1. morphghost

    morphghost New Member

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    Using a Character's Nickname?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by morphghost, Apr 1, 2016.

    What are the appropriate times to use a character's nickname? I'm not talking about usage in dialogue with other characters that use the nickname, rather, use of the nickname in narrative and if the nickname should even be used in the narrative in the first place.

    Opinions?
     
  2. Sundowner

    Sundowner Member

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    Well, that would seem rather improper to use a character's shorthand or nickname in the context of narrative. It doesn't really matter what the perspective is, this is supposed to be the narrative, the thing that gets polished and scrutinized. In dialogue, characters use nicknames, they stutter, they make mistakes. In narrative, that doesn't happen. Your writing is expected to be perfect and without shortcuts or laziness.
     
  3. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I have no idea. As long as it's not confusing? One thing I've always hated about certain military books is the authors urge to create multi-names for one character depending on who he's with. So the reader has to keep straight that - Corporal Hargreaves is also Grief, John, Johnny Boy, Darling.
     
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  4. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Science are fun! :P Contributor

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    I do it fairly regularly through out my 1 and 1/8ish novels. To be fair there are only a few characters that it applies to, so getting them mixed up is a non issue. :p

    First Star General Volkov, Zlada (Red Wolf)
    Captain Nicholous (haven't come up with a last name yet :D) (Rhino)

    And that is all the nicknames I utilize. Pretty much everybody else is designated by Rank and name (or just by Name or Rank once it is established who is being spoken of), or Children by Marckus. :D

    See not so complicated if you don't go overboard and complicate the crap out of it. But this is just the way I have done things in regards to a Sci-fi/Military style story and sequel. Oh yeah, Rhino has a shotgun he affectionately calls Betty. :D
     
  5. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    I third person narration you need to pick a name and stick to it. It can be a nickname if you'd rather; but whatever you call someone in 'voice of god' narration is essentially their 'official' name and there's very few reasons why such a narrator would use another form.

    You can use whatever name you want but you should stick with it unless you have a very strong reason to.
     
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  6. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    Assuming you're using first or close third, you should refer to the character in whatever way your POV character would refer to the character.

    Think of "Mom" as a nickname. If you're writing about Barbara Jones in first person from the POV of her child, you'd write "Mom yelled at me again, but I was getting really good at ignoring her." If you're writing about her in close third, you'd probably write "His mom yelled at him again, but he was getting really good at ignoring her."

    If you were writing from the father's POV, you would use whatever name he thought of her as during times like that. "Barb yelled at Bobby again; it seems like all she can do these days is yell." But later on, in a different mood, he might think of her differently. "Barbara Jones, Defender of the Downtrodden, was on the job, and it was best to just get out of her way."

    If you're writing in omniscient third, your narrator is less likely to have "moods" or a relationship with the characters, so you'd be more likely to pick a neutral name and stick with it. But it would depend on the voice you use for your narrator.
     
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  7. King_Horror

    King_Horror Member

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    I second BayView's opinion.

    It does depend on the narrator, and what point of view you're writing from.
     
  8. Seraph751

    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole... Contributor

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    I also think it depends on whether or not the character prefers to be called by their nickname.
     
  9. Kallisto

    Kallisto Active Member

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    In Lord of the Flies the author refers to one character as "Piggy" throughout the entire story. It's all a matter of how you want people to come to know the character. In that case, the author wanted you to see a chubby kid you'd normally underestimate and has little value to anyone to a point where he didn't even deserve a real name. This ended up working amazingly well in developing the themes of his story.
     
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  10. Dracon

    Dracon Senior Member

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    Resurrecting an old thread, I know, but I was searching through the old threads to see if I could find an answer to a similar problem I've been having without writing up a new thread and my question was a variation on the same theme as this one.

    My main POV character is called Germania, though I quite like the name Gem for short, and I know that people like short and simple names. However, I feel like she does like the nickname, but would only let her close family call her by that name, and pretty much the entire novel she spends in the company of people she wouldn't call close friends. I wondered whether it would be OK to call her Gem in the narration, but have the characters refer to her as Germania. Or am I best keeping it long? Or maybe I'm fretting over trivialities and the name Germania is just fine as it is.
     
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  11. Kallisto

    Kallisto Active Member

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    I have a childhood nickname that only family members get to call me. That's my parents, brothers, cousins, and now my sister-in-law, but no one else is really allowed to call me that, not even my close friends. But my nickname isn't a shorten version of my given name. It was a nickname, period.

    Shortened versions of a first name is acceptable to be called by everyone. So it is weird that only family members could call her that.
     
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  12. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    I somewhat second this but it's more nuanced than that.

    I think that in general people are going to call her Gem anyway, at least assuming that this is anything even vaguely close to the real world. The world has moved past the point where using the obvious diminutive of your name is seen as an intimacy. It wasn't always like that but that's what feels natural to us today. Even in books set in other times and places the readers are in today's world and they will wonder why exactly the diminutive version doesn't seem to occur to anyone else in the story.

    But there is more depth to it.

    As I say; Gem seems the obvious name and it'll feel odd unless there is a specific reason why no-one else can call her that. Not why they don't but why they can't. If she tells them off and continually pushes them to use her full name then, well, people will. But it'll effect her character. I have met the odd Samuel in my life but they are horrible people. Because under normal circumstances people who are trying to act friendly will call you the pet name and you will have to keep telling them off and that kind of person is, well, not a great person to be around.

