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Dramatis Personae?


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As has been brought up a couple of times, sometimes names and nicknames can get confusing when there's more than a few.

It is common in plays and some stories that I've seen to have a list of the main characters with a blurb to help the reader place them.

Authors: What are your thoughts?

Readers: Would it help?

I'm writing something now that involves a lot of people and I'm thinking that it might be useful.

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I was thinking the same thing yesterday. However, I would suggest we move this thread to the Writers Workshop where it is more appropriate.

I rarely use them in books that I read, but that's because I usually read them in one setting. For chapter-by-chapter publication, it's easy to lose track of who is who, and this sort of thing could be quite useful.

Graeme

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Personally, I'd prefer a list of characters, mostly for running series. If it takes a while before the next chapter, or if something delays me getting back to it, it can be difficult keeping track of characters. I recently had to ask an author if I was remembering a character from earlier in that story or another of his or someone else's. Embarrassing, because I'd recently read each of the stories I thought it might be from. (The character was indeed from the same story, but I could see how it would be confusing.)

My preference would be for the major characters to be listed first, and the minor or extra characters to be listed separately below the major list.

As for what details to include, I'd include just a minimum to ID the character's most important details.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm a big believer in praticing what you preach so I've included a character listing in my new story "Broken".

When there are a lot of people involved, I think it helps the writer as much as the reader.

My story is autobiographical in nature so I have to change the names but as I'm writing, I sometimes find myself using the real names and forgetting what I'm calling them in the story.

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a list of the main characters with a blurb to help the reader place them. Authors: What are your thoughts?.

As an author, I despise them with a passion and will never use them.

Readers: Would it help?

As a reader, I feel the author is talking down to his/her audience. If you're reading it, and it's well written it should be a bother.

(There are exceptions in storie where characters have multiple nicknames)

-- wbms

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(There are exceptions in storie where characters have multiple nicknames)

The only consistent criticism of New Brother that I receive is that of keeping track of who is who, because of the interchanging between nicknames and their real names.

Would this be one of the exceptions you are talking about? This is a serious question, because I am thinking of adding a Dramatis Personae for exactly this reason.

Graeme

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Guest rusticmonk86

Eh. it's my thought they can do it themselves (keep track of the charecters). i think the more important thing for the reader to pay attention to in the story that i'm writing (Angel) is keeping track of whose perspective it's written in. (I refuse to put a note to tell you that the perspective is changing.)

granted, when I'm reading and I don't know who a partciular charecter is, I'll flip back and check. (the other chapters don't disappear you know.)

adding a dramatis personae is just like looking for a link on the web, instead of the person you're talking to just givin it to you. (lazy bastards) except reverse, because you're doing all of the work because these amnesiacs can't remember and/or they haven't figured out how to go back, and read the chapter before the one they're working on.

if you're going to go to through the pains of writing a charecter's bio in the beginning, why don't you just bit the bullet it and include it in the story? wouldn't that make them even more memorable?

and i know you'll say the main advantage to having a book in paper is that you flip through the pages and find out who.

to which i'll reply that, if you have a memory that requires you to flip back through to the first or second chapter (or the charecter in question's introduction), then you should keep charecter notes, just like we do. REGARDLESS whether or not it's on web or paper.

which leads me to an even more wondeful tangent that i'd like to include. reader requests. they're nice. complaints, as inconsequential as a drop of water falling in the desert. you shouldn't listen to readers when they tell you to write them in the story. or when they say they can't keep track of your charecters. a lot of readers or just lazy. (the ones who complain.) and it's not your job to place and fluff the pillows behind their backs on the reading chair. so just keep that in mind. you sell out when you bow to the demands of your audience. (or to the throes of monies).

i've seen a lot of stories where writers have the complete bio of a charecter in the beginning. some of them even include a highlight, or the last few paragraphs of the last chapter. you don't have to. that isn't your job. the reader reads because it wants to keep track of the story, it is invested in reaching the end.

no, the reader isn't there to be offered the wide variety of luxuries that come with seeing a movie. what we off them are words. that's it, just words. publishers will offer us a book. no more. agents give us press and promotions. those people all take cuts.

but not the reader. the reader gives only a fraction of the money, time and effort you gave to making this piece of art. and the painstakingly long process of publication. (or the web publisher's painstakingly long process of formatting your stories to be web-compiant.)

but, if you do want to include a dramatis personae for your NOVEL, ask yourself some questions:

[*]What information should I include in the dramatis personae? Obviously, their names. Should I then include their age, height and eye color? Or, also--perhaps-- the names of the executive producer, directer, and costume designer? Oh gee, should I also include who they're played by?

[*]Should I include a summerization of the last episode-- I mean, chapter?

[*]Should I include pictures of what I intend these charecters to look like? I imagine Jerad to look something like a young Kevin Spacy . . . .

i hope you foudn that satirical enough to laugh at. but it is satirical, which means I'm only half-joking.

in examination of this. i don't appreciate the fact that my story is labelled as a serial. after all, on television, "serial" is just the same as "soap opera". i don't like even thinking about thinking about referring to my chapters as "episodes"

that's not the kind of art I make.

