The Top 5 Things I Hate To See In A Book: #3

The continuation of a brief series of posts, in no particular order, about things I hate to see in a book.  Like...

Too Many Characters!

I was reading a book not too long ago which was set in Italy and had a very large cast of characters.  Three of them were named Gino, Nino and Pino - give me a break!  I'm not saying it's impossible or even unlikely that a large group of people in Italy would include a Gino, a Nino and a Pino.  I am saying that the author could have picked any names - you know, like ones that DON'T rhyme that would better distinguish one character from another.  These characters weren't triplets or even related.  The reader needed to be able to distinguish one from another.

Then I read another book by a different author.  A very long book, more than seven hundred pages.  This one also featured a large cast of characters.  Two important ones were called - well, let's just say they were called Lucy and Ethel.  No rhymes and the names don't look or sound anything alike, so ten points for that.  But even after spending seven hundred pages with these people, at the end I STILL couldn't keep straight which one was Lucy and which one was Ethel.  I don't think the author ever described their physical appearances.  You've got to give the reader something to hang that mental hat on - some way to remember who's on first.  Physical descriptions are an excellent way to do that, but it could be a habit that character has or a way of speaking.  Some kind of HELLO MY NAME IS name tag the reader subconsciously associates with that character.

There's no need to be Dickensian in one's appellations, although who doesn't enjoy a good Slyme, Barnacle or Tulkinghorn?  (not to mention the Dedlocks and the Smallweeds!)  But, as a reader, I certainly appreciate the writer who helps me identify and keep track of the characters by giving them distinctive names.

And I don't appreciate writers who clog up their stories with way too many characters.  I'm not one for epics spanning generations for this very reason.  (THE THORN BIRDS was one notable exception.)  This is all probably somehow related to why I prefer solo or chamber music over symphonic.  And also to why I never liked condiments much.

Now - of course - Dickens wrote some really long books filled with a zillion characters.  And I'm a big fan of his.  But Dickens was a genius.  If you're a genius, go for it.  Otherwise, maybe keep that story pure and uncluttered.  Hold the mayo.  Gino is fine, but Nino and Pino can take an escursione as far as I'm concerned.

In my work in progress, there is a minor (but still important) character named Marcus.  Then my protagonist started talking to a really minor character, a bartender named Magnus.  Darn it!  I really liked the name Magnus for that guy, but it's way too close to Marcus.  I'll save Magnus for another book or short story and instead call that guy...Porter?  Something completely un-Marcus-like, that's for sure.

So just to recap, things I don't like to see in a book include Bad Editing and Too Many Characters (with names that don't help!).  Up next - it's a bad case of Adventure-itis...


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