Saturday, January 3, 2009
What's in a Name?
What do you advise authors when they want to know whether to use a character’s name or a pronoun in dialogue and narration?
Here are a few tips I’ve amassed.
1. In one-on-one conversations, people seldom use each other’s name. So don’t litter your dialogue with characters’ names. Here’s an example. “I say, Mary. Have you noticed how cold it is outside tonight? Mary, I think I’ll light a fire.” This passage contains two Marys too many.
2. When a character is alone and we’re in her point of view, it’s safe to assume that the personal pronoun refers to her, except when she mentions someone else in her narrative. Therefore, it’s not necessary to use the viewpoint character’s name constantly. This is also a good way to make sure you’re staying in a particular character’s POV.
3. A name is more prominent than a pronoun, so reserve it for special occasions. For example, when a character begins a new activity in a scene, alert the reader to that fact by using her name rather than a pronoun. The change will help the reader shift from the current action to the next one.
4. Finally, don’t slavishly adhere to the three tips above. If mentioning a character’s name works best for the rhythm of your prose, feel free to do so.
Anyone have any advice to add to my list?
Shelley specializes in editing novels written by women.
She also writes poetry and is in the middle of creating
her second novel, which she considers a learning process
and a great way to understand what the women whose
works she edits are going through.
You can read Shelley's poetry and prose at www.myspace.com/editlit.
If you want to check out her editing skills, read a novel published
by Bold Strokes Books.