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Character Names and Asides

edcomet

I am reading a story that takes place during the Napoleonic Wars and minor characters have names like Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen, John Ford and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few. This just jolts me right out of the story every time. This is not nearly as clever as the author thinks it is and saws a hole in my suspension of disbelief.

I hate "asides" for the same reason. Don't interrupt your story to tell me when the musket was invented or there's much more available about some battle you mention on some web page. I'll look that shit up if I want.

Let me stay in the story. don't knock me out by your need to show how clever or knowledgeable you are.

Switch Blayde

@edcomet

Don't interrupt your story to tell me


I think that's a cardinal sin. That's why I'm against such things as using parentheses in fiction to explain something.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
docholladay

@edcomet

Don't interrupt your story to tell me


If you really want to give this information. Do it as a footnote at the end of the chapter with a sub heading of footnotes. That would make it optional information but not critical to the story itself. Meaning it can be skipped if desired.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

@edcomet

Don't interrupt your story to tell me when the musket was invented or there's much more available about some battle you mention on some web page. I'll look that shit up if I want.


That's when it's a good idea to have it as note the reader can skip over if they want to.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

That's why I'm against such things as using parentheses in fiction to explain something.

That's why parentheses aren't considered an acceptable usage in fiction. While popular in non-fiction, fiction emphasizes using either plain commas or em-dashes. If it's an aside, you want to clearly mark it as such, but designate that the aside is essential to the meaning of the sentence, rather than merely extraneous information that no one cares about!

Replies:   EzzyB
Crumbly Writer

@docholladay

If you really want to give this information. Do it as a footnote at the end of the chapter with a sub heading of footnotes. That would make it optional information but not critical to the story itself. Meaning it can be skipped if desired.

The only time I'd include footnotes in fiction is for historical fiction, where understanding the details is essential in understanding the circumstances, and your fans expect a certain amount of historical accuracy. In any other genre, I'd think less of the story for including it, just as I wouldn't expect a prologue and epilogue in a romance story or mystery.

In one is needed, such a foreign terminology when someone travels overseas, I'd include everything in a Glossary in an Appendix (added chapter), so readers can jump to it to look up a variety of words, since that's as distracting as jumping to the end of each chapter.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

That's when it's a good idea to have it as note the reader can skip over if they want to.

That's why it's better to leave it on the cutting room floor. As Edcomet mentioned, if the reader cares enough, they can easily look it up themselves, they don't need the author yanking them out of the story to tell them something they really don't care about anyway. Either tell the story or write a blog post, but don't confuse the two.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

I wouldn't expect a prologue and epilogue in a romance story or mystery.


Epilogues while not common are not unheard of in traditionally published mysteries.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

As Edcomet mentioned, if the reader cares enough, they can easily look it up themselves,


Except the reality is 99% of the readers who don't know it or understand it will email the authors and ask about it - thus taking up a lot more of the author's time where a short note, clearly marked as such, can resolve that and also let the reader skip it if they wish to.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Except the reality is 99% of the readers who don't know it or understand it will email the authors and ask about it - thus taking up a lot more of the author's time where a short note, clearly marked as such, can resolve that and also let the reader skip it if they wish to.

That's easy enough: forward each the same Google Search link, allowing them to find it themselves if they're unable to figure out how to Google themselves. (So much for my always promoting treating readers positively!)

sharkjcw

If it is something that I am interested in I just open another window and google it, It is not worth e-mailing the author over.

EzzyB

@Crumbly Writer

fiction emphasizes using either plain commas or em-dashes.


Bah! A parenthetical by any other punctuation is still a parenthetical.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@EzzyB

Bah! A parenthetical by any other punctuation is still a parenthetical.

Not really, each punctuation marks has certain associations. Parenthesis are designed to yank you out of the current conversation to impart specific information—which is why it's frowned on in fiction. Commas work, without much significance one way or the other, while em-dashes denote something significant, something worthy of special note, it draws the eye. I frequently use them for a brief aside which foreshadows a major event to come in the future. Readers may not read much into it, but because it's marked in such a way, they tend to pay more attention to it, so it's likely to remain in their memories longer than a simpler aside.

The key, though, in all of this, is to NOT pull the reader out of the story. If you can't figure out a way to include the information in the story, then it usually belongs on the cutting room floor as immaterial to the story. If the aside isn't essential to understanding or advancing the story, then it's just not worth the effort.

A good example of this is how you might spell out abbreviations in parentheses in an email, but in fiction, it's cleaner to include the information in dialogue, as it's 'more natural' coming from the characters rather than from the author himself (re: Author Intrusion).

"We're from NCIS."

