we talked about “what?” (as opposed to “whatever”). Along similar lines, have you noticed that characters in television shows call each other by name waaaaay more than people do in real life? And I’m guilty of this myself.
What I’m talking about specifically are conversations between two people. It’s common to use names during greetings. “Hey, Octavio, what’s going on?” “Eustacia, you’re looking hot”, etc.
But once you get into the text of a conversation, rarely do you say the other’s person name… unless it’s to really emphasize a point, or more often, because you’re pissed at that person. “Persefone, you ran over the cat,” or “Thaddeus, you can’t sleep with the nanny.”
I understand using the convention for pilots. The audience doesn’t know who these characters are yet. And it’s a big help on ORPHAN BLACK where the same actress plays nine different roles. When Sarah and Alisson are talking about Cosima and Rachel, and they’re all the same person, names prove to be mighty handy.
But frequently we writers use names as a crutch, a way to prefix or punctuate a line. And in normal conversation people use prefixes a lot. “Look,” “Listen,,” “I mean,” “You know,” “It’s like,” Um,” and every dialogue writer’s favorite: “Well…” Sprinkling in a character’s name allows you to avoid “Well,” to begin every speech.
I’m currently in the process of rewriting my play. It’s a two-character piece so 90% of the time it’s a dialogue between one couple. As I’m going through, revising, sure enough, there are instances when they call each other by name unnecessarily. I’ve cut that down from 50 to 42. No, I’m kidding. But still, more like 15 times to 5.
Seriously, for the next few days, when you’re in conversations with people you know well, see how many times you call each other by name.
All that said, I have to boast that we on CHEERS found perhaps the best use of a character’s name.