What’s in a name

No Name Road by NatalieMaynor

No Name Road by NatalieMaynor http://www.flickr.com/photos/nataliemaynor/ / CC BY 2.0

Simplicity. Just tell the story, don’t confuse things with fancy words.  Instead of “she pontificated,” “he wailed,” “they stated,” just stick with “said.” It’s the word that gets across exactly what the person is doing and it flies under the radar so that it doesn’t get in the way of the story. Those wise words, or some version of them, are in just about every “how to” writing article, book or class out there.

That same sentiment seems to apply to names. Once the character is given a name, it stays that name in narration. Julia can be called Jewels by a friend in conversation or honey by her mom, but the narrator always sticks to Julia. While I haven’t seen this rule spelled out in any writing book, it seems to be the norm for just about every book I’ve read (if you can think of exceptions or if this rule is the exception, please let me know). So, when I started writing scenes with Julia’s mom, I had to figure out how to refer to her. I couldn’t say Julia’s mom one time, Liz another and Mrs. Marsh in still another.

I’m using a limited third person narrator, so any one of those options is feasible, but… and that’s the problem. Liz seemed to personal since the narrator so closely follows Julia and Mrs. Marsh seemed to impersonal for that same reason. Julia’s mom seemed like is was too long-winded and  it broke the keep-it-simple idea. Would “Julia’s mom did this,” “Julia’s mom said that” been just as annoying and above the radar as “she pontificated?”

I opted for impersonal, probably taking a cue from all those 19th century novelists. Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet worked perfectly and didn’t spoil the emotional mood of the novel.

Everyone who has read the first 30 pages, has commented about how much they hated my using Mrs. Marsh. Some people were charitable (I guess it’s author’s choice but…), while others were more blunt (I really don’t think you should do this). I still can’t bring myself to say Liz, so I’m going with Julia’s mom or her mom and so making it even worse and more jumbled.

It’s the best solution for now, but I’m not particularly happy with it.

4 thoughts on “What’s in a name

  1. Emily

    How about just “Mom.” Or do you feel that brings the narration too close to first person.

    If the story were actually about Julia’s mom, how would you refer to her? Elizabeth? Liz? How often do you really have to name her? Can you use “Julia’s mom” when you really need to identify her, and just stick with pronouns the rest of the time?

    More questions then answers, but good luck!

  2. camsrobbins

    Wow, you are full of questions! 😉

    I do feel that Mom pulls the narration too close to first person. For the story to work in the end, I need the separation.

    I actually have to name the mom much more than I thought. At first, I thought I could just throw a Mrs. Marsh in there and pages and pages later throw in another one. But it turns out the moms like to be with and interact with their daughters (hmm, sound like someone you know?). And since many of the scenes so far all include women, using “she” just confuses things. Maybe I could just avoid the whole situation by turning Julia into Jules and Suzanne into, I don’t know, Alfred.

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