When characters are name-callers
In a single stretch of dialogue, how often should the characters call each other by name? I’ve been hypersensitive about this lately, because I just read another book that, IMHO, did it very wrong.
Here’s an excerpt from Sweet Salt Air in which Charlotte and Nicole are discussing Cecily Cole. Cecily is the legendary island herbalist, alternately feared and adored. Her herbs, which are particularly strong, are what makes island food so special.
Charlotte starts the discussion. If I were that other author, it might read something like this:
“Nicole, is Cecily still doing her thing?”
“Oh, Lord, Charlotte. You don’t know. Cecily died five years ago.”
Charlotte stopped walking. “Died? But, Nicole, how can we do this book without her?”
“Her herbs are still around, Charlotte. Didn’t the chowder and clams taste as good as ever?”
“Yes, but, Nicki, you can’t talk about island food without talking about Cecily.”
“Oh, Charlotte, we can still talk about her. We just can’t walk with her.”
Does this bother you as much as it bothers me? Like we don’t know who is involved in this dialogue?
So when do I repeat the names of the characters? Here are four thoughts.
First, I repeat them for clarity, when there’s a question about who is talking to whom. This is especially true if more than two people are involved in the discussion.
Second, I repeat them for emphasis, as in times of stress, when there is heavy-duty emotion at play. This last line of the above dialogue is actually a good example of this. It might have worked, had it not been for all the name-calling before it.
Third, I repeat them for love, i.e., as an endearment.
And the above excerpt as it appears in my book?
She squinted, trying to penetrate the fog and spot the boulder that marked the start of Cole land. “Is Cecily still doing her thing?”
“Oh, Lord,” Nicole said in surprise. “You don’t know. Cecily died five years ago.”
Charlotte stopped walking. “Died? But how can we do this book without her?”
“Her herbs are still around. Didn’t the chowder and clams taste as good as ever?”
“Yes, but we can’t talk about island food without talking about Cecily.”
“We can still talk about her. We just can’t talk with her.”
Is that better?
BTW, the herb above is mint, and Cecily’s mint is something to behold. Ever had mint brownies? People on Quinnipeague (the island in Sweet Salt Air) have. Yummm.