1. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    Nickname Vs. Formal Name

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by SilverWolf0101, Sep 2, 2010.

    I recently looked into having my works editted in true, publishing fashion (just without all the fees and hassles). While the person who was doing it was editting my piece, they instantly brought to my attention one of my "errors" that I commonly repeated.

    This mistake? Using a shortened, or nickname, for the character, instead of using the character's full/formal name.

    So I wondered, is this truly a no-no in the publishing world? Or is it something that can be over looked, as I've seen it done in some books, but not many.

    If you're wondering exactly what it is I'm talking about, I'll willingly give you a few examples.

    Example One
    Example Two
    Example Three

    As you can see, I do it quite often, and just about everytime I write about a character. Of course their nicknames aren't the ones I've given them, it's from other characters in the story itself. However, I still wonder about this, as I've been doing it since I first began writing, and not a person has bothered to correct me on this until just now.

    And yes, I went back to the books and noticed that some authors do the same, while others avoid it completely.

    So yeah, any advice or feedback on this would be helpful, as I'm always trying to better my writing.
     
  2. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    With nicknames, it is best to stay consistent. If you use the whole name of the character at first, stick to it. Other characters can use nicknames, but only use it in the dialogue. Think of it as real life. The narrartor will use the characters real name, while the people in the story will use a name they are comfortable with.

    However, there are some stories where the name of a character has changed. Take Lord of the Rings for example. In "The Fellowship of the Ring." Aragorn starts out as "Strider." You don't know what his real name is until it is revealed to you. Yet Tolkien doesn't switch back and forth between the names. He makes the switch, and the switch stays.

    If you find that your character's name shows up too often, switching some to a shortened nickname version may help ease the repetition. The trouble is you are only covering up the problem. What you need to do is cut down on the names. Your readers don't need to be reminded every two seconds that your MC's name is Thomas. Do that, and you won't need to use nicknames anymore.
     
  3. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I don't see anything wrong with it. If that's how other characters know them, I don't see why the reader shouldn't be one of them. I certainly wouldn't complain if the author used Joe instead of Joseph.

    But I'd try to keep it consistent. Some readers may assume that Joe and Joseph are two different characters with similar names. I'd keep it to the character's preference. If his proper name is Joseph, but he prefers Joe, I see no reason to keep defying his wishes so blatantly.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It depends on the narrator. If the narrator is someone who would use nicknames, then use nicknames. If not then don't. But it should be consistent for each narrator (if there is more than one).
     
  5. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would find the three examples given confusing in a long piece of fiction, especially if the story had a number of characters with two or more nicknames.

    Incidentally I have two names. To my friends and acquaintances I am known by my pet name; only few of them are aware that the name they know me by is only a nickname.
    At school the teachers called me by my christian name and my classmates used my nickname.
    Just to add to the confusion 'trilby' is a third name I picked for this site.
     
  6. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    Take into account it's not the same to have the narrator use a name than to have him using that name to call a character.

    i.e.:
    Right: "She was Princess Drucilla, the most beautiful [...] Dru would draw her bangs..."
    Wrong: "Princess Drucilla was the most beautiful [...] Dru would draw her bangs..."

     
  7. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is okay to use both a character's proper name and a nickname. In fact, if different characters refer to that person by different names, you can do that too! It helps to establish the personalities of various characters if, say, his name is Richard but Momanem (Mom and family) call him Dicky, but his best friends call him Rich and Grandma absolutely always calls him Richard. The caveat here is that you want to be sure it is clear that this is the same person.

    As far as narrative name tags, you absolutely do need to be consistent throughout. If you start by referring to the guy as Richard Head (No, I didn't make that up, there is a chiropractor near where I live by that name!) you need to continue to refer to him in narrative as Richard.
     
  8. Mist Walker
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    Mist Walker Member

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    Well which do they think of themself as being? That's how I've gone about it with the one character I use with an abbreviated name, the longer name can then be used to make formality clearer but only ever happens in speech.

    I'd avoid initials though, it looks messy to me in the middle of prose though seems to fit in more teen fiction.
     