"Who?"

Tim sighs. "The Navel Crime Investigative Services."

The suspect rolls his eyes. "Couldn't you just say the damn Navy cops?"

"If I could, I would. You won't believe the number of times I've got to explain who the hell we are. NCIS doesn't just roll off the tongue like shouting 'POLICE!' does."

Replies:   REP  EzzyB  StarFleetCarl
REP

@Crumbly Writer

Not really, each punctuation marks has certain associations.


True to an extent. The marks themselves only set off text. The meaning of the marks is artificial in that writers and readers define the marks to have specific connotations. Those connotations are not inherent in the marks themselves. If someone has not learned the meanings associated with each type of punctuation, the connotation associated with the mark by others will not be understood.

EzzyB

@Crumbly Writer

I'll agree to a point. My editors will profess that I'm the most anti-comma person alive. Of course I adamantly refuse to use those ridiculous em-dashes as well.

Using commas where a parenthetcal is called for is simply bad grammar. Em-dashes are so far scattered in grammar as to be like that other crazy conversation I'm involved with now, Linux vs. Windows, or two spaces vs. one (I'm firmly in the two-space camp, my high-school typing teacher taught me that way, then again that was in the 70's).

The good news is that I long ago figured that English is malleable. Adapt it how you want, and how your readers like it.

Saying that parentheses is off-limits in fiction is just silly.

Switch Blayde

@EzzyB

I'm firmly in the two-space camp


I'm in the one-space camp EXCEPT on my iPhone. When I'm typing on my iPhone and want a period to end the sentence, I have two choices. Change the keyboard to get to the period (a pain) or hit two spaces so Apple puts the period in automatically.

Crumbly Writer

@EzzyB

Using commas where a parenthetcal is called for is simply bad grammar.

No, it's simply a different usage for a different environment. Just as you wouldn't use smilies for business correspondence, or include dirty movies when writing about an abused women's shelter, you generally don't use em-dashes for non-fiction, and you don't use parentheses for fiction.

Parentheses are short-hand, just like smilies are, and they're designed to take you out of the passage to tell you something the author wants you to know (the very definition of Author Intrusion). While I'd never use a parenthesis in fiction, you'll note that I use them all the time here on the forum. It's a separate medium, and you abide by a separate set of rules governing each.

There are still plenty of authors who do use parentheses in fiction (usually their authors who came to the field from another field, where their inclusion was considered the norm). Their use in fiction (aside from their odd use in dialogue) is mainly used to highlight significant passages without the awkward Author Intrusion, so readers don't feel like they're being lectured. There's also a timing element to the em-dashes, just as there are to commas. Readers—for whatever reason— typically pause whenever the reach a comma, allow authors to control the pace at which passages are read. Those momentary pauses can convey a lot of meaning if carefully placed (and timed).

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@EzzyB

I adamantly refuse to use those ridiculous em-dashes as well.


Parentheses are used as an aside. Em-dashes to emphasis something (among other uses).

That's why people say not to use parentheses in fiction. An aside is the author talking, giving the reader info, taking the reader out of the story.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Using commas where a parenthetcal is called for is simply bad grammar.
No, it's simply a different usage for a different environment.


Not always (not talking fiction writing here). This is from Grammar Girl:

The 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens (May 18, 1980) brought back vivid memories of ash and darkness.

another good reason to use parentheses is that the date already contains a comma between the day and the year, so to surround it with commas would make the sentence difficult to read.


According to a Grammarly blog at https://www.grammarly.com/blog/duking-it-out-parentheses-vs-dash/ the AP Style Guide (not used for fiction but journalism) says the parenthesis is going away. It's an interesting article.

Replies:   REP
Ross at Play

@EzzyB

Saying that parentheses is off-limits in fiction is just silly.

I seem to recall a lot of people here vehemently insisting nothing is off-limits in fiction.
I do note that the most experienced authors here all tend to agree parentheses are never essential in fiction, if information is needed it can be incorporated into the narrative or dialogue, and they always prefer doing that. However, I'm inclined to bristle when anyone goes a step beyond recommendations to others, and asserts it's somehow incorrect to not do the same as they do. I think that is "just silly" too.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
REP
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


It's an interesting article.


No problem with that.

Articles expressing their authors' opinions can be very interesting. Especially when you have two articles that contradict each other and each of the authors believe their opinion is correct.

The problem arises when other people fail to realize the article is an opinion and start quoting the article as factual.

richardshagrin

Your opinion is fact. My opinion is questionable. That other guy's opinion is utter balderdash.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@richardshagrin

There's an expression for that kind of thing: emotive conjugation.

