I’m completing an edit in which the writer did a couple of things that reduced the effectiveness of the narrative—a case of “too much.” Let me add that it’s a fascinating story with plenty of good writing.
The first too much is an overuse of adjectives. One character is a very large man, and every time we are shown him using a hand it is always a “massive hand.” And he is always—always—referred to as the “massive man.”
A woman has very black hair, and she is described as “raven-haired woman.” Again and again. And again.
A young wizard is referred to over and over and over as “the young wizard.”
A younger brother is repeatedly identified as “precious brother.”
Coupled with that “too much” is a second one: using those descriptions repeatedly instead of the character’s name or a suitable pronoun. Over and over.
I once fell prey to spraying different labels for a character in my first novel, thinking that the reader would get tired of seeing the same name over and over. Not so. Pick a name and use it consistently (along with pronouns). It eventually becomes “invisible” like the word “said” can and slips the character into the reader’s mind easily. Constantly switching names forces the reader to adjust over and over, and that pulls her out of the story, even if ever so little.
The problems with the constant repetition of descriptive identifications such as these include:
- Slowing the pace. It’s a lot easier to read “his hand” instead of “his massive hand,” especially when you got it the first time the hands were described that way. No need to tell me again, I already know this. In fact, it can become irritating.
- Break in point of view. When you’re in a close third person point of view and the character is dealing with the young wizard again and again, the character would naturally think of the wizard with either his name or a pronoun—in your thoughts, you never describe another person over and over. This is the author intruding on the character’s experience and narrative.
- Confusion/lack of clarity. Sometimes sticking a distant authorial description into the midst of close third person action caused me to be unsure if the descriptive phrase referred to the person being dealt with or perhaps another one.
Let me add that I think there is one exception to the “one name” guideline above. In one of my novels, when in the point of view of the character he is referred to by his first name in narrative description: Jake. That’s how he would think of himself.
For other point-of-view characters who are either antagonists or protagonists who are just meeting him and not close, I used his last name in narrative description: Black. It seemed to fit with the points of view that they would naturally think of him by his last name. I was consistent in this inconsistency, and it seemed to work because it helped to distance the characters from each other, which was what I wanted.
© 2013 Ray Rhamey
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