  9. cryssfox
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    cryssfox Member

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    What's your rationale for wanting to call your characters several different things within the same passage? Who is the narrator? I could see how you could justify it but you'd need to have a strong argument. I have a narrator that calls different people different things throughout the novel, but she does so based on her emotional state, for instance when she is describing her deadbeat dad she always refers to him as "our father," not wanting to claim him as her own. When she is feeling a little softer and compassionate she refers to him as "my dad." But if you don't have a specific reason, I'd listen to your editor and make sure the narrator refers to each character consistently.
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with this. You can e.g. have a herald announce her approach, as below:

    The fanfare rang out.
    'Her Royal Highness Princess Drucilla!'
    Dru scowled. She hated all the pomp that went with being royal.

    But that's because someone is speaking. You should remain consistent in using 'Dru' to refer to her in the narrative.

    This goes for all the other characters. The exception is when the character's name changes--there can be plenty of reasons for this, marriage and mistaken identity being two common ones. However, after the new name is introduced, that should be used from there on in the narrative.
     
  11. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    In terms of the Bumble-Bee case (Example One), it was merely laziness I suppose, typing out Bumble-Bee time and time again sometimes gets tiring.

    As for my main problem, and the reason for the question, the Drucilla/Dru case, I mostly call her Dru, because that is how I want the readers to get to know her because she actually has a dislike against formality and doesn't really suit the traditional princess idea. The reason I called her Drucilla originally, was that, it was my belief (and what I had been taught) that you have to introduce a character's full name before you can introduce their nickname, or the name you want them refered by. So yeah, that was my reasonings for doing it.


    Also, thanks for all the feedback.
     
  12. cryssfox
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    cryssfox Member

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    Ha ha! The laziness answer won't fly. =) I'm sure you know that though.
    You can certainly introduce Dru by her full title the first time, even in narration, and then shift to the narrator always calling her by her nickname. That's not a problem at all, just don't go back and forth once you've started calling her Dru.
     
  13. GrimStories
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    GrimStories Member

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    Get a new editor, that person doesn't know what he or she is going on about, you provided a great way of introducing, showing rather than telling, about the nick name.

    What the next editor should focus on is active writing.
     
  14. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like how much nicknames can show in a story if you use them right... I'm using inconsistent ones at the moment - one of the main characters in one story goes by his full name generally, but since it's first person I see plenty of leeway for the narrator to wobble between that and a shortened version as she gets to know him. She's known him all her life and *always* called him by the full name, even when it's ridiculous to do so - she even points out her mother calls him the shorter thing before she ever does. Wobbling between two names is a good way to show the mindset of the narrator; as she warms up to him she begins forgetting she has to call him the whole name. When she's feeling wary again, up go the defences in the form of his whole name, even in narration, even if I have to use it reasonably often because there's a load of guys all interacting and calling them all "he" would be painful. :p

    Anyway, point is, you can really work nicknames, but only if they're plot relevant. If there's no reason for them to change constantly, then stick with one for at least a whole scene. Even if it means just introducing Dru as Dru, then it's only a couple of scenes later it turns out she has a whole title and full name, you can do that. It's better to be consistent.
     
  15. GrimStories
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    GrimStories Member

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    Forget plot, this use of nicknames is part of basic writing and it's important to voice.

    For example, it's bad to repeat a word, any word, and even names. That makes for poor, weak writing. If it's 'Amy' and the reader keeps seeing Amy, it might as well be 'Dick' and 'Jane'. There needs to be different and certain ways of labeling a character, whether it's the protagonist or any other one. This includes periodic mention of a physical trait to indicate that person, an occupation, and occupation and a trait, race, clothing item, nick name or whatever. Let's say Amy is a shapely young nurse with auburn hair. That allows for a whole lot of descriptors without having to repeatly write Amy and it's essential for good showing VS telling.

    "Doctor Singh said you're not welcome here." Amy stated, her voice firmer than she felt, but seeing little Anthony and his mother sitting in the corner propelled her toward strength.

    Jeff turned toward the at the young nurse and found her cold green eyes and forced frown charmingly inconsistent with her Hello Kitty scrubs. "I think I can clear up all this up, Nurse...Wilson." The young man smiled, leaning in as if he was reading her name tag instead of checking out her rack.

