1. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    401
    Likes Received:
    283
    Location:
    Uyumbe

    How do you decide whether to refer to a character by first or last name?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by mrieder79, Aug 16, 2013.

    I am currently struggling with an important scene in my WIP. An accident has occurred within a company and the CEO has flown in from out of town for a brief from the local company officers. I am trying to create an air of formality in the scene. It occurred to me that using the last names of the CEO and his fellow out of town executives may contribute to this end.

    To clarify, this is not how the characters refer to the executives, but how the narrator identifies them.

    1) Do you think this will work?
    2) Once I have started referring to a character by last name, what are the "rules," if any, for switching to first name?
    3) How do you decide whether to refer to a character by last or first name.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    I would use formality and the norm as guides, but the narrator's use would depend on the POV.

    In my story the narrators' POVs are the characters themselves, so it's a little easier. Who is your narrator?
     
  3. blackstar21595
    Offline

    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2013
    Messages:
    598
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Brooklyn,NY
    It will work. Tim O'Brien( a Vietnam vet and writer of The things they carried) did it all the time in his story, where he either refer to characters by last name or by their full name. I'm actually writing a story right now with soldiers and I refer to them by last name during narration(i.e. Timothy Carver would be Carver said and Isaac Straut would be Straut said.) The only rule there is is that you have to be consistent. After you introduce a character by their full name, you either use their first name,last name, or their full name in narration. Here's an example: "Timothy Carver leaned against a hooch, reading Plato’s Republic, when Isaac Straut called his name. Carver rarely spoke to him, and the last time he did was when he told their squad about a Marine who loved a Vietnamese woman."

    As for deciding if you use first name or last name, I think if you use their last name it creates a sense of formality/detachment while a first name makes you more attached. Kind of like how you call you friends by first name and teachers by their last names. Remember, after you introduce the character, just be consistent with how you say their name in narration. Don't do "Timothy Carver was a fine soldier, but Isaac Straut was a better one. Carver could throw a grenade further than Straut could, but Isaac had better marksmanship."
     
  4. BritInFrance
    Offline

    BritInFrance Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2012
    Messages:
    364
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Central France
    I agree, as a narrator stick to either first or surname, don't interchange (although obviously in dialogue this can be varied). It can be confusing and distracting if the narrator keeps changing (although as Blackstar said it is acceptable to use full name too - although usually to introduce the character at the beginning of a chapter or something).

    I think whether you use surnames or not depends on the story. Most thrillers (and stories involving soldiers) tend to use surnames. First names have more of an intimate feel

    The only thing I have against surnames is when they are used in dialogue by husband and wives (why does Brody's wife in Homeland call him Brody? I get that others would because he is a soldier and that is normal! But between husband and wife? rant over)
     
  5. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    401
    Likes Received:
    283
    Location:
    Uyumbe
    I'm writing from third person so the narrator isn't a character.
     
  6. Thomas Kitchen
    Offline

    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2012
    Messages:
    1,258
    Likes Received:
    422
    Location:
    I'm Welsh - and proud!
    Just look at Glen Quagmire in Family Guy. He's hardly ever referred to by his first name. I presume this is because they wanted an air of weirdness in the cartoon, but it works. But remember when he referred to by his first name, it is only through the characters' dialogue (to my recollection). So yes, I would say that it will work, but make sure the narrator sticks to either first or last names. :)
     
  7. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    You just do. Treat your narrator as a character too, and decide what his or her voice is like.
     
  8. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    401
    Likes Received:
    283
    Location:
    Uyumbe
    It feels right that my main characters should be referred to by first name but the executives and possibly other formal "outside" people by their last names in narration. Will that work as long as I am consistent?
     
  9. blackstar21595
    Offline

    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2013
    Messages:
    598
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Brooklyn,NY
    Yes it will.
     