    That's the thing about names. Names are more than just what we want to be called. What we get called is as much to do with other people and how they see us as to do with how we see them. When someone is trying to be friendly they will definitely slip into using the more intimate name form because they are showing you that this is a more intimate conversation. And as a diminutive drawn from her given name, well, yeah people are going to use that whether she likes it or not. They may well use it behind her back even if she tells them off for doing it to her face.

    There are some pet names that people will get pissy if other people call them. If anyone other than my fiance called me Puppy I would be picking bits of them out of my boots. That's something that is way too much for some random person to just pick up and you can tell that by context. Even if someone has seen me and my fiance together then tried to chat me up (because I am very charming) and called me that it would still be stunningly inappropriate because it's unique to our relationship and is strongly related to our dynamics as a couple. I call her Kitten, she calls me Puppy, we've done that since we were teenagers and thus it's stuck. And yes, there definitely are familial versions of this. Parents will often stick with nicknames from their kid's childhood even though it's embarrassing.

    So you absolutely can do this kind of thing. But it has to be something genuinely hidden from other people to feel meaningful enough for other people to see it as an overstep to call her it. For something like Gem it's too obvious to work like that. She has a long and weird name that when used in full sounds really pretentious; I don't see why she wouldn't want people to call her Gem anyway. She might have another name her family calls her (or indeed they always call her the full Germania; it's often parents who insist on full names and kids who push away from that) but I think Gem is just her default all purpose name. It might say Germania on her driving liscence but when people see it she'd say "I know, I know... What was my mother thinking..." and let everyone else carry on thinking she's called Gemma.

    Also, as a point of order - Is she deliberately named after the Roman word for Germany? I ask because I love Gem as a pet name, that's great but Germania is... Incongruous if it's not deliberate. It's like a boy called Augustus; if there is no particular allusion being made then it just makes me slightly crease my brow and turn my head to the side.
     
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  13. Qalam

    Qalam New Member

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    Well, I'm thinking we can only remember how it felt when we read Twilight and then we'll all know the answer to your question. I mean, I never felt comfortable or the least bit embraced inside that strange book. That, not only because of the fragile writing style, but also her insistence to call the girl Bella, while her name is actually Elizabeth.

    If you have a name for a character, why use the nickname with the reader? Descriptive and non-dialogue paragraphs are private and intimate pieces between a reader and a protagonist. It's a sophisticated relationship that must not be ruined by something as seemingly childish and unprofessional as using nicknames.

    It's pretty much like calling my boss Telly, instead of Natalie.
     
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  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    You can do whatever you want. Writers have taken many approaches to this. I think it comes down to style and taste.
     
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  15. izzybot

    izzybot Oportet Vivere Contributor

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    I think that would be fine. I have several characters with multiple names / nicks / aliases and my vague rule is that, in narrative, I refer to them with the one they think of themself as (or that the pov character thinks of them as, if they're not pov). Granted, I'm also writing in close third most of the time - I think a solid case could probably be made for distant third = formal name in narrative. It's not one I'd capitulate to personally, but I think it could be made.
     
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  16. Dracon

    Dracon Senior Member

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    I never really thought of it like that before. I'll definitely bear that point in mind as I can continue to write. Confusing things also is that she spends part of the book posing as an ambassador where some conversations she has a more formal role, so I can use both depending on the situation (but still being consistent in the narration, of course).

    It's a name that's stuck. But it's something that I'm starting to think about again now. More than once I considered changing it to something else that would still have a contraction of Gem, primarily because the etymology doesn't fit now with the types of names I've chosen/invented for my other characters. And... maybe another reason too actually, which has just come to mind! I'll have to bear in mind that idea! :superthink:

    And I presume that holds also for real people too. I've never had a nickname before, so I can't really say (I feel fortunate). I think she would think of herself as Germania, even with or without the nickname. But then again, I've never had a nickname.
     
  17. izzybot

    izzybot Oportet Vivere Contributor

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    Oh, that's interesting - I was thinking that all(?) the people close to her call her by the nickname and she likes it, so likely she thinks of herself as [nickname]. But I've had nicknames that I liked being called, so that's only my perspective. Hell, a friend I had some six, seven years ago used to call me Jones and I still sometimes catch myself sarcastically going, "Nice work, Jones," hahah. But then I'm weird about names.
     
  18. Vrisnem

    Vrisnem Member

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    If the character would think of and introduce themselves to someone by their nickname, other than their given name, then I think it is more appropriate to use that name.

    e.g. the protagonist in one of my novels is named Charles. He is addressed in dialogue by that name a small number of times, but otherwise he would normally introduce himself as Charlie. So I refer to him as Charlie in the narrative.
     
  19. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    Real life nicknames work in weird ways.

    There legitimately are people (typically men but not always) who are now in their 50s who are being called the same nickname now that they were called at school. There's people out there who's wife knows them by their nicknames. But there's rather more people who's nicknames are much more contextual. Maybe if you're a biker then everyone is going to call you Nails or Throb or whatever but for most people it'll be certain groups of people who call you certain things and for specific reasons. In fact, a lot of nicknames are more occasional things; where most people call you your default name and only use a nickname are specific times. It's just, well, it's weird stuff. As most of us only stay in a specific social group for a shorter while we don't really internalize nicknames. It's only really if you are in one place for a very long time (say at school or in the army or indeed in a bike gang) that nicknames can accrue to the point that someone just becomes the nickname.
     

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