It’s really frustrating when you read a novel and the characters are all introduced at once or have such similar names or such confusing names it’s difficult to differentiate them. I don’t like to keep going back to a list or a family tree, and if there’s an index of names that can be muddling too with minor characters in among the main ones… it really is up to the writer to be aware of the reader, and aware of the difficulties.
I’m working on two novels at the moment; one contains a story line about an investigation into a historical incident involving a number of girls of a similar age. I start off by them being described by an adjective:
- Very sad
- Disappointed and cross
Only gradually are they identified by name and I hope it’s clear which is which and how they figure in the plot, but also giving the reader little reminders… ‘Poor Marjorie killed in that bizarre accident’, ‘little Marjorie who died beneath the old tree’ etc.
In my other novel, the story is about a family of six cousins, their wives and children. That would be far too many people and relationships to take in all at one (even though John Galsworthy did it in the Forsyte Saga) So, I have a character come in from outside who has never met any of them before and it’s through her eyes the reader is introduced. To simply things still further,, the character, Emma, has been involved in a car accident where she ended up in a freezing pond on a December night, and was rescued by some of the cousins. She has lost her glasses and sees everyone through a blurry haze:
Afterwards Emma was barely able to work out what had happened. She had been carried up the snowy bank by Orson Welles’ younger brother, although later she knew of course that was part of the lingering hallucination. She was wrapped in rugs and stowed in the back of a large, warm car. Now, bathed and warm and wrapped in other people’s clothes and soft blankets she felt elated and alive! She had been carried into this house wet, no doubt filthy, bedraggled, her hair a mess, her make up gone, but alive!
“How are you feeling? Another cup of tea?” the woman with blond hair asked. There’d been names but Emma saw the warm candle-lit world through a haze, barely able to distinguish faces, voices, or even what was said to her.
“No thanks, I’m awash with tea,” her voice was rough and gravely as if snow had burned her throat and lodged there.
Even without her contact lenses and eyes sore from cold and wind and snow, Emma could see that the woman was very beautiful, her blond hair held back with a blue band, falling over her shoulders.
“What would you like to do, Emma?” the woman had a young friendly voice. “Go to bed? Or would you prefer to come down to join the family for dinner.”
“I think I’d like to meet everyone.” She needed people. “It’s all a very hazy, I can’t remember what happened and I’m sorry but I can’t remember your name.”
“I’m Alison, I’m Alex’s wife.”… like Alice in Wonderland, the blond hair, the blue hair band.
Alex was a cousin, had he been among the rescuers? It was a blur, the snowmen and Orson Welles. She’d only stopped hallucinating when she was upstairs with the kind women, warm and dry and in borrowed clothes.
The door opened to the other two women… their names came to her, Ruby and Carla. Ruby in a high-necked red sweater with auburn hair, easy to remember Ruby in red, and Carla in jeans and a sweater, her cropped hair and slim figure gave her a boyish look so the name had stuck, Carl/Carla.
“Dinner’s ready, are you going to join us, Emma?” asked Carla briskly. A cousin, or a cousin’s wife?
“Yes, I want to say thanks to my rescuers, I kept hallucinating that they were snowmen.”
Ruby laughed; even half-blind without her lenses Emma could see her ready smile, an easy person to like.
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