Monday, April 11, 2011

A Kindle Drawback and Possible Implications for Writers

Amazon-Kindle-3-300x488I had coffee with a friend of mine last week. She’s also a big reader—now almost exclusively on the Kindle.

She’s currently reading a novel for our book club. “Let me tell you,” she said with a frown, “I’m having a real problem with this book.”

I perked up. This is a friend that doesn’t even have a problem with obscure Russian literature…so if commercial fiction was stumping her, I was all ears.

“This writer has 7 or 8 different names that start with the letter m. And there are absolutely no textual reminders of the characters’ identities. I can’t tell who the heck they are or how they relate to each other. And some of the characters have real names and nicknames.”

She was pretty agitated about it by now and was waving her arms around and sloshing her coffee.

“And on top of it all, I can’t just flip back and figure out who these people are! With a paperback, I’d spend half a minute just flipping back until I got a clue who the character is. With a Kindle, it’s just not that easy. I’m getting ready to give up on this book.”

What the author was doing wasn’t good for any book, of course. Having characters with names that start with the same letter can get confusing…especially that many names. And this was an author published with a major house.

The trouble was compounded by the fact that the writer hadn’t put in any of those little tagging reminders of who the character is (especially when they’ve been offstage for a while.) It’s helpful to have a ‘Jenny hopped in the car, still wearing her scrubs from work.’ Really, you don’t even have to be that vague with the reminders: sometimes a ‘Jenny, Cameron’s sister, got in the car’ is fine to slip in.

To make matters worse, there were nicknames for more than one character. And these nicknames weren’t like ‘sweetie.’ No, these were actual names. And the nicknames weren’t just truncated parts of the character name (Mike for Michael.) They were totally different.

My friend mulled aloud a few minutes about whether the book would have been salvageable if the story hadn’t been on the Kindle. She said that she loved her Kindle, but still missed being able to quickly flip through a book instead of using a “go to” function.

I’m sure that future roll-outs of the Kindle will probably fix this issue—maybe they’ll have touch screens or a quick scrolling option.

But in the meantime, it offered another reason to double-check my manuscripts for name problems. Is there anything confusing in there? Would a reader need to flip around in my book to try and figure out who the character is? If so, they’re working too hard. This is supposed to be entertainment…better to just fix it.

Especially since flipping pages isn’t exactly easy with Kindles.

Are there character naming problems that you run into as a reader or writer? If you have a Kindle, do you miss page flipping?