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Home » Archives » February 2006 » Why Russian Novels Are So Challenging
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02/12/2006: Why Russian Novels Are So Challenging

"Espenson" is a tricky name. People don't know how to pronounce it. They either stress the middle syllable (instead of the first), or they say "Epsenson" which is unpleasant to the ear and the mouth. If I were reading a novel and a character had such a stopper of a name, I would hesitate, unsure of how I was supposed to imagine it being pronounced. I remember reading The Color Purple and being bothered by the first occurrence of the name "Shug" -- was it intended to rhyme with "shrug," as the spelling would suggest, or was it supposed to represent the first syllable of "sugar"? I figured it out, but still, there was a moment of disconnect.

Your spec script isn't centered around a guest character, but it is likely to have some guests in it nonetheless. You're going to get to name these characters. Keep in mind that you're constructing a very strange document: a script which is not intended to be performed, but simply read to oneself. If your script were being produced, you could name a character "Espenson" -- as my friends at Boston Legal did this season to my giggling delight. Since it was heard by the audience, not read, no one was troubled by the pronunciation issues except the poor actors. So even if you promised to name a character after your Aunt Cacille -- well, maybe not.

Another thing to look out for is a character name that looks too much like another character name. A guest character in a Buffy episode was originally named Harper. Then we realized that Harmony was in the same episode. So Harper became Parker. The two "Har-" names would've looked confusing on the whiteboard as we broke the episode. And if this had been a spec script, destined to be read and not said, it might have been confusing on the page as well.

Similarly, I wrote a "Jake" episode this season featuring a guest character named "Jordan." I needed her name to be the name of a country for a certain joke I had my heart set on. So I decided I could live with the two J-names. But it only took one day in the rewrite room before her name became Lindsay. The Js just made the page too hard to look at as we were working with it, and we anticipated confusion at the table read as well. Even this far into my career, I'm trying to learn some of these lessons. (By the way, the bigger lesson here is to never compromise anything for the sake of one joke you have your heart set on.)

A tiny technical point: Avoiding two characters with names that start with the same first letter will also save you some frustration as you work in Final Draft. It'll keep Smart Type from continually offering you the option of both names as you're trying to swiftly capture a run of dialogue.

Back by Popular Demand! Lunch: A selection of Australian crackers and candy given to me as a gift by my Aussie friend Jono. Especially good: Jaffas ("choc-orange in a crisp shell")!


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