Construction Zone: Names in Dialogue

When I got the comments back from my beta readers on the first draft of Her Private Chef, one of them mentioned that my characters tend to use names a lot in dialogue. For example:

“That’s not fair,  Sarah.” He ran a finger lightly over her collarbone. “You never even gave me a chance.”

In other words, some of my characters refer to the people they’re speaking to by name. Unfortunately, I’m a poor judge of how this “sounds” on paper because…I do the same thing. If I’m talking to someone, I inevitably use their name several times. “Now Janet,” “But Ashley, you know that…” “Wow Dan, that sounds exciting!” You get the idea. It’s much smoother than that in real life, or I think it is, anyway.

The sentence still works without the name, of course, as long as both characters have been in the scene all along:

“That’s not fair.” He ran a finger lightly over her collarbone. “You never even gave me a chance.”

The problem is, sometimes I just think it seems to flow better with a name. It seems to me that the speaker is intentionally using the name to add emphasis, to really personalize the exchange. Naturally many people disagree – saying the name breaks up the flow of the dialogue.

As I’m editing, I’m scrutinizing my usage of names in dialogue to determine whether it really does add to the exchange, or whether removing the name makes it flow better. It’s slow going, due to my own propensity to use this particular speech pattern myself.

Do your characters use names in dialogue? Have you noticed it in books you’ve read? Do you have a personal preference for when this might be appropriate, if at all?

10 comments on “Construction Zone: Names in Dialogue

  1. Kait Nolan

    It might be a habit you personally have but MOST people, when they are speaking, don’t use the name of the person they are speaking to–at least not if they already have their attention. So I think that’s why it’s jarring for most readers. I think it’s something that can be used occasionally for emphasis, but not all the time. It just doesn’t sound natural.

  2. Shannon O'Donnell

    This is an interesting post. I’ve never really thought about the issue of names with dialogue before. Hmmm…I’m going to have to pay more attention from now on. 🙂

  3. Cynthia Reese

    My cure for this, or for any repetitive tic in my writing, for that matter, is reading my WIP aloud. It helps me better judge the flow of the words.

  4. Valerie D

    That’s interesting. I’m going to go and look at mine. I know I do that a lot while speaking, but now I’ll have to check it out in the wip…I don’t think it sounds funny unless it’s overdone.

  5. Carol

    This is another one of those things I’ve never given much thought to in my writing/editing.

    But, having taken a quick look at a couple of my drafts, I tend to use a character’s name in conversations for emphasis when another character is saying something important, or to let the reader know who’s speaking without having to keep putting in “he said” or “she said”.

  6. Jamie D.

    Yep – I think you’re right. I think I need to cut the majority of it, just to make it more mainstream. It’s that whole “you can’t write dialogue like you speak it” thing.

  7. Jamie D.

    Always glad when I can make people think. I apologize in advance if you spend a ton of time listening for names in conversations now. LOL

  8. Jamie D.

    Quick Blogcast: New Comment on Construction Zone: Names in Dialogue at The Variety Pages

    Hi Cynthia – thanks for stopping in!
    I really like reading my drafts aloud to edit too – it’s amazing how much I catch that I never would just reading…
  9. Jamie D.

    Quick Blogcast: New Comment on Construction Zone: Names in Dialogue at The Variety Pages

    Hi Valerie – thanks for stopping by!
    Oh good, I’m not the only one who does that while speaking! It’s the “overdone” part I’m worried about – I just want to make sure I don’t do it so often as to be annoying to those who…well…find it annoying…
  10. Jamie D.

    I’ve definitely done it for emphasis…I’m not sure I do it to avoid “he/she said” though. But I can see where that would be a good use if the characters aren’t otherwise identified in the scene, for sure.