Using proper names in dialogue


When was the last time you had a convo with someone and used their name, even once – much less five or six times? It just doesn’t happen in real life and it shouldn’t happen in your writing.

There are only a few times it’s okay to use a person’s name in dialogue:

  • There are more than two people and the reader would be confused otherwise
  • Introductions
  • The speaker is being a condescending asshole
  • Shocking news has just been delivered – i.e. Oh, Dan! No! I’m so sorry.”
  • Shocking news is being delivered – i.e. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth. The hangnail is fatal. There’s nothing we can do.”

Go somewhere crowded and listen to people speak. You may feel like an eavesdropping creeper, but screw it. If it helps your writing, be a creeper.

Repeating someone’s name over and over again… Just, NO! Bad writer.

If you need to do this for yourself in your first draft, obviously that’s okay. In the first draft, just smear words on the page. Anything goes. But, fix it in the edit!

If you’re afraid the reader will be confused as to who’s being spoken to, there might be a few fixes.

  • Make sure the dialogue is pointed enough that it refers to one character just by context.
  • Use actions to indicate the speakee. He turned back to Janet and handed her the staff. “Use this carefully.” Just make damned sure the staff is important to the story… but, that’s a post for another time…

Any other definitive uses for names in dialogue you can think of, let me know in the comments.



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