Detergents and Character Lists

Are your novel’s characters distinctive? 2011 - Copy adj

by Andy Scheer

The first writer to “Hints from Heloise” asked if you can use high efficiency detergent in older top-loaders. You can. Standard stuff for Heloise.

But the next item wasn’t. “A.M. in Ohio” wrote:

 Dear Heloise: I read a lot. I list the characters and their reason for being there as they are introduced. This way, it’s easier to keep track of them as they reappear.

I can’t imagine that scenario. Are novels really published with such generic characters that a reader needs a scorecard?

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]Are novels really published with such generic characters that a reader needs a scorecard?[/cryout-pullquote]

For years in the Thick-Skinned Manuscript Clinics at the Writing for the Soul conference, Jerry B. Jenkins has advised novelists not to even give two major characters names that begin with the same letter.

In her recent book The Dance of Character and Plot, DiAnn Mills advocates that each line of dialogue should be character-specific. If you try to put one character’s words into another’s mouth, it should sound wrong. As a test, Mills suggests:

Compose a line of dialogue for each POV character in your story. Use language only that viewpoint character would say — but no speaker tags. Show your work to someone who knows your story to see if she can identify who is speaking.

Mills advocates making a character chart like A.M. in Ohio suggests, but only to help you plan the story — and to see if you can streamline the cast by combining several characters’ roles into one.

If all novelists followed that advice, A.M. in Ohio could have more time to chart detergents.

About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.
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