Tag Archives: Arlene Prunkl

The Name Game: Character Names in Fiction

The other day, my friend and colleague Arlene Prunkl and I were comparing notes about how authors sometimes treat character names, and our discussion sparked this post (a good thing, since I’ve been short of inspiration lately). I’d wanted to write about the dos and don’ts of names but realized that what not to do was my chief concern. Here are some name-related pitfalls that are best avoided.

First of all, avoid duplication. Particularly in large, sprawling books, authors are prone to forget that they’ve already used a name, and they may accidentally use it again for a second character, which confuses the heck out of readers. Let’s say two characters have the same surname; readers will inevitably wonder if they’re related. If there’s no explanation of the connection between Dr. Harbinger and Dorothea Harbinger, readers will either keep scratching their heads or assume you mistakenly used the name twice. Either way, it’s a distraction that’s going to pull readers out of the flow of your narrative. Although you may know two people named Harbinger in real life (and they may even be unrelated), it’s best not to have two characters with an identical surname unless the relationship between them is made clear from the get-go.

Similarly, avoid names that sound too much alike or that rhyme. In most contexts, it just sounds silly and makes readers giggle (which is only fine if you want them to). When I was in high school, I had a friend whose parents were Victor and Victoria, which was even funnier when the film Victor Victoria came out. I’m sorry, but Denise and Dennis should probably not be wandering around in your book, let alone having a secret love affair, although certainly Denise and Bryan could be. And Miles, Giles, and Niles should not be let loose unless they are actually triplets and appear in nonsense verse for children.

There’s also the issue of overuse of names. I frequently see this sort of thing in dialogue:

“Well, Miles, how was work today?

“It was fine, Giles, but Niles is going to have to start delegating more work to junior colleagues.”

“I agree, Miles.”

I exaggerate here, but you get the point. When this is overdone, it can feel as if a pair of robots are speaking. There’s something stilted about constantly addressing other characters by name in dialogue. And after a while it just grates on your nerves. If you listen to real people talking, you won’t hear anyone doing this. Think about when you would actually use someone’s name in conversation. It might be when you’ve just been introduced or when you’re saying goodbye. Or it could be when you’re angry with someone or trying to get her attention. Limit usage of the name to these types of instances, and your dialogue will seem much more fluid and realistic.

Also avoid using a character’s name when you could simply use he or she and him or her without sacrificing the reader’s comprehension of what’s taking place in the scene. Consider the following:

Griselda looked in the mirror and admired her reflection. Griselda then carefully applied dark blue mascara and dabbed her favourite perfume, Shalimar, carefully on her wrists. It was a shame, Griselda reflected, that Hank would not be at the banquet to see how she had transformed herself from an ugly duckling to a graceful swan. “It’s his loss!” Griselda said to no one in particular.

Of course this snippet would be better with only one Griselda; the others add nothing except unnecessary repetition. By all means use the name when it’s needed to clarify who’s doing what. If there were two women in the room, for example, you would need to use names more often to help readers distinguish the action of one from the other.

If you avoid these name-related pitfalls, you’ll avoid confusing and annoying readers– and your prose will be seem livelier and more natural too!

Redundancies and Pleonasms

Today’s blog post is by freelance editor Arlene Prunkl of PenUltimate Editorial Services. Until I read Arlene’s post, I’d never heard of the word pleonasm before, which sounds like some sort of substance you’d look at under a microscope. And who knew that there was even a word for all those little redundancies I’ve always gotten such a kick out of? I hope you enjoy Arlene’s wonderfully succinct and informative post.

Redundancy is just one of the many problems that fall under the general category of wordiness. A redundant phrase or expression is called a pleonasm. You may think you know when a redundancy occurs, but some of them can be subtle.

How often have you heard a friend say something like this: “An unexpected surprise came when a pair of baby twins was born at 12 midnight”? What is a surprise if not unexpected? What are twins if not a pair? Who can be born but a baby? When is midnight if not at 12? Your friend could just as well have said, “A surprise came when twins were born at midnight” with far less repetition.

Or what if you heard someone say, “The armed gunman gave an advance warning that he would make death threats on their lives”? Can you find the pleonasms in that sentence? The expressions we use are full of unwitting redundancy.

I’ve prepared a good long list of pleonasms; some of them are rather funny. Can you see what’s wrong with these? Can you think of any others? Once you start paying attention to each of your words, I’m sure you’ll begin to detect occasional redundancies. In fact, email me with your pet peeve redundancies and pleonasms, and I’ll add them to this list!

– Dry desert
– Free gift
– End result
– Over and over again
– Whether or not
– Former business failed/former ex-husband
– Personal friends/personal opinion/my personal anything
– Standard orthodoxy
– Genuine original
– Ancient fossil
– Basic necessities/basic fundamentals
– Major milestone
– Linger behind
– Rugged mountain range
– Quickly mushroomed
– Interconnect/intermix/interlink
– Future ahead looks bright
– Main thrust
– Small cubbyhole
– Familiar fixture
– Single most/single biggest
– Point in time/period of time
– Death threats on his life
– Close proximity
– Actual experience/past experience
– Advance planning/advance warning/advance reservations
– All meet together/join together
– Armed gunman
– 12 midnight/12 noon
– Autobiography of one’s life
– Awkward predicament
– Cease and desist
– Each and every
– First and foremost
– Cheap price/expensive price
– Commute back and forth
– Consensus of opinion
– Difficult dilemma
– Estimated roughly/guesstimated
– Filled to capacity
– Frozen ice
– General public
– Green in color
– Natural instinct
– Null and void
– Pre-recorded
– The reason is because
– Regular routine
– Suddenly exploded
– Surrounded on all sides
– Broke both his legs
– The winter months
– Postponed until later
– Mutual cooperation
– In order to…

Updated Guide to Using Track Changes

When I first started working with self-publishing authors, I discovered that many of them weren’t all that familiar with how to use Track Changes in Word 2007 and 2010. They didn’t always know what to do when they received their edited copy, all marked up with an array of additions, deletions, and comment balloons. A few seemed too timid to ask me what to do, so I thought it would be best to create an easy-to-follow guide to initiate them into the process. My guide has undergone a few tweaks over the past few months, but I’m proud to say that today I’m finally rolling out what I think is the ultimate guide. Please take a moment to check out Learning Track Changes in MS Word 2007 and 2010: A Quick Guide for Authors.

This ultimate guide to Track Changes has received editorial input from none other than Arlene Prunkl of PenUltimate Editorial Services in Kelowna, B.C. Arlene is both a dear friend and an esteemed colleague who is now celebrating her tenth year as a professional editor. In 2011, Arlene was a finalist for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, which is the top editorial award in Canada. In reviewing my article, she made editorial suggestions that never would have occurred to me–proving that even editors need to be edited. I am truly grateful for Arlene’s contributions to this new version of my Track Changes guide, which she also features on her own website.