Friday, August 31, 2007


A landscape by Shusei,
Muromachi period, early 15th c., Japan,
ink and watercolour on paper.

The sure and delicate touch of a true artist may brush across our minds and make us appreciate subtle variants of tint and shade.

Yesterday, PBW posted some helpful guides to blending pigments and palette to avoid superficial bland and blah.

I highly recommend reading it.

So, ask yourself, for example:

(1) Do most of your characters fall in the same age group?

(2 Do many of them have sound-alike names, such as John, James and Jim?

(3) Do they all belong to the same ethnic group?

(4) Do they provide ethical variety as opposed to a straight good vs. bad alignment?

Good questions that need good reasons for choice.


Carla said...

That was an interesting post, wasn't it? Names can be a problem in HF in periods when everybody named their kids after their grandparents or the king, so you find there are only about 3 names to go round the whole cast, and they're all real people so you can't change them. Which is where some creativity with diminutives is called for - so 4 Eleanors can become Eleanor, Ellen, Nell and Leonora - to give the reader a fighting chance :-)
May be worth considering class, as well as ethnicity. Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe is as English as any other officer, but his lower class background sets him apart (ditto, though less strongly, with CS Forester's Hornblower, who was middle class instead of upper class).

Charles Gramlich said...

I think I generally do OK in the variety aspect of my characters, but I don't think I handle female characters terribly well, and I don't write as many of them because of that.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I don't handle female characters well at all (yes, ironic, isn't it?) and I'm told that I've got some confusing names: Jacob, Julian, Jason. Somebody told me that Jason has to go, but he's been Jason for 5 years and Jason he will stay until someone who's giving me money thinks it should be changed. He goes by Jase most of the time anyway. Also, Jacob dies pretty quickly...

I seem to always have someone who's immortal, so that takes care of the age factor, but having rich characters just makes it so much easier..

Bernita said...

Yes, indeed, Carla.
And her post invites one to speculate on other selected conformities, like class, as you mention.

Charles, in some settings, a dearth of male/female characters or age groups is consistent, expected and logical.

Bernita said...

Even though they begin with the same letter, Betsy, each of those names - for me - creates an entirely different mental picture.
A lot may depend on how and when such are introduced within a story. Perhaps some initial confusion if listed together, but not if they are introduced separately.

Church Lady said...

Developing authentic, quirky characters is (IMHO) one of my strengths.

What I deeply need to work on is sensory detail and description. I agree with anti-wife here: Bernita is the Master!!!


Demon Hunter said...

Great advice, Bernita! Thanks for sharing! :*)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Chris. Though undeserved, it's a nice thing to hear.

Just passing it on, my Demon.

raine said...

I'd read the post, and it was right on (as she usually is).

Think I've always been fairly careful about "sameness" in mss, since it always drove me up the wall in other author's books. A few months back I'd started a mystery whose characters were all from the same town, same ethnic group, same Southern dialect--and the author introduced about twelve of them within the first twenty pages.
I did not finish it.

ADORE the painting, btw.

Bernita said...

Perhaps Lynn read the same book, Raine!
Of course it can be equally irritating when the mechanics of diversity are too obvious and taken too far, as one sometimes sees in an SF/F where every single character is a different alien.

Kate Thornton said...

So true, Bernita - it's hard enough for me to keep the plotlines straight when I'm reading something - and if I'm reading something like P.D. James where there are dozens of characters, I really need some help in sorting them out. Giving them vastly differing names really helps me as a reader. (She's great at this, by the way.)

Bernita said...

It is frustrating when a reader feels s/he needs to construct a story board, Kate... because the writer whapped us in the face with a crowded cocktail party of characters right off the bat and doesn't give us time to consolidate our impressions!

Gabriele C. said...

Hm, I'm guilty as charged when it comes to the majority of my cast being military men (Roman soldiers, tribal warriors etc.) and history keeps giving some of them complicated names.

But then, I share at least the first problem with Cornwell and Scarrow, and the second with McCullough, so I don't worry overmuch. :)

LadyBronco said...


It looks like I have done a pretty good job creating characters who are fairly different from each other. (Of course, it helps that half of them are from another planet - lol...)

Sam said...

Characters should be multidimensional and interesting - I don't like silly names and silly spellings of common names - it just seems like affectation to me and not an excess of imagination when someone names their hero Phlame. Cardboard characters bore me very quickly. I've put down three books so far this summer because I couldn't give a hoot what happened to the heroine. The worst offender was a romantic comedy that veered into such stereotyping that I threw the book in the trash. (and that's practically a sacriledge for me - I Always give my books away!) You can screw up plot and it matters less than if you screw up characters. I mean, I've read LOTS of books with hardly any plot. But if there is no character, there is no book. IMO

Bernita said...

No guilt implied, Gabriele, if the scenario determines and demands that restriction.

I felt that way too, Lady B, on reviewing my latest piece. Of course the trolls are fairly indistinguisable...

Good character(s) can certainly save a bad/no plot, Sam.
That's just too arch for words.
Makes me think of phlegm.

SzélsőFa said...

Thanks for the link.
I'll second that a distinct and interesting character saves the situation of a bad/no plot.

I'm thinking of using this notion as an excuse for my no-plot short story heeheee :)))

Bernita said...

PBW is a valuable resource, Szelsofa.

Jon M said...

Really useful post there. I was quite pleased that I haven't fallen into any of those, wouldn't call them traps (stops smug grin cos it always comes before a smack in the mouth). I have found that some characters are the same person in the past and merged them. I even turned one character into an inanimate object and it served the purpose just as well!

Bernita said...

"I even turned one character into an inanimate object..."
Nice variety, Jon!