“You know, Bob . . .”

For some reason, writers like to use a character’s name often in dialogue: “You know, Alice, I really like those shoes.” “Really, Jane? I got them on sale last week.” “Alice, that’s great. Where’d you get them?” “I got them at Macy’s, Jane.”

The thing is, we almost never use a person’s name in dialogue with them. If you are calling someone’s attention to you, yes, you will say their name, but listen to conversations and see if you can ever catch one person using the other’s name. It almost never occurs. So, go through your sections of dialogue in your novel and take out names everywhere you can. There may be places where they feel appropriate, but more often than not they are creating unnatural clunky dialogue.

The same rule applies when using your character’s name over and over in your narrative. Once the reader knows who you are talking about, you don’t need to name John or Jane in every sentence. It can help to read your chapters aloud to catch those repeating names.

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  1. Good point. Spoken language differs a great deal from written language. Live conversation is full of visual and tonal cues that result in incomplete spoken sentences and thought-to-speech transitions. LOL. “Ever start a sentence with ‘So,…’?”

    I knew those pronoun antecedent rules I learned back in grade school English class would come in handy eventually.

  2. I agree. The only time people use each other’s names in conversation is when a significant emphasis is being made, e.g. “I swear to you, George, I didn’t steal your car.”

  3. You’re so right. I have always tried to use the person’s name as seldom as possible and still leave little doubt to the reader who is speaking.
    I do think this is sometimes overdone. I have been known to lose the “flow” on a page turn.
    As to the discussion about not hearing the name repeated endlessly/needlessly, I’d say try not to use the names over and over IN PRAYER. I don’t know how often I’ve heard a pray-er say something along the lines of; “Lord, we just thank you, Lord. God we so praise you, Lord God …”
    Maybe it’s just me, but I find it distracting, and often find myself counting the number of times the names are repeated, and then I miss the context. Not good!

  4. I think it depends. We do not tend to over use people’s names, but on occasion we do use their names in conversation when emphasizing something or when angry. When I was working in a college tutoring center, there was a girl who used to call one of the tutors “Mr. Matt” and she would say it in almost every sentence. “You know, Mr. Matt, I agree with you” or “Mr. Matt, I don’t understand this” or “Hey, don’t you think Mr. Matt is the smartest guy ever?” or “Oh come on, Mr. Matt!” It was annoying, but I think if you had a character that was annoying, it might actually help set them apart when writing dialogue. But, only if used for a purpose.

    People have conversational ticks. Some people say “like” too much or end every sentence with “ya know?” I use different speech patterns in dialogue so the characters do not sound exactly the same when they converse. Some of my characters use contractions, while others never do. I can’t really give writing advice though, because I’m not published. My degree is in Enlgish, concentration in teaching high school.

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