brni (brni) wrote,

the name in dialogue

Sometimes I'll be happily reading along and something will stick out and catch my eye and snag my attention. And not in a good way. These are things that pull me out of the flow of the story, that prompt a flash of readerly annoyance, and force me to have to push through to continue reading, rather than being pulled through the text by the flow of the narrative.

These are things that function rather like the annoying ads for whatever other TV show the network is pimping. You know, the ones that pop up and scroll around the bottom of the screen while the show that you're actually trying to watch is playing? It's a distraction, an annoyance, a hitch. A break in the flow.

In literature, probably the most frequent "hitch" I'm running into is the use of the proper name within dialogue. I'll give you an example from what is otherwise a perfectly good book that I'm in process of reading, China Mieville's The Scar:

     "Shivering Wisdom obviously think this is on the level, Silas. If this is a fraud, it's taken in a scientific publishing house--as well, dammit, as the best fucking minds on Armada.
     "What else are the Lovers' scientists reading, Silas? My friend Johannes' Theory of Megafauna. [and so on]

People don't do that in real life. When two people are conversing, they don't interject each other's names in there all the time. Two people in a closed room do not need to remind each other who is speaking, and who they are speaking to.

The time to use another's name in the course of a conversation is to gain attention. This might happen between two people at the beginning of a conversation. "Hey, Linda, did you hear about Arlen Spector?" Or it might be interjected in the middle of a conversation, like so: "Brni? Brni? Have you heard a fucking word I've said?"

But other than that, two people who know each other having a conversation aren't likely to use each other's names. (Bob Dole and Cerebus might use their own names, but that's an entirely different disorder.)

Where the name in dialogue IS used is when a group of people are together. There, it acts as a context switching signal. Uttering the name is a signal to the named person that the content is directed at them, and likewise a signal to everyone else that it is NOT directed at them. At least, not directly.

But two people in a closed room? There's no reason for one character to use the other's name five times in the course of a train of thought.

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