Some examples by Bertrand Russell on BBC Radio in 1948:
I am firm, you are obstinate, he is a pig-headed fool.
I am righteously indignant, you are annoyed, he is making a fuss over nothing.
I have reconsidered the matter, you have changed your mind, he has gone back on his word.

Some more from the character Bernard Woolley from the Yes, Minister TV series:
I have an independent mind; you are an eccentric; he is round the twist.
I give confidential press briefings, you leak, he's being charged under section 2A of the Official Secrets Act.

So richardshagrin's example should probable he:
I state facts, you give opinions, he talks complete bullshit.

A more modern example would be:
I am cynical about all politicians, you watch network news, he trusts Fox News.

Replies:   Grant  Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

However, I'm inclined to bristle when anyone goes a step beyond recommendations to others, and asserts it's somehow incorrect to not do the same as they do. I think that is "just silly" too.

Actually, I agree, as there are often times when virtually anything is called on. Hell, I've used them myself—especially in my early writing days. Instead, it's always important for writers to realize why certain things are looked down upon, so they realize what they're risking when they try it. If a technique fails—once the author accepts a known risk—then the blame is entirely on them.

However, the key between 'use of the dash and commas is silly' vs. 'I understand why they're used, but they fit in this instance' are miles apart. In one, the author (supposedly) doesn't understand why it's important, and in the other he's accepting the risk knowingly.

Grant

@Ross at Play

from the Yes, Minister TV series

Ah, Yes Minister. And then Yes Prime Minister.
My Mum couldn't watch either show.
After being heavily involved with some community organisations and having a lot of direct contact with several Ministers in the State government she found it too accurate to be funny.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Some examples by Bertrand Russell on BBC Radio in 1948:
I am firm, You are obstinate, He is a pig-headed fool.

Or:

I'm absolutely right, you're reporting fake news, and you're all a bunch of big meanies!!!!

One thing about Russell, he certainly knew how to compose sentences for maximum impact.

docholladay

The only times I think a writer has to be extremely careful with names is when those names will set a particular date to the story. In those situations the title is probably better for example the President of America or the Prime Minister of England. The actual names will lock a story into a particular time frame while the title makes it so the time could be any year or date.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@docholladay

The actual names will lock a story into a particular time frame


Even then you can use fictional names for a fictional timeline.

docholladay

@Dominions Son

Even then you can use fictional names for a fictional timeline.


That works well as a rule. The trick is to avoid naming a real person in those type positions. Names which can sound the same would work probably as long as they are actually spelled differently.

Take my Last name for example: Holladay
Its spelled in many different ways but regardless of how it is spelled the sound is the exact same. Change the spelling yet keep the sound. Pronunciation is such a handy tool for naming public figures yet avoiding their legal names.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Even then you can use fictional names for a fictional timeline.

Another author I'm working with transposed a Cathy against an Atsa in a Medieval fantasy world, and the name was jarring, as it yanked the one character out of his invented world and threw her—and the reader—into the modern world.

Yeah, names can be simple, but they can also be striking. I often select names from baby name websites to capture the meanings that reflect their personalities long before they are revealed to the reader.

Crumbly Writer

@docholladay

Take my Last name for example: Holladay
Its spelled in many different ways but regardless of how it is spelled the sound is the exact same. Change the spelling yet keep the sound. Pronunciation is such a handy tool for naming public figures yet avoiding their legal names.

Doc. HollowDy?

StarFleetCarl

@Crumbly Writer

"The Navel Crime Investigative Services."


Why is your bellybutton committing a crime?

Crumbly Writer

@StarFleetCarl

Why is your bellybutton committing a crime?

It's out for all the link it can grab. Hide your dryer sheets and children's dirty socks!

You'd think, after having spent my entire childhood on various Navy bases and steeped in their culture, I'd figure out how to spell Naval. Then again, maybe it's psychological, given what they did to both my father and brother concerning my brother's land-breaking trial in the 80's.

Ernest Bywater

@StarFleetCarl


Why is your bellybutton committing a crime?


I thought he was referring to a gang of criminal oranges.

Replies:   samuelmichaels
samuelmichaels

@Ernest Bywater

I thought he was referring to a gang of criminal oranges.


Now, if it was the Mandarin Investigative Services, it could refer to the auditors of Chinese Imperial Officials, or perhaps a private detective agency who speak Chinese.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@samuelmichaels


Now, if it was the Mandarin Investigative Services, it could refer to the auditors of Chinese Imperial Officials, or perhaps a private detective agency who speak Chinese.


Watch out for the Spaniards, I hear the Valencia Cartel may get involved.

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