Gabriel Duncan

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After reading Gabriel's comments, I'm thinking about the novels of William Faulkner. His first big book, "As I Lay Dying," was told from multiple points of view. Each segment (many of them too short to be called "chapters") is named for the narrator of the segment, certainly an experimental writing style when he wrote it in 1930. Sort of like the folks today who indicate the point of view at the top of the segment.

I'm also thinking about Faulkner's more confusing novels like "the Sound and the Fury," where you go to the back pages appendices of some editions to check out a dramatis personae to keep apart the fact that there are two Quentins (different generations and different genders) and that "Caddy" can refer to sister Candace or to a golfer's caddy. But Faulkner is probably an exception, since he's deliberately playing confusion mind-games on his readers.

I think the author might find access to a dramatis personae useful, especially as a way of keeping straight the alternate names for real people, as in James Savik's story. But I'm not sure what purpose it serves the reader. The first names in the Savik family seem to repeat in different generations, but there isn't any more confusion about it than in real life, since in real life as in the story people use distinguishing epithets to keep the referents apart ("John" ande "Big John" for example, or "Jimmy" and "Uncle James"). If your reader can't tell them apart in the telling of the tale, then you've written badly (unless of course you're trying to deliberately create a situation of confusion).

--Rigel

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(There are exceptions in stories where characters have multiple nicknames)

The only consistent criticism of New Brother that I receive is that of keeping track of who is who, because of the interchanging between nicknames and their real names.

Would this be one of the exceptions you are talking about? This is a serious question, because I am thinking of adding a Dramatis Personae for exactly this reason.

Yes, this is an example of a story that would benefit greatly. In fact, it's the one I had in mind. It doesn't have to have one, but it would be helpful. (In a completed work, this ought to be either as an appendix or as a foreword.)

-- wbms

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which leads me to an even more wondeful tangent that i'd like to include.  reader requests.  they're nice.  complaints, as inconsequential as a drop of water falling in the desert.  you shouldn't listen to readers when they tell you to write them in the story.

You have a flaw here. The nature of the request dictates if you should listen. If they say "OH, I want to see A fuck B" or "you should have something bad happen to C" I agree. However, readers often make good requests.

For example, "Your explanation of 'event' wasn't clear and I think it should be re-done."

As an author, I will re-read the part in question and sometimes the reader IS right. Sometimes the reader is obtuse. You cannot dismiss a request out of hand without considering the nature of it. NOBODY here is a perfect author. I like reader e-mail. I have been lambasted over word choice and I rather enjoy those. I've also been told on any number of occaisons I should fix this bit or that. That's fine when the reader is right. However, when readers start telling me what SCENES and CHARACTERS I should have, I am not interested. (My favourite reader emails involve continuity gaffes....)

-- wbms

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Guest rusticmonk86

Yeah :) Readers can be fun.

:: gets lost in trying to figure out what the last entry was ::

Umm . . . :: hehs ::

I'm not saying you shouldn't read any readers requests. How would you know what they're about anyway? It's an email with the name of your story. Yano?

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One of the things i do like as a sidebar kind of thing, if the writer is playing with extremely bizarre spellings, or the story is set in a place with a foreign language, is a pronunciation guide. I remember reading a story by Louise Cooper, set in Wales, that referenced that language a lot, and i had a very good time with the pronunciation guide, trying to figure out how those place names sounded. Likewise, in fantasy stories set in ancient ireland or scotland, it can be very helpful.

However, I'm not a big fan of the dramatis personae...or a genealogy or pictures of the characters or all that. If you write it well, you don't need all that. When i read New Brother, i was fine with the nicknames and actual names. So, overall and in a word: don't.

cheers!

aj

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Speaking of New Brother, I really liked it. I found the characters interesting and compelling and really look forward to seeing more of that story.

Although I haven't read NB in weeks, those characters stand out in my mind. I can easily remember Stick, Giant, Ads and Break.

You guys are right. If you do your character development well, the rest takes care of itself.

I will use the Dramatis Personae as a developmental tool for Broken but I think that I will leave it out of the final version.

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  • 2 weeks later...
I will use the Dramatis Personae as a developmental tool for Broken but I think that I will leave it out of the final version.

I agree with WBMS: I think putting lists of characters and descriptions in the story talks down to the reader, and I also think it's kind of an amateurish cheat. You gotta figure, J.R.R. Tolkien had about 100 speaking characters in Lord of the Rings, and he didn't do it. (Of course, Tolkien was also a brilliant writer, and I don't think that many of us are even qualified to sharpen his pencils.)

I do agree with you that jotting down a complete list of the characters and a brief bio of each is an enormously useful tool for the writer. To me, if the story is well-written enough, the readers will be able to figure out who everybody is. And if you can't find a way to do it, then my advice would be to combine two (or more) characters into one and do some rewriting and simplifying. Five or six lead characters is probably going to be enough for most novels -- though there are always exceptions.

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