By Anne Hamilton
I cdn'uolt blveiee I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. Arpetpanly, it deosn't mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. And you awlyas thguoht slpeling was ipmorantt.
If you can read the text above, and most people can, it’s because of typoglycemia. When my niece was learning to read, her school was going through one of those fads – word recognition rather than phonics. As a result, she couldn’t tell the difference between ‘my’ and ‘mummy’. After all, they both started and ended with the same letter and that was how she was taught to recognise words. It makes a certain sort of sense to teach this way (though I don’t recommend it) because this is the way the brain operates.
It might seem like a small thing but, as someone who has had to simply toss some books aside, I assure you naming needs to take typoglycemia into account. I threw in the towel on Tolkien’s classic fantasy, The Lord of The Rings because I’d become thoroughly confused by Sauron and Saruman. I thought they were the same character, under a relatively transparent disguise: c’mon, Black Hand and White Hand; orcs and superorcs; dark tower and iron tower – and so on.
I didn’t come back for decades to The Lord of The Rings. In the majority of cases, I’ve never gone back.
So, let’s have a practical look at what not to do. Here are some don’ts when it comes to character combinations:
Annie and Alice.
Andrea and Anastasia.
Catherina and Cordelia.
Darren and Davin.
Dotti and Dannii.
Elaine and Elle.
Garthe and George.
Joanne and Janice.
Jamie and Jesse.
Kay and Kerry.
Marie and Madeline.
Narelle and Nancye.
Paul and Percival.
Terry and Tommy.
Ian and Neil.
The last one probably wasn’t obvious but you’d be surprised how many people mix up those two names in their heads. Ask any Neil how often people call them by the wrong name! There’s even been a psychological study done.
It may seem a small thing—almost too small to worry about—but it’s small things that make or break our novels. As Zechariah says: ‘Do not despise… small things.’
As writers, we need to pay attention to detail and consider not just our characters’ names but whether or not we’re making our book more readable through the choices we make.
Anne Hamilton learnt a lot from Tolkien’s mistake. She decided in her own fantasy writing the reader should be able to tell the difference between the elves and goblins just by looking at their names. (Though she wonders, in retrospect, whether prepositions for goblin names in Many-Coloured Realm was really such a good idea.) In her upcoming fantasy Daystar, all the major characters have names starting with a different letter in the alphabet.
You can find out more about Anne at her website, Fire of Roses.
Canstock Photo by ra2studio