I’m a simple guy with a simple mind. In fact, if I were able to take a look inside my head, I could count my brain cells on one hand. Of course, if I could figure out how to do that, I’d be smarter than I really am, and the whole exercise would be moot – whatever that means.
Because of my need for straightforward living, I tend to struggle through most novels. It’s not the twisty, complicated plots that lose me. It’s the characters the author has created, or more specifically, the characters’ names.
I’m the kind of reader that actually likes to read each word of a book, savoring the prose while hoping not to miss anything important. Each word has to register in my head before I can move along to the next one. That can create problems for me. Sometimes, while cruising through a page, I’m suddenly forced to hit the brakes and linger over a word. Why? Because the protagonist has come down with a little something only their Otolaryngologist can fix. Really? He couldn’t have an ear, nose, and throat doc like the rest of us? The author just stole five seconds of my life, only because he or she wanted me to know there’s such a thing as an Otolaryngologist. I don’t care. I just want my five seconds back.
But my real issue, the one I constantly scuffle with as I read, is the prevalence of curious and unconventional character names. Did you really have to name the next-door neighbor Proleune? Sure, she only pops by once every other chapter or so to borrow a thimble (or soupcon, no doubt) of olive oil, but still. And is anybody alive really named Staczswiyk, or Ishnoued? C’mon, authors of fancy books, what are you thinking? Did you actually know a Staczswiyk? Did you share a cup of tea with Proleune once, and she, or he – who the heck knows – was so damn inspirational they warranted this sort of homage? A pleasurable, six hour read just grew into a torturous three weeks of anguish. And it’s only three weeks because I gave up after page fifty. Listen; if I want to read in another language, I will buy a book written in that language. Am I expected to enroll in a ten day Pimsleur Approach course, just to read something written in my native tongue? I’m not even sure how to pronounce Pimsleur, although since it was the butler’s name in a book I read once, I had to make something up for my own sanity’s sake. I think I was calling him Pimmy by chapter two.
I take a different approach to creating character names for my books. I’m not out to impress anyone by inserting the sort of obscure, literary names even Dr. Seuss would pass on, so I make it easy on myself – and my readers. I use pet names.
Not the kind of pet names I would call my wife when pleading with her to make her special lasagna. I mean actual pet names. Take for instance Bart Josey, an unpretentious, forthright character from The Knowledge Holder. The Bart I knew in real life was an unpretentious, forthright Springer Spaniel – very sweet, very smart, with a very easy to pronounce moniker. The same goes for Josey, my first cat. Her fur was so soft – just like her name.
See? It’s not really difficult to create a painless character name. And to you writers who have never had a pet, just Google popular boys’ and girls’ names of 1960, say, and pick one of those. Jane, Dick, and Spot never interfered with the story. Nobody ever stumbled over those names. They were simple – like me.
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Harry Margulies is the author of The Knowledge Holder and the to-be-released The Weight of the Moon. When he’s not writing about romance, money, women and other subjects he thoroughly enjoys but knows nothing about, he’s frittering his precious time as a cartoonist.