Cue the Senior Surgeon! ditch those annoying character tags
Bought a vintage Queen-sized Gothic book at a flea market last week and read it a few days later. Don’t laugh. It’s kinda like sneaking a Snickers chocolate bar after a diet of high-grade stuff ( think Nabokov ), a total guilty pleasure but not a complete loss as I did manage to hone some inadvertent tips from it.
The author Dana Ross aka William Ross had this annoying habit of tagging his characters with blurb-like traits, for instance there are three main characters, other than the heroine Judith - Dr. Travis Wood , his son, Dr. Martin Wood, and Martin’s daughter, Betsy Wood.
When Dr. Travis Wood is introduced, he is described as an aristocratic man with thinning gray hair but least you forget, don’t worry, for many of his speech tags he becomes - the gray-haired man, or the gray-haired doctor, or even the gray-haired surgeon. Over twelve times, he’s dubbed the old doctor , senior surgeon , old surgeon - as in the old surgeon said. This becomes increasingly annoying as another character pops up, a doctor as well, and he too is called the old doctor. Dr. Martin Wood fares the worst of the trio, first described as a young man with curly brown hair - he is than tagged - the young doctor - so many times, I lost count after 20. Once he was idiotically , described as the young man in gray pantaloons.
As for little Betsy Wood she goes through mind numbing variations of the little golden-haired girl , as in the golden-haired little girl , or blonde Besty ( as opposed to what a dark haired Besty?! ) ,or the golden-haired girl ,even his golden-haired sleeping daughter. Ugh!
It’s a little like reading vintage comic books promos, ah that caped crusader , that felonious fiend!
This wasn’t just an issue for the main characters even the minor characters suffered the same fate. Just after Mr. Loring is introduced ( the second old doctor ) instead of repeating his name ( that’s obviously too boring ) instead, this lulu is attached to him - ‘the bald man with the black beard sighed.’ Considering there is only two people in the scene distinguishing him thus , only made things confusing. Brian Craig the love interest is usually always called Brian Craig or the Australian - even the heroine thinks of him in terms of Brian Craig like she reading from a stage play. And a creepy handyman Mr. Parker , who has one eye is later predictably dubbed - one-eyed Parker or the one eyed man. Even the others pay homage to this as Brian Craig ( still the full name status ) notices Mr. Parker has been spying on Judith and remarks I see Mr. Parker’s got his one eye on us. Yuk yuk. But Parker’s wife doesn’t fair much better she’s known as the heavy-lidded Mrs. Parker - both have eye issues , I see. The bad guy Timothy Dobbin has the subtle tag of that villainous Timothy Dobbin and with that moniker, he should be twirling the ends of his black moustache!
Although most people could dismiss gothic romance as junk , I don’t. It’s genre fiction like anything else. I’ve read good gothic romances , this just wasn’t one of them. But it wasn’t just the character tags that sabotaged this read, it’s Dana Ross’s style in general. I felt as though he was talking down to the reader - oh I know you, idiot ladies, can’t remember that so-and-so’s old , that so-and-so is a doctor so, I’ll have my character talk like this - ‘“My examination of that body told me as a medical man the corpse couldn’t be more than an hour old.”’ As a medical man ... gee whiz with all those young doctor tags flying around I had practically forgotten he was one- not! As for the story itself , well after slogging through all those character tags , I found that this queen sized gothic should’ve been a junior. 100 pages could’ve been eliminated without any affect to the story. The action , what there was of it kept stalling out. The heroine had a couple of spooky attacks in the mansion , told everyone who would listen , was typically written off as a hysterical woman and found herself buried under a mountain of oh, so subtle hint droppings from every new character - that nobody had seen Martin’s wife buried. Gee, I wonder where this one’s going.
Interesting to see that even published books - this one was published in 1973 , could have so many flaws.
This is definitely going on my how-not-to-write list - 1. avoid annoying character tags. 2. Make every scene count. 3. Quite rehashing , you’re reader is not the idiot , you seem to think he is.
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