Don’t Talk Like That: How to Write Good Dialogue–Name Dropping

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Hi SErs! Harmony here 🙂

Today, I’d like to take a look at dialogue. Because this is such a large topic, I plan to break it down over a few posts. As the post title suggests, we’ll look at ‘name dropping’ within dialogue today.

‘I’m sorry, Jake, and sorry to be bothering you on a Sunday. But this situation can get dicey and needs a steady hand. I trust you, Jake, and that’s why I’m asking you to step in. You know, Jake, when I was a young lawyer I learned that we don’t always get to choose our clients, right?’

The above quote comes from a recently published book by a big-name traditionally published author. I believe this is the first ever time I’ve actually seen a name used THREE times in one single piece of dialogue. It’s bad enough used once in each line of dialogue, never mind this many times.

As you’ve no doubt also guessed, today’s post is all about limiting the amount of times you drop names into dialogue. I know many of us speak like this in real life, but in our writing we need to cut it out.

Top Tip: When you need to identify the speaker, it is far better to utilise dialogue tags or beats [more on those in a later post].

The author could have used all these name drops for emphasis or manipulation, which would fit the current context where I found this extract, and would have been an excellent use of name dropping in this instance. However, when you read the whole book and see this sort of thing repeated time and again, it dawns on you that the writer has no clue, and that there is no apparent reason for this amature use of dialogue.

Below, I show an example of dialogue done well.

‘Why didn’t you ask your dad while you had the opportunity?’ she said.

The third shot laid a brace to my spine–or maybe her insinuation had more to do with it. ‘What are you getting at?’

‘He knew everything going on in this town. You don’t think he knew what happened to his firstborn?’

‘Are you suggesting my father–?’

The use of tags and beats avoids name dropping nicely here, and because this dialogue is between two speakers only, we don’t need to keep on identifying the person talking each and every time. With three or more people, things get trickier. However, the above use of tags and beats is the way to go, rather than constant name dropping.

For those interested, the two books I’ve taken quotes from are: A Time for Mercy by John Grisham and The Thing About Kevin by Beem Weeks.

The take-away from all of this is that while we want to avoid, or at least limit, the use of name dropping, it does have a place when used sparingly as a tool for emphasis or something else such as manipulation, etc. Before we break the rules, we need to know the rules, and we only break them if we have a valid reason to do so to enhance our artistic expression in writing.


That’s it from me for today. I hope you find this post useful. And I’ll see you again on April 2nd  🙂

©2021 Harmony Kent

84 thoughts on “Don’t Talk Like That: How to Write Good Dialogue–Name Dropping

  1. Pingback: Don’t Talk Like That: Talking Heads | Story Empire

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  3. Pingback: Don’t Talk Like That: How to Write Good Dialogue–Tags & Beats | Story Empire

  4. Hi Harmony, this is an interesting discussion. I am well aware of the use of name repetition in emails and certain discussions for certain purposes such as manipulation or consolidarity but also as a sign of respect. It is so ingrained in me that I always repeat names when I email or discuss things with people. It is something we are taught to do. This came immediately to my mind when I read the first quote. I don’t read John Grisham so I don’t know if this is well done or a flaw.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I see that most agree with you. I think in normal circumstances you are right but it all depends on the story that you wish to tell. In the “Talisman” by Stephen King/ Peter Straub, Jake is unsure of himself and utters something like, “Jake, Jake, Jake, remember who you are Jake, Jason, Jake, Jake. Remember Jason, Jake, Jake Jake, that is who you are Jason. Etc. (apologies if I have not got that right), I read it around twenty years ago (but I am close).
    Mars Peters Johanson started each paragraph with “Lars Dalson” Lars Dalson woke that morning to frost. Lars Dalson smoked his last cigarette…etc.
    The first Scandi Noir to be published world wide. Both books sold millions both repeated names over and over so much so that the readers mind discounted the names, did not have to read them. I would not worry about this. Best thing to do is just write a great story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Avoiding repetition is the best way to go. The only exception is using ‘said’ in dialogue tags instead of getting overly descriptive; otherwise, the thesaurus and synonyms are your friends. Thanks for stopping by, Snoozy 🙂

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  7. I’m going to enjoy this series, Harmony! Cold callers have a habit of overusing your name in an attempt to be friendly – it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work in novels, either. It’s great that you point out the problem, illustrate it with a real example (good heavens, what was he thinking!) and then give suggestions for ways to avoid the problem. Thanks. xx

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Pingback: #ReblogAlert – Don’t Talk Like That: How To Write Good Dialogue – Name Dropping by Harmony Kent on #StoryEmpire | The Write Stuff

  9. I try to use names only when a conversation starts out, and it sounds like a typical greeting by the characters involved. Even that isn’t always necessary, but sometimes, especially since I enjoy starting new chapters with dialogue now and then, I think it can be made to work well. But after that, I think it should be clear from the dialogue, which of the characters is speaking. One thing I’ve been trying to remember as I finish each draft chapter, is to do a quick Word search for each name. Then I can see from the highlights if I’ve overdone it anywhere else, too.