  10. psychotick
    Offline

    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2011
    Messages:
    1,374
    Likes Received:
    314
    Location:
    Rotorua, New Zealand
    Hi,

    Be consistent and remember that your other characters have voices too. So for example among my other projects I was writing a story about a soldier (it's on the back burner at the moment). So other soldiers call him by his surname - McGill, so does the narrator, but his uncle addresses him by his Christian name. My worry was that using different names for him would add confusion but it still had to be done. So I had to add a line to explain the difference to the reader.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  11. SilverWolf0101
    Offline

    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2009
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    New York State
    Usually for me, it depends on how I'm writing the story, or what POV it's from. Since I write most of my stories in the third person, I'll refer to the character by their most known name. An example, is my one character Silver. She has many names she's known by, but most people call her Silver, instead of opposed to always referring to her as "my lady" or "Silver of the Werewolves". However, there are the few cases where characters aren't always referred to such.
    An example is with Seth and Dru. When writing about Dru, I'll always refer to her as Dru during the narrative because that's what I want people to know her as. However, when it comes to Seth addressing her, he'll always address her as "Highness" or "My Lady", or even the occasional "Majesty." This is because Seth is more formal and addresses her as a servant would address their leader.
    So for me, I'll usually always refer to characters as I want them to be known, but depending on who they're talking to, or whose talking to them, it might change.
    I know for war-like situations, my Gramps would either refer to guys by their last names, or the nicknames given to them. When it came to sergeants and stuff, he always refers to them by last name, despite knowing their first names. He'll do the same when talking about company bosses and lawyers or such.
    For you though, I would go formal unless the character is really close to the boss, or, if he/she has a different way of addressing them (aka in a movie someone addressed their boss as the Dragon Lady) have them address them as that, though I doubt they might do so to the boss' face.
     
  12. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,724
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    I think that even in relatively formal narrative, first names can be used in certain instances. Children, for example, would practically always be referred to by first name (or nickname). Same with people in subservient roles, like servants.

    I do think that referring to characters by their last names exclusively makes a story seem very "macho," in a way. Tough-guy stuff, like military stories, hard-boiled detective stories, noir stories, etc. Referring to characters by first name makes a story feel more intimate and friendly, even if the events are very dramatic. I'm thinking of Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men, in which the leads are referred to as George and Lennie throughout (if I remember correctly - I don't have a copy at hand). How would the book have read if they'd always been called Milton and Small? It certainly would have affected the tone of the book, and probably for the worse. How you refer to characters definitely changes your story, so make sure you get it right!
     
  13. plothog
    Offline

    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2013
    Messages:
    639
    Likes Received:
    514
    Location:
    England
    I think even in third person point of view you should consider what your POV character would call the character in question. It can be a sort of subtle filtering to reinforce who the POV character is. For example Aunt May in spiderman is referred to as Aunt May even though she should only be known as Aunt May to Peter Parker. If you have multiple points of view this method might not be so straight forward.
     
  14. Smitty91
    Offline

    Smitty91 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2013
    Messages:
    78
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Bowling Green, KY
    1) No, I don't think it could work. Most narratives refer to their character by their first name, as referring to their last name could get confusing if there is another character by that last name in the story.
    2) There aren't any "rules" regarding this that I'm aware of. In the Harry Potter series, the titular character is referred to both by his first name (by his friends, Hagrid, Dumbledore, and Voldemort) and by his last name (Draco, Professor Snape, Professor McGonogall, etc).
    3) It's pretty much whatever you're comfortable with, really. If referring to the character by their last name works for you, then by all means go for it. Writing is all about experimentation, seeing what works and what doesn't. This is the joy that many writers like myself get out of their profession; having the ability to do anything you want. :)
     
  15. Alesia
    Offline

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2013
    Messages:
    998
    Likes Received:
    251
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    For me it depends on what subject I'm doing, or the environment of the current scene.
    In my stories (I use pretty much one MC over her entire life) she is called a variety of different names.
    Full Name: Allison Jeanne Connor (used mainly by her mother)
    Chosen name: Alesia Connor (Used by the MC herself)
    Informal (around friends) AJ
    In the military: Connor or Lt. Connor
    In business situations: Ms. Connor or Miss Connor

    This might not work for all situations though. I work primarily in first person present (sorry guys, I'm one of those chatterbox character talking people Ala' Sophie Kinsella) so I don't think it's as confusing to have all those names as it would be in 3rd person.
     

Share This Page