Too Many Names? A Tip for Cleaning Up Your Writing

“The Word of Wigaldir calls you!”

“Eternal life in Enga’s arms.”

“Fear not, sinners. Lether the Blessed will bring us to salvation!”

Like the mating calls of jungle birds, voices sailed over our heads, clamoring for our attention. Bristling with energy and humid with sweat, a forest of limbs and bodies slowed our passage through the bazaar. My guide, a woman half-hidden under a shawl, kept one hand tightly wrapped around my wrist as she pulled me through the Tangle. Bodies pressed in around us.

“What does any of this have to do with my stories?” I shouted over the din of people and prophets.

A girl with golden coins covering her eyes singled me out in the Tangle, writhing as she spoke,  “Come, and worship at the altar of Satina with me. The sensual tongue-”

My guide pulled me away before the girl could finish.

We threaded through the crowd, shoving our way up the steps carved into the mountain, until the smoke and clamor of the Tangle was beneath us. I saw statues with animal heads and priests in robes that bloomed as they danced, and I saw the people worshiping countless gods.

Tugging at my wrist, my guide directed my attention up the stairs, “Look, Writer. This is how it should be.”

Above us, carved into the mountains, a pair of massive god heads watched over the stairs. Both of the god heads were bald, and their features did little to indicate gender. My guide pointed to the one on the left, the one with mischief in its eyes, “That is Siggi.”

A waterfall poured out of Siggi’s mouth.

She pointed to the god head on the right, the one with steam rushing out of its nose and ears, “That is Gusu. Sometimes, Gusu lets go of fire. Fire from inside mountain.”

“Lets go of fire?”

My guide doubled over and pretended to vomit. I didn’t understand, but I had more important things on my mind.

“How is this supposed to help me get better at writing?”

“Too many gods.”

“What?”

“Too many gods. None of them matter. Siggi and Gusu matter, because they are old, and important, and they are only two.” She held up two of her fingers, wrinkled and tanned. Then, she poked me with both of her fingers, “You, Writer. You have too many gods. Too many names. Not enough character.”

“Look, I know I have seven characters in the first page but-”

“Too many!” She poked me in the ribs, and I winced at the pain.

“They’re really important-”

“Too many!” Another poke.

“Alright, alright! I’ll cut them down. I’ll get rid of one, I’ll merge some of the others.”

“And?” She cocked her fingers back, ready to jab me again.

“And I’ll focus on developing them more. I’ll give them proper introductions. I’ll give them scenes that highlight their unusual traits, while also advancing the plot. I’ll try to avoid confusing my readers.”

She nodded at me, satisfied.

“Good. Only add characters when needed. Just because you like character, does not mean character is needed. You must kill names you do not need, as Gusu kill gods we do not need.”

“Yes, I will. I promise. What’s this about Gusu now?”

Below us, the Tangle shouted and preached and wailed and sang. On the stairs, I felt a rumble under my feet.

My guide tugged my arm again, and we climbed, faster now.

“Gusu lets go of fire soon.”

Thank you for reading! All comments and criticism are encouraged. Remember to like and follow the blog, and if you want something to talk about, here’s a few questions for you:

  • Is there a preferred number of characters? What makes it ‘too many’ or ‘too few’ for you?
  • When was the last time you had to get rid of a character? What made you do it?
  • Is there a time when it’s acceptable to use a bunch of characters? How?

Image courtesy of BenSpark via Flickr Creative Commons.

10 thoughts on “Too Many Names? A Tip for Cleaning Up Your Writing

    1. I’m working on it. I’m afraid sometimes I lose my vision a little, or I rush the writing too much, and so not all the posts are the same quality.

      I’m getting over myself though, not everything can be perfect, and sometimes people prefer the posts I think are the worst. You never know how your words will work for someone else!

      Thanks for the comment – please, stop by again.

      Like

      1. I know what you mean about words. I try to communicate effectively at all times and sometimes I get very misunderstood. Ah well, live and learn. I find taking enough breaks to get some fresh air helps reset the thinking process for a better overall result. Gardens or beaches are my favorite haunts.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. There’s always been something about nature that refreshes and inspires me, even if I’m writing something that has nothing to do with nature.

        If only I lived in a place where gardens and beaches were commonplace! Ah, one day. Thank you for stopping by!

        Like

  1. My story involves a lot of killing-off of characters for dramatic effect, which means I need to introduce and develop them first so their deaths have any significance. This has created a weird, backwards relationship with my characters that the ones who will die soon are the most fleshed-out, while the survivors and the ones I’d call the ‘main characters’ are left undeveloped for a while, because they have longer to live and so can be developed later. I’m not sure how to get around this one…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hmm, so a bit like Game of Thrones? I’m sorry, I’ve just been watching it lately and it’s on my mind.

      Actually, this might help. G.R.R. Martin is a ‘garden’ writer – which means he has a basic layout for what needs to happen when, but he doesn’t know most of the exact details until he gets to writing them.

      So, sometimes when the characters die, it’s got to be a surprise to not only the reader, but also the author. Surprise yourself! Kill a different character! Find a way to save another one – it’ll help with some tension, and your readers won’t know what to expect.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s a pretty good link, another one would be the Mass Effect games where characters die all the time. I don’t like the randomness of the garden approach though – I have a clear plan for each character, including whether they live or die. Deviating from it might be more realistic, because in my plan everything conveniently creates characters with certain consistent identities, but I’m more interested in creating the characters I want than characters that are realistic. But that’s definitely a cool way of writing, the writer not knowing what will happen – dramatic ignorance within dramatic ignorance.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. All I’m saying is don’t rule it out. They always tell you to kill your darlings, and sometimes, that’s just the right choice. Don’t force yourself into anything when you feel like it’s wrong!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Uncertain Tales and commented:
    This.

    I’ve read a few books over the years where characters don’t make an impact because they are lost in the crowd. It’s the classic X-Men problem, too many heroes mean nothing seems heroic. Don’t overwhelm us with faces.

    Good advice (as always) from P.S.

    Liked by 1 person

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