1. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Referring to characters by their last names throughout story

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by agentkirb, Jan 24, 2012.

    I'm really into mystery and suspense novels, so I see this happen all the time and I've just kind of accepted it as something that happens. But now that I'm writing my own stories, I've started using this convention with some characters... not all, but just some. I don't really have a rule for when I do it except for that usually if it's a person where the name is just a way of identifying the person (like if it's the boss, or the prime suspect in an investigation... I might use last names). Does anyone else have guidelines for when it's good to use last names and when it's good to use first names?
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    When the character is the type of person who'd call people by last name, or introduce themselves that way. :) (It doesn't have to always be formal - calling someone Jones is far different than Mr. Jones. My guy friends and I were on a last-name basis in high school.)

    It's usually for people who just want to cut to the chase and have no time or desire for small talk.
     
  3. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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    One of my first short stories was about two characters called Mr Black and Mr White. During the story I almost exclusively, referred to them by those names - Mr Black and Mr White. The reason I chose to do that was because that was how the two characters engaged with each other - they referred to each other as Mr Black and Mr White. So I wanted the reader to feel drawn into the story between these two characters, their humour and their way of interacting.
    None of the comments I received about the story indicated a problem with this theory.

    So I agree with the other comment - why are you referring to them by 'that name' as opposed to another? Does it help frame the story or carry on a specific theme? If so do whatever you like. I had two protoganists in a story who the main character simply referred to as Meathead Number One and Meathead Number Two - whcih helped carry his personal humour to the reader in my opinion.
     
  4. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend to use surnames for people who you would use it as a respectful title: authority figures and, since I write YA stuff, adults. I'm planning on calling one of my characters Professor {surname} for the first half of one of my novels, and as my character befriends him and gets to know him properly, she relaxes and starts calling him by his first name, reflected in the narration. I'm hoping by that point the reader will have warmed up to him as well and see him as more than just an authority figure.
     
  5. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I refer to my characters based on what they are called. If everyone calls them by their surname, that's what I use.
     
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  6. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I think it sort of goes with what would be expected. In police settings a surname is commonly used, so for my Detective Chief Inspector Barns in my latest work, I mostly refer to him as Barns. He in turn always refers to my MC as Mr. Hennassy and to his sergeant as Hopkins. It simply works with the setting.

    Cheers.
     
  7. SophiaGrace
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    SophiaGrace New Member

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    I normally write in first person so this is a bit of a difficult question for me but to me, the most important part about this would be consistency. You don't want to confuse your reader to the point where they aren't sure who you are talking about. I've read books where this becomes a problem and it generally turns me off from the book.
     
  8. picklzzz
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    picklzzz Senior Member

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    Another time, I think it's appropriate if there is more than one character with the same first name. I usually don't do this, but there may be a reason for it. I remember when I went to summer camp, there were five out of eight of us with the same first name, so everyone called us by our last name.

    One thing with names I try to do is not have them similar to each other and not starting with the same letter. I find it confusing if two names are too similar to each other. I lose interest when I can't keep characters straight. I'm reading a Stephen King book now (Under the Dome) and in the first chapter or two alone, I think I've counted at least twenty different characters. The main two - I think they're the MC's - were called something else originally because they didn't know each other's real names. Then, when they meet, they go by their surnames. It's confusing to me with so many characters. I'm losing interest in the story because I keep asking myself who this or that character is and what they did before.
     
  9. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Stuff like that makes for brilliant little moments in a story... just the introduction line because it's the one time it doesn't look rushed to say "This is John, Jon, John, Jonathan and Jonni," because then you can introduce them a bit more slowly with the names you actually intend to call them, but you still got a good laugh out of the first impression. :D
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    whether you use first or last names [or both], will depend on the character and the people who are calling them by name, as well as their relationship to each other...

    there's no rule or formula you can apply to making the decision... and no one can make it for you...

    just let it happen as you write... you should 'feel' which works best as you go along...
     
  11. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    From my experience the closer ones job is to the military the more likely they will call each other by their last name.

    Military, police, fire dept. I believe this is true because the name on the tag is usually the last name. Although it did help in Germany when out of 12 rooms, there were 6 Bills, 2 Bills lived in the same room, one draw back, 2 Bill K/Cramers lived next to each other.(one k, one c)

    Possibly if the person wears a name badge with only their last name(or first initial and last name), they are more likely to call each other by that.
     
  12. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    I have a guy that is a jr and he uses his last name as if it were a first name.
     
  13. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Well, the only reason I ask in the first place is because I'll read stories where they tend to use last names for seemingly no reason. I've noticed it happens a lot if a lot of the story takes place wherever the MC works... yet where I work everyone is on first name basis with each other. It's different when we're talking about in the context of dialogue because it's just a matter of what the relationship of the two people are, but outside of dialogue when me, the author of the story, has to refer to these characters by a name... it seems like I could go with first names as well as last names for a lot of these characters. The only rule I seem to have is like some guy mentioned about if they have a title like "Professor -----" or if they are a kid (then I would use first names).
     
  14. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    I generally use people’s last names unless I know them well. Its weird because my work place has become a fusion of people calling others by last name and other by the first name. I know I personally prefer my last name being used at work.
     
  15. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Actually at work I'd hate being called by my surname. The last time anyone used it that way was at college, where it usually meant I was in trouble again! I can still here my French teacher yelling 'Curtis' across the room when I'd misspronounced, spelled something wrong again.

    Actually though, in the police and armed forces I have no idea whether people still call each other by their surnames. I think it goes with authority, so a sergeant might dress down the privates by their surnames, and / or ranks. But in the barracks? Maybe not so much. In most workplaces there isn't that same enforced chain of command. I call my boss by his first name, and his bosses too. They're my bosses, not my commanders in chief.

    Cheers, Greg.
     

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