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Packing Heat 105: Hey, You!

Newbie mistakes #1

There are certain tendencies I see often in newbie writing, particularly romance writing. Let’s talk about the direct address today.

What is it?

Here’s the definition from About.com: A construction in which a speaker or writer directly addresses another individual; also, the name of the individual who is addressed. Conventionally, that individual's name is set off by a comma.

Honestly? What a useless definition! That’s like saying the definition of house is, well…house.

My simplest definition - When you directly address someone, you say his or her name within the sentence.


What you need, Rick, is a good talking to.
How could you do this to me, Suzanne?
Mom, did you wash my yellow pants?

While I’m not saying your characters should never address each other, I do think you should pick and choose those spots for effect. People just don’t typically talk that way, and too many addressings make your writing sound immature or hackish.

When CAN you do it?

  1. Maybe one character does it all the time and it’s his/her “thing.”
  2. When multiple people are talking and you don’t want to use a dialog tag (Dad? Can I talk to you?) The test – can you substitute “hey” for the person’s name?
  3. When you want to alter the rhythm of a sentence (IMO this is why most newbie writers do it…and it’s a huge crutch.)
  4. To convey that the character is trying to make a big point
  5. In the beginning of a story, to let the reader know what the character’s name is


Overuse of direct address often goes hand in hand with characters giving one another nicknames. If you’re going to have characters nickname one another, be sure you know your intent. People who call others by nicknames often come off as jerks. Is that what you’re going for, or did you want your characters to seem familiar? I’ll bet there are eight million other ways to indicate your characters’ familiarity—and ALL of them would be better than a nickname!

Your assignment

Eavesdrop on a single conversation this week and count how many times the people talking address one another. I’m betting almost never!

Listen here, 19 minutes:


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 26th, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC)
I would add "as an attention-getter."

Most of the time, the kids just talk to me. But if I'm up and moving and working, It's "Mom, mom, mom. Mom!" every sentence.
May. 26th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
How funny...I think I talked about that attention-getter function during the podcast but I didn't include it in the show notes!
May. 26th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
So, Jordan, you are saying that this is a case of rule-following by the inexperienced? ;)

I know that I rarely call anyone by name when I'm talking to them - my husband complains about it a lot! Normally the only time I use someone's name is if I am talking about them - "Fred's off work this week" - or I'm trying to get their attention in a crowd. I had noticed that some stories have a lot more spoken names than others, but I'd always put it down to the writer being a 'naming person' who uses names a lot in their own speech.

Just thought of another time when I'll use a name - thanking someone helpful on the phone. Most call centre operatives don't deserve names, but if they are pleasant and helpful (and if I wrote their name down when they gave it) then I will thank them 'personally'. And there's an example of bad usage in avoiding singular pronouns!
May. 26th, 2010 08:04 pm (UTC)
you are saying that this is a case of rule-following by the inexperienced?

Interesting question! I don't think that's quite what I'm getting at. I think it's a case of inexperienced writers trying to get a feel for writing by imitating what they see in popular fiction, but not quite understanding when and how often a technique should be used.

"Fred's off work this week"
This is not a case of direct address, it's just a proper noun used as the subject of a sentence. Direct address would be, "So, Fred, I hear you're off work."

And there's an example of bad usage in avoiding singular pronouns!
The English language is so dumb in that way.
May. 31st, 2010 09:57 am (UTC)
What an excellent excuse for evesdropping on other conversations. :-)

I know when I speak to someone I only use their name if like Mara I'm trying to get their attention or you are in a group of people "Hey Alexis, what did you do this weekend?" when 5 of us are standing around, rather than just "What did you do?" and getting 4 garbled responses. Or if I'm yelling up the stairs to my daughter to get her butt out of bed because she has to leave in 10 min. (Mom's I think have a higher incidence of name useage than most other people.)

But in general, I find you can look someone in the eye and say whatever you want without needing to say their name. Or if you are the only two people in the room. Although for sarcasm it can work well. "Gee, thanks for the helpful hint Jordan." :-D I kid, I kid.

I find it annoying when people on the phone (telemarketers or help-desks) use your name all the time. I know what my name is, you don't have to remind me. I know it's supposed to form a connection but really, I'm not your friend, just help me already.
May. 31st, 2010 11:08 am (UTC)
I HATE that phone thing, I find it incredibly creepy. It implies some sort of relationship or something. I feel violated when strangers use my name over and over.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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