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  1. Bad_Valentine
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    Bad_Valentine Member

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    Introducing/Referring to Parents' Names

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Bad_Valentine, Aug 26, 2010.

    Hi all, desperate for some advice here.

    My protagonist is a child/young adult age (let's call her Mary), and I'm having a really hard time dealing with naming the parents, as well as referring to the parents. The parents aren't so unimportant that I can get away with not naming them, but I'm having a really rough time incorporating a smooth reference to their names in the story. How else can I have the two parents talking to each other or other characters in the story if their names aren't known? The fact that they are parents of the MC means I can't just refer to their names only. Right?

    In the same vein, I have a question dealing with dialogue between the MC and her parents. examples:

    "Don't do that," her mother said.
    "Don't do that," Mary's mother said.
    (Example below assumes the mother's name was introduced earlier)
    "Don't do that," Jane said.
    (Example below introduces the mother's name in the dialogue)
    "Don't do that," Jane scolded her daughter.

    And then, dealing with subsequent exchanges between the two, it just gets worse. Keeping it the same (her mother said, she told her mother) doesn't work, and trying to change it up (Jane said, she told her mother) doesn't seem to work either. I don't know ... none of it flows, none of it sounds good or looks natural. It just looks forced and I'm getting really frustrated.

    :(

    Been searching here and on the internet for information on this topic for HOURS, can't find anything. About ready to just have her shoot her unnamed parents. Maybe the neighbors can help out instead and end my effing nightmare. :)

    Advice would be much appreciated. Thanks :)
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Can she call them by their first names? I did with my parents until I went to school at least.

    Perhaps the most famous example

    Eustace Clarence Scrubb in the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis - Lewis is contemptous of the idea but then he goes on to feel the same way about teetotallers and vegatarians
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If their names don't come up naturally, don't force it. But there are many opportunities to let the names fall into place. A neighbor could drop by and ask the father if Jane is in (daughter is listening in), or the parents' first names might be on their anwering machine ("Hello, you've reached Jane and Walter's phone, but they aren't answering your call right now, so you know what you can do at the beep.")

    Depending on Mary's age, when Jane is scolding Mary, she might face her mother, arms akimbo, and defiantly call her by her name:

    "Mary Eustice Pelham, you come here right now and clean up this mess."

    "Clean it yourself, Jane." Mary stomped out of the room. Miss Whiskers scrambled out of her way and hid under the coffee table.
     
  4. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    I had the same problem a few days ago. I just bit the bullet and presented the mother's name in the narrator's voice. It's not the best way of doing it but it was like ripping a plaster off - just get it done and out the way.
     
  5. L. Ai
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    L. Ai Member

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    You could also have scene where her parents address each other. Even if it's first person the child's point of view she could be listening in, and I know my parents always called each other by their first names.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    why do the readers have to know the parents' names?... if they don't, for some good reason, i wouldn't burden the reader with the confusion...
     
  7. Lyssaur
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    Lyssaur Member

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    You could always just say "she said", if it's understood who's talking. o:
     
  8. Bad_Valentine
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    Bad_Valentine Member

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    Thanks all for the good advice :) I have still not returned to my story ... spent the rest of the day reading so I can return fresh-eyed (and now with additional help ;)) to revise. The parents need names because they dialog with the MC and each other and other characters, can't just keep referring to them as MC's mother or father.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why not?
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Have you mentioned Mary's last name? If so, you could just call her parents Mr. and Mrs. Smith (or whatever) without having to work their names in awkwardly anywhere.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Re the names, does it really matter if the reader knows what their names are?

    Re the dialogue and action, grabbing a few books, old and moderately old and current, I see:

    In _Little Women_, third person, it's "Mrs. March said...".

    In _The Kitchen Madonna_, by Rumer Godden, third person limited (I think; I'm too lazy to page all the way through to confirm my impression), it's "Mother said..." and "Father said...". I'm not sure if we ever find out Mother and Father's first names, and I'm not sure if it matters.

