Tuesday, June 19, 2007

You Never Even Called Me By My Name

One of the regular readers of this blog told me I ought to post more about writing. So I'm going to try to do that, but I make no promises. Like puppies and toddlers, I'm easily distracted.

But I did encounter something while reading a short story the other day that bothered me, so I thought I'd mention it. Two characters were having a conversation, and every time they said something, they used the other character's name. This is not the way people talk in real life. Now, I realize that dialogue in fiction can't be just a transcription, with all the awkward pauses and "uh"s and "you know"s. You have to clean it up some. But you want what your characters are saying to ring true, and to me, the constant use of the characters' names doesn't. When you're talking to another person, you don't call them by name unless you're trying to get their attention or emphasize a point. For that reason, I don't think you can eliminate the names entirely. But you can sure cut down on them and make your dialogue sound more natural.

I know this because I'm prone to doing the same thing, and so that's something I look for when I'm editing my manuscripts.

In other writing news, an editor called today and asked me to do a short story for an anthology. I said yes, of course, even though in this case, the story won't have my name on it. But I'm excited about it anyway, for two reasons: 1) it's a themed anthology and I like the theme, and 2) I'm always glad for the chance to write a short story. They make really nice breaks between novels.

By the way, for those of you who are interested, the title of this post comes from a great song written by Steve Goodman and sung by David Allan Coe.


Charles Gramlich said...

I still love the short story, reading and writing, but it seems I don't have a lot of time to write them these days.

Juri said...

Was the short story old or new?

Graham Powell said...

"I was drunk the day my momma got out of prison..." Sounds like a crime story right there.

James Reasoner said...


The story will be a new one, but it'll be under a pseudonym.

Anonymous said...

I have run across that too, where the characters always say the others name during a conversation. I can't remember what book it was, but I do remember that it was distracting, and wondering if the author actually wrote it that way, or an editor went in and added the names thinking the reader would need help keeping up with the conversation.


Juri said...

Sorry, wrote in a haste - I meant the story that had bad dialogue. (And congrats for the anthology story!)

James Reasoner said...


I read in haste, too. That short story I mentioned was published in the late Nineties.