMo—National Novel Editing Month. When I was laying down the first draft of my current work in progress, somehow I managed to give every walk-on a name, right down to the dog. I generally write to an outline, but sometimes my stream-of-consciousness takes over, and the outline goes out the window.
So, now I’m on a mission to whittle down my cast of thousands.
But who should go and who should stay? What is the optimal number of characters for a book? Some say only four, others fifteen. I say introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story, but use common sense.
When you introduce a named character, ask yourself if it is someone the reader should remember. Even if he or she offers information the protagonist and reader must know, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to named. Some throw-away characters will give us clues to help our protagonist complete his/her quest, or show us something about the protagonist, give us a clue into their personality or past.
Does the person return later in the story or does he or she act as part of the setting, showing the scenery of, say, a coffee shop, or a store? If they are just part of the scenery, they don’t need a name.
Only give names to characters who advance the plot.
In an excellent article on screenwriting, Christina Hamlett of the Writer’s Store writes:
In a screenplay, the rhythm you're attempting to establish--along with the emotional investment you're asking a reader to make--is disrupted whenever you devote more than two lines of introduction to a character who is simply there to take up space. In order to justify their existence, each player in your script should perform a unique function or deliver a specific line that:
While she is speaking of screenplays, this is true of a novel or short story. A name implies a character is an important part of the story. Ask yourself if the character is an example of “Chekhov’s Gun.” Does this character serve a purpose the reader must know? If not, don’t give them a name.
My current work in progress has this passage, which takes place in an inn and involves a conversation overheard from a table adjacent to my two protagonists and their sidekicks:
The older merchant’s face darkened at the mention of the prince and his henchman. Quickly looking over his shoulder at the other guests in the common room, he hushed his son. “We’ll have no more mention of them at this table. If the wrong person overhears such talk, we’ll all end our days in our own beds with our throats slit!”
Culyn’s eyebrow rose, and he looked at Jack, who nodded.
Despite the fact the merchant and his sons give my protagonists information they needed, they are in this scene for only one purpose: to be overheard and don't appear again. For this reason, only Jack and Culyn, and the three others of their party are named in the full transcript of this scene.
Novelists can learn a great deal about how to write a good, concise scene from screenwriters. An excellent book I have gained a lot of knowledge from is Story by Robert McKee. If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend it.
We want the reader to stay focused on the protagonist(s) and their story. The second draft is where we make every effort to find the distractions we may have inadvertently introduced in our rough draft, and extraneous named characters is an easy one to fix. Simply remove their name, and identify them in general terms. The reader will move on and forget about them.
The tendency to make every character a memorable person is one we can’t indulge. The reader will become confused if too many characters are named.
Also, I learned a difficult lesson the hard way about naming characters. In the Tower of Bones Series, I have a main character named Marya. She is central to the series. Also, in the first book, a side character was important enough to have a name, but my mind must have been in a rut when I thought that one up: for some stupid reason I named her Marta.
You can probably see where this is going—the two names are nearly identical.
What is even worse, halfway through the first draft of the second book in the series, Marta suddenly was a protagonist with a major storyline. She actually becomes Marya’s mother-in-law in the third book. Fortunately, I was in the final stage of editing book one, Tower of Bones, for publication, and immediately realized I had to make a major correction: Marta was renamed Halee.
My rule now is to NEVER name two characters in such a way that the first and last letters of their names are the same. To avoid that circumstance, I try to never have two that even begin with the same letter.
One last thing to consider: how will that name be pronounced when it is read out loud? You may not want to get too fancy with the spelling, so that the narrator can easily read that name aloud. You may not think this matters, but it does. I only have one book that is an Audio book, but during the recording of that book, my narrator had trouble pronouncing the names of two characters, because I had written the names so they would look good on paper, not realizing they were unpronounceable as they were written. We ironed that out, but the experience taught me to spell names simply.
In conclusion, don’t confuse your readers by giving unimportant walk-on characters names, never name two characters names that are nearly identical, and consider making your spellings of names and places pronounceable just in case you decide to have your book made into an audio book.
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.
Credit: Minor Characters Don't Need Major Introductions, Christina Hamlett, Copyright © 1982 - 2017 The Writers Store ® Incorporated, accessed Mar. 11, 2017.
Today we are going to talk about three ways to get your name and your work in front of prospective readers. One of the most surprising and random of these venues is Pinterest. This strange site has been incredibly useful in attracting readers to my author blog. And, lets be real, NOTHING is easier than setting up a Pinterest account and getting started there.
What is this Pinterest? It’s like a scrap-booking site for things you find on the web. You ‘PIN’ things you come across on the web, and then your followers can repin them if they are as pleased with it as you are.