    You are definitely on a great topic here, Harmony! Super post, and I’ll be following along, for sure! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Name dropping drives me crazy—your example borders on the absurd. When observing and listening to conversations, it is rare to hear one person use the other person’s name in the middle of a conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is. I’ve found that the name dropping in real life depends upon regional use and upbringing. The world of conversation and communication fascinates me. But this is a huge no-no when writing. Like you, it drives me crazy. Thanks, Pete 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Eliminating the name drop makes the conversation more natural. I agree with not having to identify speakers when it is obvious (and going back and fourth), which eliminates a lot of the he said/ she said/ he replied/ she asked, which makes the dialogue flow better for the reader. I do tend to use an identifier if it goes to long, thought.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I can’t believe Grisham wrote that. And I can’t believe is editor didn’t flag him on it!

    People don’t name drop when speaking to others in real life. That’s how our characters should behave, too.

    Good tips, Harmony!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is such a big topic, Harmony, and I look forward to future posts. Today’s advice is golden. I too, am thrown off by the speaker using a person’s name more than once in a sentence. The only time I can that as being acceptable is when it is used for sarcasm emphasis and that, of course, would be determined by the scene surrounding the dialogue. I am all for using no tags at all when it’s just two people talking but may throw in a beat or two to break up the monotony. What a great post! Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Judy, the one time repetition is recommended is for dialogue tags. He said/ she said is correct and better than other descriptors such as ‘interjected’ or ‘chirped’ etc. Otherwise, leave it untagged if it’s clear who’s speaking, or intersperse with beats to break it up. I think if I saw a ‘she said’ after every single instance, it would drive me nuts too. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Like

  14. I always struggle with dialog, and that’s why I publish tagless dialog on my blog. It allows me to work through the discussion and make clear who is talking. In these exercises, I don’t use beats ether—one more way to try and be extra sharp. I have found beats to be the best way to clear up any confusion around who is talking. I’m glad you are exploring dialog, Harmony. You do these lessons so well, and you have the ability to make your points memorable. I’m not surprised “Jake” came from Grissom. I stopped reading him a long time ago because there are some very bad habits in his books, and he is very critical of indie writers.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Excellent post! I’ve never read Grisham but hubby loves him. I have read most of Beem Weeks’ books and always marvel at this skill. In my WIP, the scenes often include multiple speakers. If I get lost in who’s saying what (which happens), I know the reader will as well. Thank you for tackling this topic, Harmony, I suspect I’ll be learning a lot. 😊

    Liked by 5 people

  16. Just goes to show that professional editors don’t always make the best choices. Lol! I couldn’t even finish reading that first quote. Dialogue should sound natural, as if the people are standing in front of you having a conversation. I don’t ever use a person’s name when I’m speaking to them unless I’ve just met them and I’m trying to etch their name into my memory. Lol! I’m looking forward to your next post, Harmony! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  17. I do one post of tag less dialog a week. I try to balance the name dropping with avoiding confusion. Early on, I was losing readers in the conversation. In more serious writing, I try to avoid the names, unless it fits the situation. Thanks for taking on this series.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Gresham wrote that mess??? Unbelievable. I could see if an author did it in one instance (signifying nervousness on the part of the speaker) but continually. Reminds me of a book I read by Victor Methos. The repeats throughout the book (not just in dialogue) were laughable. Anyhow…

    I tend to write dialogue-heavy and it does get tricky when there are more than two characters in a scene. Looking forward to more of this series.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Pingback: Don’t Talk Like That: How to Write Good Dialogue–Name Dropping — Story Empire – yazım'yazgısı (typography)

  20. Pingback: Don’t Talk Like That: How to Write Good Dialogue–Name Dropping | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  21. I liked this post, Harmony 🙂 I did this once with dialogs, but fixed it before it was published. I wanted to avoid tags and ended up going too far in another direction. Good examples and you are right so much easier to write a two person conversation.

    Liked by 5 people

  22. Yes, I struggle with repetition of words (or names) all the time. LOL. However Hemingway repeats all the time, but it sounds nice. For example, “Anyway, I want a cat,” she said, “I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I can have a cat.” Isn’t life unfair? When Hemingway does it, it sounds nice. When I do it, it sounds bad. LOL.

    Liked by 6 people

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