I’m working on a new project, another proposed series, and decided I should make a list of all the characters so far. When I finished, I noticed a similarity: David, Dane, Dalton, Dillon, Deegan, Duncan and Dinah. Too much?
In real life, we run across people with the same or similar names all the time, but usually in fiction that’s frowned on. I guess when you know people and can picture them in your mind, it’s okay if some of them share the same name. We’ve got two Jackie K’s in our writers’ group, and they’re as distinct personalities as possible. I’ve got two cousins with same first/middle/last names, two more born close together with same first names. My best friend from 4th to 12th grade was Marilyn Haynes. People could tell us apart.
Sometimes you can’t avoid the similarities in fiction. You write a throwaway character who’s just supposed to play a minor part, and he turns out to be way too interesting for that, or the readers clamor for his story, and you’re stuck with the name you’ve given him, even if that means your series now has a Mike and a Mick, or a Tom and a Tim (or worse, a Timmy and a Tammy).
Sometimes even that excuse isn’t enough to ease the readers’ headaches when they try to sort through Michael, Mike, Micah, Mark, Mick, Matt, Maddy . . . I started a book once but quit when we got to the 12th (!!) character whose name began with an A. By that time, I couldn’t keep straight who was who or what or why. And I won’t even mention the fact that I couldn’t pronounce at least nine of them.
Do you have trouble keeping track of similar names, or am I the only name-challenged one around?