Notes from Writing Class - Names & Dialogue


Disclaimer: This is a recurring and random series of posts. I'm currently enrolled in a basic writing/editing class and felt that my notes might be helpful to others. Please note, I am not an editor. I'm just an author trying to learn more about the craft to improve my own work, while sharing the things I learn along the way.   Enjoy.


For our final post of the week on Dialogue tagging, I wanted to add a small note about using names when writing character dialogue.

It's very tempting to have a character address another character in dialogue to help emphasize whom is speaking to whom, but more often than not, it is unnecessary.

As yourself this, how often do you address someone by name when you speak to them? Pay attention to the next coversation you have. I'm willing to bet, unless you are greeting someone (and even then you might not) you don't use their name a single time.

So why should your characters do it?


A critiquing partner once use this to help me remember to avoid using character names in dialogue. Think of two funny old men meeting in a park.

"Hello George," Bob said.
"Ah greetings, Bob," George said.
"Lovely weather we're having here today, wouldn't you agree George?" Bob said.
"Absolutely, Bob. Perfect day for a picnic," George said.
"Smashing Idea, George," Bob said.

See how easily it can become silly to constantly use character names in the dialogue. Remember this when you write your dialogue. It'll help you avoid overuse.

The two caveats to this rule are:

1 Professional courtesy: when the speaker is required to address someone by a specific name or title. Some historicals require characters to address people by name or title. In those instances, yes you must do it to be accurate. Also when addressing bosses and leaders, this can be required. As with all things though, moderation is the key. If you can avoid doing it, then cut the name out.

2 If there are more than two people talking in a scene. Then, it is okay for characters to address each other, so long as it helps identify whom is talking to whom. Even in this case you shouldn't have the character use the others name excessively. Again, moderation is always the key!

Comments

Ryan Sullivan said…
So true! I tend to not use them where they're not needed, but when I do my line edits, I'll be checking for them, and if they're there, I'll have to decide whether they add to or detract from the dialogue.
Katie Salidas said…
It's so easy to slip in a character's name while typing dialogue. I find them a lot in first drafts and about 90% are cut by the second. They just aren't necessary.
Botanist said…
I like to think of this in two stages.

First, there is what the characters actually say. Would it make sense/be expected/sound right for one character to use another's name here? You're right, there are situations where it is needed (for the dialogue, not for narrative clarity), and others where you just wouldn't hear it in real conversation.

Once you've sorted that out, then look at where to drop the occasional name into the dialogue or action tags to keep the reader straight about who's talking.
Stephanie Jones said…
Good post!
I usually only add names in dialogue when it sounds natural as speech (this is me saying I'm so technique-less that I do everything by ear).
OfficeGirl said…
Great post! I am always working on not tagging the hell out of everything that comes out of my characters mouth. I think the best piece of advice I ever heard was "Write for your most intelligent reader."