    In _Harry Potter_, once we're going from Harry's point of view, it's "Uncle Vernon said..." (I realize that an uncle with a name is a bit different from a parent, but it seems somewhat analogous to "Mother said...")

    In _From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler_ by E.L. Konigsberg, third person limited, it's "her mother" and "her father". Since the parents never actually appear in the story, I don't know how she'd do dialogue for them.

    In _Cold Flat Junction_ by Martha Grimes, first person, it's "my mother". It would probably be "My mother said..." but I got tired of searching; the mother really doesn't speak much.

    In _Messages From My Father_ by Calvin Trillin, first person, nonfiction, it's "my father" and "my father said..."

    In _Matilda_, third person... (hm. third person limited with changing viewpoint characters?), by Roald Dahl, it's "her father" and "the father" and "Mr. Wormwood", and I'm not altogether clear on the reasoning for the changes - it can switch within a single paragraph. But it works well, IMO.

    I'd lean toward "her mother" in third person limited and "my mother" and "Mom" (or the equivalent) in first person. I know that that's a lot of repetitions of "her mother" floating around, but then again, if you referred to her mother as Jane, you wouldn't object to a lot of repetitions of "Jane", would you? I suspect that the repetition would become invisible, just as "said" becomes invisible.

    ChickenFreak
     
  12. Bad_Valentine
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    Bad_Valentine Member

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    Well, when I'm reading it, it sounds really awkward to have "her mother" over and over. It sounds strange and repetitive. If I just say "she" it seems confusing who I'm referring to. Does that make sense? Her mother replied, her mother said, her mother sighed, etc. etc. I just wish I could toss something different in there. Anyway I just went back and I think I corrected the problem of (what I felt was) repetition.

    I hope I'm allowed to post a short snippet here. Maybe I don't need to refer to "her mother" in places where I've put it. It still feels awkward at the end. :(

    By the way Chicken, I looked up Harry Potter yesterday too. :D It was right in that first chapter of the 2nd book, the way she introduced everyone's names was really well done.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Only as an example. No critique of the excerpt will be allowed here.

    With only two (speaking) people present, you don't need to indicate the speaker each time.

    Certainly, you can establish the name earlier, if you wish. But the problem remains the same, whether it is Mary's mother or Jane you keep repeating. What you will need to master is not naming the subject as often, and that is a matter of writing experience. Judicious use of pronouns helps, as does the use of contextual cues instead of direct naming.

    Although critique is not appropriate for this part of the site, I will refer you to He said, she said - Mechanics of Dialogue to help you understand correct punctuation of dialogue.
     
  14. Bad_Valentine
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    Bad_Valentine Member

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    Thank you Cogito :)
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    in the example you posted, using the mother's name would make no sense at all...
     
  16. Three
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    Three Member

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    What's wrong with the daughter calling them 'mom' and 'dad', narrator calling them 'her mother' and 'her father', and them calling each other by their first names? We don't need to know the parent's names until they talk to each other, and if it's still narrated as 'her mother' and 'her father', I don't see how anyone could be confused.
    Example:

    "What's for dinner Mom?"
    Her mother turned to her father. "Yes Tom, what's for dinner?"
    He was stunned. "Since when was I cooking dinner?"

    Silly example, but you get my drift. :)
     
  17. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    Just one little point: If you have questions such as this one, it's possible that you aren't very sure of the voice of your story.

    If the narrator inside the child, the parent's names would never come up. I must've used my father's name about a dozen times in my life.

    If the narrator is just with the child, he'd treat the parents as any other character, so he would use "her father" first and their names from the point they are presented.

    If the narrator is omniscient and detached, he'd present the parents as they appear, and only ever refer to them by name.


    [Edit: Most other possibilities and combinations are removed by the child knowing her parents.]
     
  18. Bad_Valentine
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    Bad_Valentine Member

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    I think you nailed it, Thanshin.
     

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