Name Dropping

Standard

In a recent writer’s group submission, I described a big box store and its blue polo, khaki wearing employees.

Some members of the group said I was spot on in my description of Best Buy, while others were frustrated that I didn’t name names.

Further into the piece, a character played an unnamed first-person shooter (video game) with lots of explosions.

Someone really wanted an exact name of the video game (even if it was made up), and someone else wanted me to be explicit in which game controller and system my character was using. And some people were confused as to what a first-person shooter was.

One of the people who wanted more names accused me of trying too hard to future-proof my novel. To a certain extent, I suppose I am — this guy should see how I danced around naming Facebook — but I don’t think it’s true in these cases.

I don’t care if the reader thinks the store is Best Buy or Walmart or Radio Shack. That’s not important. What’s important is that my character can get both a video game and a cell phone at the same store. That’s more practical than literary, but it’s true.

I’ve read stories that named Woolworth’s and A&P. Those names mean nothing to me. They’re stores. That’s as much information as I get. I’ve read books that named JC Penny’s and Marks & Spencer. Those means more to me only because those stores still exist. But in another 5 years? 10 years?

If I’m using the name to convey something about the character or the setting, shouldn’t it be something that can A) stand the test of time from writing to publishing and B) have a similar meaning to a wide audience?

I know the JC Penny’s reference was to show the poverty of the community, but if you’re from a similar community, you’re going to read that reference very differently.

As for the video game, I’m going for a feeling. A shoot ’em, blow ’em game reflects the characters mood. Which one? What I think is a gory shooting game might be fluff to someone else, so if I name names, I may not be conveying what I want.

I read an article (which I can’t find now) in which an author explained people’s reaction to his description of a character. He wrote that she was like a model on the cover of a men’s magazine. Several of his friends said he described her so well that they knew she looked like and then they proceeded to describe vastly different women. This didn’t bother the author because his goal was not to describe the woman’s hair color, build, etc., but to have the reader envision what they found sexy.

That’s what I’m going for more than future-proofing (except maybe with my non-mention of Facebook). If I do a clumsy job, then it’s my description needs work, not necessarily my approach.

What do you think?

When you’re working on your novels, do you use brand names? Do you worry about future-proofing?