Monday, August 27, 2012

Last Names as First Names as Last Names

What have I been up to? After completing my novella roughly a week ago I've done some small stuff; worked on a couple pieces of flash fiction, which makes a nice change of pace from a big long project of 20,000 words.

I've also been preparing and sending out a bunch of short stories; I think I have a half dozen floating around in various slush piles across the fiction-reading world. And every different market has a different format they want to see it in ... if I get any news on those it will be in weeks or months. I suppose I could write another novella in the meantime to keep myself busy?

Besides this I am reading the same book of dark fantasy I was a week ago. Which is just fine except for a problem I had with one of the stories that perhaps no one else in the world would even notice. You could say it's a pet peeve, but I simply don't understand stories in which the main character, being a normal everyday fellow (because it's never a woman) is referred to throughout by his last name. As in, the character's name is John Doe but the narration goes, 'Doe got up, Doe went to the door, Doe realized no one had even knocked.' 

If the character worked in a place where he was always referred to by his last name--in the military, for example--maybe this would make sense. But I think not. Does anyone in the world think of themselves by their last name? And isn't the narration of the story supposed to let us in on the main character's point of view? There's just something very distancing about a main character whose last name is used as a first name.

And notice I say above that this is reserved for male characters. Of course! Because if I wrote 'James got up, James cartwheeled to the door, James forgot it was locked before cartwheeling straight into it,' you wouldn't be able to think of this narration as referring to a woman, although that's my last name. I don't cartwheel into doors, but if I did it would be Marissa, not James, and I tend to believe this would be true for pretty much everyone in the world, male or female.

Now, someone out there may be thinking along these lines: the last-name-as-first-name thing is meant to distance the reader from the main character, to create a barrier or rift between them, or to signal that the main character is the kind of person who would be referred to by last name by others. Maybe. But there are other ways to do these, I think, that don't sound so uncomfortable to my ear.

Any other opinions or comments on this topic? Because James would like to know if she's the only one in the world who's even noticed this as an issue. 

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