Those were the first two topics in the “Hints from Heloise” column that appeared a week ago in my morning newspaper.
I scanned the first, about whether you can use new “HE” (high efficiency) detergent in older top-loaders. Turns out you can—but you shouldn't put old-style detergent in the high efficiency front-loaders. Standard stuff for Heloise.
But the next item wasn't. “A.M. in Ohio” wrote this:
Dear Heloise: I read a lot. I list the characters and their reason for being there as they are introduced. This way, it's easier to keep track of them as they reappear. It works for me.
I can't imagine such a scenario. (Granted, I can't imagine following most hints people send to Heloise.) But are books really published with such generic characters that a reader needs to keep a scorecard?
For years in the Thick-Skinned Manuscript Clinics at the Writing for the Soul conference, Jerry B. Jenkins has advised novelists not to give two major characters a name that begins with the same letter.
An upcoming Writer's Digest book on fiction I just finished editing advises that each line of dialogue should be character-specific. Meaning that if you tried to put one character's words into another's mouth, it would sound out of character. As a test, she suggests this:
Compose a line of dialogue for each POV character in your story. Use language only that viewpoint character would say—but no speaker tags. Show your work to someone who knows your story to see if she can identify who is speaking.
Yes, this writer suggests making a character chart like A.M. suggests, but only to help you plan the story—and to see if you can streamline the cast by combining several character's roles into one.
Maybe if more writers followed that advice, A.M. in Ohio could have more time for charting detergents.