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Our overriding job as fiction authors is to entertain our readers. They buy our books not to be impressed, awed or confused but rather to be entertained. Here are some do's and don'ts that I think we need to pay attention to.
(1) Unpronounceable Names. Some authors give characters unpronounceable names. Bad idea. Most readers subvocalize so words that are difficult to pronounce usually get skipped over. If the reader skips over a character's unpronounceable name they will find it difficult to follow the story. Calling a character d'Aczrgueith instead of Azerg is an unnecessary obstacle to the reader being able to enjoy your book.
(2) Complicated Names. In science fiction, writers sometimes think they are being clever to invent an entire naming scheme. They decide that male aliens will be named d'Aczrgueith A XXXXXX and female aliens will be named d'Aczrgueith K XXXXXX then they give you a cast of characters with names like d'Aczrgueith A Fuirnbz, d'Aczrgueith A Kertnm, and d'Aczrgueith K Szrmnof. This is another example of the "See how clever I am that I was able to think up all this stuff" syndrome. We are not writing a novel to prove to readers how clever we are.
(3) Similar Names. It's our job to make it easy for readers to keep our characters straight. If you have one potential love interest named Rachael then don't name another potential love interest named Rhonda. If you have a major character named Carlson don't have another one named Cartman. If the hero is Steve Fisher then make the hero's boss Walter Tallman and his best friend Ralph Amoroso and the villain Eric Ames. Keep both the character's first and last names very different.
(4) Odd Units of Measurement. Another aspect of the "See how clever I am" syndrome is the science fiction writer's temptation to create completely new units of measurement. "The ship was a small freighter, only 132 irals long." Does that convey any information whatsoever to the reader? No. Should we expect our readers to turn to a glossary in the back of the book to learn that an iral is equal to 2.439 meters and then get out their calculators to translate 132 irals into meters or, heaven forbid, from irals to meters to feet in order to understand our story? No.
Yes, it's likely that aliens will not use feet, meters, pounds, kilos etc. but aliens are not reading our books. People who do use feet, meters, pounds and kilos are reading our books and therefore we need to use units of measurement that are understandable to those readers.
If you had written a novel about an OSS agent working behind the German lines in WW II your book would still be in English even though real people in that situation would have been speaking German. Do the same automatic translation for your readers for aliens' units of measurement.
When I was very young I read a comic book where Donald Duck somehow ended up in a jungle in South America where he was confronted by a lost tribe of natives. The balloon above the tribal chief's head said something like, "Why have you come here?*" and at the bottom of the page was a footnote: "*We have translated all conversations from Sumapti to English for the convenience of your readers."
We need to be equally considerate for our readers.
(5) Clarity In Time And Place. If a story takes place in multiple locations and at multiple times we need to make the time and place of each incident clear to the reader. One way to do that is with a specific time and place designation.
"Chapter One – January 27, 1945, Hitler's Bunker, Berlin." "Chapter Two – March 1948, Zurich." This works but it can be inconvenient for the reader because he/she may have to flip back and forth between chapters in order to keep things straight. If possible, use comparative times: "Chapter One – Hitler's Bunker, Berlin." "Chapter Two – Two Years later, Zurich." "Chapter Three – Present Day – Washington D.C."
These may seem like mundane issues but they make a big difference in the reader's comprehension of and therefore his/her enjoyment of our work.
My website: http://www.davidgraceauthor.com
My latest book is Death Never Lies – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NLTBMSQ
I specialize in crime fiction and I've written over fifteen novels. Several of my short stories have been published in national magazines. You can check me out at: