Welcome to Ravenna’s Monday Mumblings!
Did you ever read a book where the characters call each other by name in nearly every sentence? Yeah. Me, too. Way too many of them, actually. By authors who have been writing for a while and really should know better.
Think about it. When you’re talking to someone – anyone – how often do you actually use their name? Not very often. Probably one time in roughly one thousand sentences, if even that. Why would you need to? You’re looking at them. You know who they are. Even in a group you don’t need to call them by name. You can look them in the eye and they will know you’re addressing your comments to them.
So why then do we feel compelled to have people address each other by name so often in the dialogue of a story?
Even when more than two characters in a group dialogue are taking turns speaking, we can show the reader who is speaking to whom in better ways. Ways that still engage them in the story and in the characters. Inserting all those names into dialogue is considered one of those to-be-avoided newbie mistakes.
Let’s work through an example…
“Say, Mark, did you see that new restaurant that opened on Main Street? It features Middle Eastern food.”
“Yes, Sally, I did. We should try it.”
“Are you asking me on a date, Mark?”
“Yes, Sally. I guess I am.”
“All right, Mark. That would be great. I’ve always wanted to try something new and exotic.”
SERIOUSLY? And yet, I see this in published books every. single. day. Makes me want to toss my Kindle across the room, too.
Here’s a much better way to write that ridiculous exchange, while giving the readers a more visual and visceral experience…
Sally gave Mark a sideways glance as they strolled down River Road, side-by-side. “Say, did you see that new restaurant that opened on Main Street? It features Middle Eastern food.”
“I did. We should try it.” He winked at her, sending shivers down her spine.
“Are you asking me on a date?”
A warm hand slipped into hers. “I guess I am.”
While her mind screamed its happiness, Sally gave Mark’s hand a tiny squeeze. “I’ve always wanted to try something new and exotic.”
See the difference? Your readers already know the people speaking are Mark and Sally from the first sentence. There is no one else there. They know that, too. You could still easily follow the exchange, even without the action tags and internal thoughts of Sally. But adding them gives the scene something extra, without the annoying habit of having your characters call each by name every damn time they open their mouths.
I’ve also taken out some of the extemporaneous words between them. In this case, at least as far as the dialogue itself, less is more.
Practice this in your own writing the next time you sit down to work on your current manuscript, and see if you can’t find a way to break that habit. Your writing will be richer for it because you’ll be forced to insert little cues for readers. But those cues will enhance your characterization, and give the story depth.
Until next week, Happy Writing!!