Welcome to Ron’s Tuesday Tips. Every Tuesday I share writing tips with you. Usually it is about writing, publishing, or marketing. Occasionally it is on other matters. This week it is about:Consistent Characters.
Years ago, when I was getting reviews for a novel I’d written one young man decided he wanted to review it. He indicated he was a Christian and interested in Christian fiction. I sent him a copy of the book and he later wrote a negative review. As a general rule, a writer should never challenge a reviewer. And I didn’t, but I sure wanted to do so!
Why? Because it was negative?
No, because of the following.
This young man didn’t really read the book. Instead he skipped his way partway through it and then never finished the book. Yet, he took it upon himself to write a negative review after first admitting he never read it through.
What caused the negative report?
Before answering that let me tell you about the book. It was a novel based on Biblical events in the Book of Genesis. Many of the characters had the same name. For example, there was Enoch and Enoch. The first Enoch was a son of Cain; the second Enoch was a prophet who walked with God and was translated. There were other same-named people.
Because the reviewer skipped through the story he arrived at sections where for example it talked of Enoch walking with God while earlier had shown Cain’s son Enoch badly. He assumed it was the same person when in fact they were two different persons.
As a commonsense rule it is good to avoid characters having the same name, but when dealing with historical figures that is not always possible. I did my best to clarify who was who but I never imagined a reviewer, let alone a reader, skipping through the book.
Sometime later this person wanted to review another of my books. I had to reject him and I told him why. He apologized, but I didn’t trust him to do an honest review.
So, what’s the point?
The point is that this reviewer perceived inconsistencies in the characters of my story. And his complaint would have been correct if it was one character and not two characters. The personalities of the two Enoch’s were completely different!
A greater point is that if you are writing a novel, always try to keep your characters separate and unique. They are allowed to change, but the reader needs to observe the change, especially if the character’s nature changes from bad to good, or good to bad!
Sudden changes are like thunderbolts. They jar the reader. Now if that’s your intent they go with it. Most likely it wasn’t your intent.
How do I avoid clashes?
It’s not that hard. If you have two or more characters with the same name you can always change the name of one or the other. If they are historical, then you need to provide some kind of characteristic that identifies one of them. For example, one could stutter. When dealing with historical figures your liberty isn’t as strong as with fictional. But you can still differentiate using clothing, speech, habits, or some other unique characteristic to separate one character from the other. The differences can be multiple or just one.
But Characters are not the only places for consistency.
For instance, let’s say that your story surrounds a person who lives in a tent. It suddenly changes to a home and later on in the story changes back to a tent. All without explanation. This is another jolt to your reader’s experience.
How about conversation? If you are not careful it is possible to have the wrong person saying the wrong things. This, by the way, is a strong argument for edits by you or someone else. Conversational inconsistencies are also harder to pick up. I doubt that any software can pick up verbal inconsistencies. This requires actual reading of the text.
How bad can inconsistencies be?
I related above about a negative review simply because a careless reviewer thought there were inconsistencies. That negative review didn’t really hurt me, but it could have. If the inconsistencies were real just think of the impact that man’s review would have had. And it is possible that those people who followed him may have reacted by not buying my book.
Do your edits! Whether you personally edit or hire a professional editor, editing must be done! That’s the only way you can illuminate potential problems that can turn readers away.
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R Frederick Riddle is the Editor of TR Writing Services providing help to struggling and/or new authors to write and publish their books. In addition, he is the author of several books and is best known for Christian Historical and Speculative Fiction. For more information on him or his books visit his Amazon Authors Page. He is also co-founder and Vice President of T&R Independent Books where his books are featured. To reply to any blog you have the option of commenting on a blog and/or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also be interested in his Facebook page at RFrederickRiddlesWorld.