According to Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge: Pinterest is a pinboard-style photo sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, hobbies, and more. Users can browse other pinboards for inspiration, ‘re-pin’ images to their own pinboards, or ‘like’ photos.
SO what does this have to do with your career as an author? I don’t know, exactly. But it works for me in that it drives interested people to my blog. I think the value is in the connections you make through pinning and re-pinning things that interest you. These things represent your interests, i.e. motorcycles, collecting silver tea-strainers, BOOKS, anything.
I have two boards: Writers’ Paradise and Vegan and Loving It (Mostly). AT the top of the page, you will see my bio and the link to my blog. You only get 160 characters to write your bio with, so use them wisely.
Quote from Pinterest’s help page: A pin starts with an image or video you add to Pinterest. You can add a pin from a website using the Pin It bookmarklet or upload an image right from your computer. Any pin on Pinterest can be repinned, and all pins link back to their source.
The important thing here is the part about ALL pins linking back to their source. My Pinterest boards are located at http://pinterest.com/cjjasp/
Next, we are going out to something called Wattpad: FROM WIKIPEDIA:
Wattpad describes itself as “the best place to discover and share stories.” It’s a YouTube for electronic text stories. The content includes work by undiscovered and published writers. Delivery emphasizes the mobile phone platform, using the free Freda ebook reader. According to Wattpad founder and CEO Ivan Yuen, “marketers can currently upload material for reading by mobile users at no charge.”
About nine in 10 users are readers rather than writers. Around four in ten users are U.S. based; traffic also comes from the U.K., Canada, the Philippines, Australia, and more. Approximately 75 percent of users access the site through their mobile device.
The most popular genres on Wattpad.com and the Wattpad mobile app include Romance, Paranormal, and Fan Fiction. The site is also home to Poetry, Humor, Science Fiction, Thriller, and others.
Get a Wattpad account and start posting short stories and poems that reflect your best work.
The first thing to know is that your User Name should be your Author Name with no spaces, as ALL your work is published on Wattpad under that name. Mine is: http://www.wattpad.com/user/ConnieJJasperson . I have several short stories out there and plan to post one a month for this next year. I have a bunch hanging around that just need a bit of polishing. I may serialize a novel there.
This is a GREAT venue to develop a fan base. Indie Author Shaun Allan published his book, Sin, one chapter at a time on Wattpad and in the space of one month he had over 289,000 reads!
Is Shaun’s success a fluke? I don’t think so. He has found an international fan base there, and his other work via Amazon, iTunes, and Audible sell accordingly. Do I have to say any more? I didn’t think so.
You Tube – why would I even mention this?
I have several book trailers posted on my blog and on the websites for my different worlds. These are short, 60 second or so, commercials for my books. Mine are embedded on my Facebook author page, my Goodreads page, my Amazon Author page, and on my websites.
The purpose is to give prospective readers an idea of what to expect if they buy one of my books. I have no data available to say if they work or not as far as generating sales go, but they may.
Facebook counts clicks on that link, and in the weeks since I embedded it on my page I get a click every now and then. My feeling is this: if a person who is interested enough to click on this link is wondering about your book, you have that one little foot in the door. Why not take advantage of it?
Book Trailers aren’t a requirement, but they are fun to make, and they cost me nothing. I get the music for free from my daughter, Margaret, who is a fabulous musician, or from Tom Cusack’s Free Music For Videos, to which I make a small, voluntary donation for the use of their music. Donations are not required, but I like to support the artists.
I make my own trailers using Windows Live Movie Maker, and using royalty free and/or Public Domain images. This is the link to the trailer for my Tower of Bones series, set in the World of Neveyah:
World of Neveyah Book Trailer Featuring ‘Sway,’ written and performed by Margaret
Dreamstime.com is an inexpensive source of royalty free stock photos. When you purchase from them, you also have a great record of the legal work for your own files.
It does take some time and research to locate images and music that
Make a short script using the blurb from the back of your book, keep it down to 30 or 60 seconds and voila! You’re a producer!
If you don’t want to deal with Windows Live Movie Maker (which is a hinky program at best,) a GREAT site for doing this for free or very cheaply is called ANIMOTO. Many authors go to this site for affordable trailers for their websites.
Pinterest, Wattpad, and YouTube – three free resources for getting eyes on your author name. Why not give them a try? You have nothing to lose, and if they don’t work for you as well as they did for others, you have lost nothing.
Sources and Attributions:
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at
Life in the Realm of Fantasy.
Wikipedia contributors, "Pinterest," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pinterest&oldid=766085139 (accessed February 27, 2017).
Wikipedia contributors, "Wattpad," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wattpad&oldid=767648661 (accessed February 27, 2017).