Friday, May 10, 2013

#1 Critique Partner Series - On Characters

As I gear up for my writers' conference in the end of June, I'm doing a lot of reading "outside my box." I've recently had several people ask me what I read.  My standard response is, "Oh, you know, just about everything.  I'm not a huge fan of non-fiction, but I've read a few.  I mostly read YA now, but I'm a huge fan of Literature with a capital L."  Now, as I race to read and critique four novels in four weeks (one of which is nearly 500 pages long--yipes!), I've discovered how my answer of "Just about everything," doesn't quite fit the bill.  I guess I never realized how limited the range of genres I read actually is.

But this isn't the point of this whole post.  After spending three hours last night reading through 25 pages of another's work, I've decided that some of the many things I write on that writer's work would be nice to record here.

I am in no way a professional.  I don't have a fancy education to back up writing (that is reserved for mathematics), but I do know what I like to read and I do know when I read something that doesn't quite jive for me.  So WELCOME to my CRITIQUE PARTNER SERIES!  It is minus the partner, because I don't actually know any of the writers whose work I am reading, but here I will offer my advice.  Much of my advice you can find everywhere else on the internet.  None of it is professional.  All of it is...I can't think of anything to finish this sentence with.  I liked the whole "Much of it, none of it, all of it" thing I had going on at the start of each sentence, but I'm far too lazy to spend time thinking how to end that sentence, especially when this is only a blog developed for my personal enjoyment.  I digress!

#1 Critique Partner Series - On Characters

The manuscript I am currently critiquing comes with a list of characters.  There are 46 characters on that list.  About 14 of them are introduced in the first 25 pages.  6 of them are introduced in the first 2 pages.  None of them have English names.  Most of the names start with F, K, W, and T.

Perhaps it is because the first time I read my books, I prefer to devour them instead of savoring them, but I found having so many characters with so many similar and foreign names to be difficult to track.

Suggestion #1:  Don't name all your characters.  Not all of them are important, and if they aren't, don't give them names unless you have to.  Naming a character shows me, as a reader, he is important.  Sometimes characters aren't.  Sometimes they are.  Of course, there are times when several people interact in a scene and you need to give them names to keep them straight, but mostly, if they are present in the scene but not pivotal to it, they don't require names.  Think about how much time you personally spent (or spend) thinking up a name for your first child; that sort of dedication and timing should go into naming your characters.  Your characters are your children.  If they aren't your children, then they probably don't need names.  There is a reason the credits in movies say "Soldier #3."  I'm more likely to remember Soldier #3 (because he was a soldier and that identifies him) than "U'gruk the Minor."

Suggestion #2:  Narrow down your characters.  If you feel 20 of your characters are important, ask yourself, "Can each of the 20 stand on his own?  Or, should I combine some of them into one character?"  Yes, in real life we know hundreds of people, and yes, in real life there are probably 20 we interact with on a daily basis, but how many people in our life are truly important to us?  Such is the case when writing.  Yes, our main character (or characters) will interact with many people, but if you can combine your plethora those people into a few key characters, then it's easier to read.  I'm not saying you want your characters to have multiple-personality disorder--not at all--but you want your characters to be multi-dimentional.  Sometimes combining a few characters together achieves this without overwhelming your reader.

Suggestion #3:  Know your audience.  If your characters have foreign names, but those names are unusual to your readers, chances are your readers will become bogged down keeping the names straight.  I find this happens the most with fantasy and historical fiction.  We're set in some unusual country with names that are not Jane, Sally, and Rob.  They are U'rus (the healer), U'rai (the shaman), and Uhrik (the mother).  I can't keep those characters names straight, and your readers probably can't either.  Unless your audience will easily recognize the difference among the three names (because they are from that country), you might want to make it easier to distinguish among the names while still being true to your genre.

My question for you:
What are some other things you take into consideration when you create your characters?  When you read, what about characters sometimes bogs you down?