    She caught it, her brown furrowed a bit more and shook her head slightly, dismissively. She brought the phone up and said "Security, third floor. Please hurry."


    Now compare that with:

    "Doctor Singh said you're not welcome here." Amy stated, her voice firmer than she felt, but seeing little Anthony and his mother sitting in the corner propelled her toward strength.

    Jeff turned toward Amy and found Amy's cold green eyes and forced frown charmingly inconsistent with her Hello Kitty scrubs. "I think I can clear up all this up, Nurse...Wilson." The young man smiled, leaning in as if he was reading Amy's name tag instead of checking out her rack.

    She caught it, Amy's brown furrowed a bit more and shook her head slightly, dismissively. She brought the phone up and said "Security, third floor. Please hurry."



    With voice, nicknames, etc. are great tools. Suppose you've got a snide character who consistently finds negative nicknames for others based on physical characteristics, you define that character quickly without 'telling'. This is just one example. Suppose your character is very distinct, or you wish to convey a perspective of menace, and the narrator, protagonist, or supporting character identifies two new characters by their weapons! "AK, taller and leaner narrowed his eyes and leaned back against a twisted bare up right stick that served a tree in this wasteland. Pistol, heavier, more expressive grinned and leaned across the table, holding his weapon level." These two men are defined by their weapons because a character or narrator is focued on that threat.

    It can make for good solid character development and provide color to a story.
     
  16. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    Just my estimation but I wouldn't want to have to read a book wherein the nickname was interchangeable with the real name. This might just be to my eyes but people have real names and the majority of people we know do not use our nick names when speaking to us.

    Most people I know do not use the nickname I've had (or plagued me...) for decades. The majority of the folks I know call me Jeff. However, there are just a couple that call me by my nick.

    Utilizing the characters name should be reflective of the various relationships in life. If you have a character and his total handle/name in a book is Michael 'Jonno' Johnson. Most people that encounter him are going to call him 'Mike', a spouse or mother may be apt to call him 'Michael' and buddies or social friends may call him 'Jonno'. It the context of who is saying it.

    So, If I were writing the above character, I would probably use Mike as the non-dialogue reference to that character and let the dialogue, and whom in the is speaking the dialogue, drive what the character is called (short name, formal or nick).

    To give any writing depth, this is the level of detail I think the writing needs to reach. It's not going to feel natural otherwise.

    I don't mean this to be hyper-critical but if you don't want to type out your character's name each time you need to (ie -'BB'), I'd question if you would put the depth of thought in to how to write the character's references such as what name was used when.
     
  17. Lord Gilgamesh
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    Lord Gilgamesh New Member

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    There isn't -too- much really left to add to this, but I would just like to add, that like most things, it's going to depend on the story. And, sort of like JeffS65 has suggested, I think going with the most commonly said style for their name, would probably be the easiest narrative style for their name. Using the same example JeffS65 had, if Jonno was a nickname because he was in a mafia family or something, and most of his mafia brethren will refer to him as Jonno, then it'd probably be best to write Jonno as his name. If someone new shows up and addresses him as Mike, since it doesn't happen often, the readers shouldn't have trouble recognizing or remembering that Jonno was just the nickname and that his real name was Mike.

    That being said, it also comes down to the author's style. I find using a shortened version or nickname makes the character usually seem warmer, more outgoing, while using a full name all the time, or just an unshortened version prevents a closer intimacy with the character.

    The only thing I would really consider as a rule for this would be two things:
    1)Choose one and stick with it. If a major plot point occurs where the character's name changes, you can change your writing to reflect that.

    EX) Cross is used because the character was the sole survivor of a massacre and he was discovered at a crossroad with amnesia. If part way through he remembers his name was Norman, then you can then switch to Norman for your narration.

    2)At least half of the time the character's name is mentioned in dialogue as the author writes it.

    EX)If everyone addresses "Jonno" as Mike, then why should the author bother writing Jonno all the time. However, if is like 50% mafia family and like 50% blood family, then you could have Mike or Jonno be the name, as long as it carries through in both. That is, the family calls him Mike and the mafia family calls him Jonno, but the author always writes it as Jonno, or the author always writes it as Mike.
     

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