Author Topic: thoughts on addressing characters  (Read 1794 times)

Offline mindarch

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thoughts on addressing characters
« on: May 09, 2016, 09:47:23 AM »
This is my first new post - I've only made some comments on posts in the past.

The story I'm working on has a bunch of kids. The main character's name is Bobbi Jo, though she hates that and usually goes just by Bobbi. This is what her friends usually call her, though adults typically call her Bobbi Jo.

Another character is John, though all the kids call him Johnny. The teachers still call him John though.

Another character is usually called The Professor, it's his nickname due to his intelligence and science interests.  When they talk to him they call him Professor, talking about him they call him The Professor and sometimes when more casual they just refer to him as Prof.

So I was told by someone that has read the book so far that I need to always refer to them using the same name/reference. So everyone would call the main character Bobbi Jo or Bobbi, but wouldn't have both in the story. Same with John or Johnny and The Professor or Professor or Prof.

I don't agree with that. It seems more stiff and forced if the names are always identical. In real life I call people slightly different names depending on situation.  The kids would refer to JOhn as Johnny but most adults would use John, though some may use Johnny. In a tense situation the kids might yell John instead of Johnny.

What are everyone's thoughts on this? I don't think it would be weird or confusing for the readers, but I could be very wrong.


Artemis Quark

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Re: thoughts on addressing characters
« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2016, 11:13:31 AM »
Use a name in a character's dialogue that conveys the POV of the character. It re-enforces the relationship between that character and the one he/she is addressing.

For example, in Trouble on the Straits, the opening scene shows the MC, Charley Manner, struggling to land a large fish. His deckhand calls him Mr. Manner. His helmsman, Jake, calls him Charley. Later, in another scene his best bud and former SEAL teammate, Hawk, calls him CJ, a moniker that stuck from their SEAL days. Both are retired.

Of course, you should limit the different versions of a character's name to just a few to avoid confusion. Also, choose names that are distinct from other character's names, also to avoid confusion.

JMO. Hope it helps with your writing.

AQ (aka Artemis Quark but referred to as AQ by many MWC members)  :o

Offline Gyppo

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Re: thoughts on addressing characters
« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2016, 11:15:01 AM »
Readers aren't stupid, but...

I think it's perfectly reasonable for a character to have two or three names, for family, friends, and more formal occasions.  As long as the first time you use each alternative you make it obvious which person it belongs with.

But it's wise to take care two obviously different characters, let's say Bobbie Jo and Robert, don't end up with similar sounding nicknames, such as Bobbie and Bobby.  They look very different on the page, but if you're doing your job well they reader will hear them in their head and they're too close.

If you're deliberately playing with the confusing possibilities of gender neutral names, such as Chris, then fine, it's part of the story.  But accidentally, or lazily, confusing your readers isn't a smart move.

« Last Edit: May 09, 2016, 03:40:46 PM by Gyppo »
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Jo Bannister

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Re: thoughts on addressing characters
« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2016, 01:52:12 PM »
I don't think there'll be a problem if you go with what sounds natural to you.  As Gyppo says, make it clear who's who, but as long as there's no ambiguity it seems perfectly reasonable that close friends and formal acquaintances would address your characters differently.

Offline Vogel

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Re: thoughts on addressing characters
« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2016, 02:32:11 PM »
I can't imagine why someone would tell you not to use nicknames. Writers do it all the time. Maybe you confused the reader, and that's why she/he told you not to use them.

Just make sure there's a good reason to use the nicknames, as AQ has done in his book. It has to make sense for the context. My character Ruth has a nickname, which she hates, because she's coming out of her adolescence and it reminds her that some people still view her as a child. People use it in an endearing way, or when they're picking on her. She would never refer to herself as Ruthie Mae.

I wouldn't overdo it with too many nicknames though. Keep it simple, one or two per person and the first time you introduce that nickname, make sure and let your readers know who you're referring to. It is very easy to confuse a reader with this, I think. One thing that I don't particularly like is when a woman has a boyish nickname and it's not made clear from the beginning. There have been several times where I can remember thinking that a new male character was introduced. I have nothing against using masculine nicknames for girls, so long as it's made apparent from the get-go.


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Re: thoughts on addressing characters
« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2016, 05:50:10 PM »
The confusion only arises when the author refers to a character by their full name in the narrative then later changes to a shortened version simply to save ink. It would make more sense in that situation to stick with the shortened version right from the start.

I was asked to beta read a novel recently and the author kept switching her characters' names at random points in the story until it became silly. One character, for example, was introduced as Nanny Piper but was also called Nan, Mairi, Mhairi and Mairhri at various points in the story for no apparent reason (other than maybe she forgot how to spell the name).


Offline TomJoad

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Re: thoughts on addressing characters
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2016, 11:38:44 AM »
This is no different that a child calling her (or his) mother Mommy, Mom, Mamma. I think you get the picture. The character has a relationship with the other character. It is always slightly different. For example, my son calls my mother MOM. He calls his mother Mom as well. My daughter calls my mother Mom-mom. They each of a distinct name for the same person, but its personal.. in a good way.

I hope that helps.