Monday, February 11, 2013
First Names = Characters, You're in Trouble
If you're anything like me, you know quite well that the main purpose of middle names is so you can tell when you're REALLY in trouble. They are the default, "I'm warning you" setting for most parents.
I was reading a book the other day and realized that, in fiction, first names can have that same kind of stopping power. For slightly different reasons.
Let's look at some examples.
Harry's love interest and partner in crime fighting is Karrin Murphy, affectionately known to him as "Murph" throughout most of the series. Only about twice a book, do we see a "Karrin" slipped in there, and it typically happens at points of high tension or character change. This shifts a little as the series goes on and they become closer, and because readers have been familiar with what I'll call the "First Name Rule" up until that point, the more frequent use of her name is a sign in itself of their growing relationship.
Karen Marie Moning does an excellent job of stoking the chemistry between her two main characters in part because of the names by which they know each other--Barrons and Ms. Lane. It only becomes "Jericho" and "Mac" in situations of life and death. The characters know it and react to it, and readers do too!
Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt Books
This is another one where the two main characters, best friends, rarely think of each other by their first names (or, at least, rarely speak them out loud). If Al or Dirk do call each other directly by name, you know something's about to go down.
Okay, not a book...but still awesome! When they started calling each other "Rick" and "Kate," instead of "Castle" and "Beckett," it meant something and we all knew it. Even without any other hints.
For a couple of my books, I've pulled out the First Name Rule and tried to limit my use so one particular first name or another has stopping power for readers.
How about you? Do you do this in your writing? Have you noticed it in your reading?