Writing Rules #9 – Reader, This is Everybody.

It is a mistake to introduce the reader to many characters at once… apparently.

I just read this great rule on the Writers Village blog: “The Golden Rules are: give each character a name that starts with a different letter, introduce no more than three named characters per scene and, if a character is not important, don’t name them at all.”

Well, I’ve just written a novel where the twin brothers are named ‘Michael’ and ‘Mark’.
So I broke that rule.
But a lot of twins have names that start with the same letters. My twin brothers name is Bill. I’m Bob.

I think that I’m not going to change the name of a twin in my novel because their voices are very different, and Mark isn’t introduced until late in the novel. So, I know I’m breaking that rule, but not too badly.

What about introducing too many characters in a scene?
I do that in several chapters in my novel. Now what?
I will re-evaluate those chapters to see if I can eliminate or combine a couple of minor characters.
But I read on another writing blog that one way to introduce many characters in a scene (some scenes require it) is to give each character “a tell” that will remind readers of who is who.

I have a scene in The Smart Kid where the main character, Michael, hops in a van with FIVE people. How can I introduce them all to the reader? Maybe I shouldn’t have tried. But I described each character in a unique way:
For the driver, Mack, all I said was that he was the driver.
For Franky, I said that he had lots of hair, everywhere.
For JoJo, I said that he was shirtless.

So, as the scene progresses, I refer back to these ‘tell’s to remind the reader as to who is who:

From the front seat, Mack said, “Dylan is the best. He’s a Freewheelin’ Free Spirit.”
Franky smiled and nodded his head in agreement, as he pulled a comb through his long black hair.
Twisting to face the four riders in the back, Mack continued, “Did you know that he walked off the Ed Sullivan Show? They wouldn’t let him play Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.”
“That was a righteous decision,” said JoJo, scratching his bare chest.

I don’t know if it works, for sure. But I think that I’ll keep it that way. I have a couple of other chapters in the book that also introduce five characters at once, and I don’t see how to change them. Maybe that’s just because I’m an amateur writer…

But the ‘only introduce three characters at once’ rule is a hard one for me to follow.

The final rule that the blog writer wrote was to not name un-important characters. If they have no role in the story, why name them?
That one is easier to follow, but I still break it in a number of scenes that I felt demanded it.

So, I’m a Rule Breaker.

Maybe it’s just a symptom of my inexperience. Or, maybe, I’m aware of the rule and have judged how I can safely break it, or if I need to break it for a scene.

I’d like to think that.

What about you?


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