Chomiji (chomiji) wrote in fandom_grammar,
Chomiji
chomiji
fandom_grammar

  • Mood:

Feature - Writing Tips: Epithets Redux

A fair number of you are probably thinking "Huh? FG is going to tell us about calling people names?" In fact, we're going to do exactly that!

However, we don't mean "hurling epithets," as Ichigo and Renji are doing here:

"You jerk!" shouted Ichigo. "Whose idea was this, anyway?"

"Yours, you idiot," growled Renji.

This is actually a secondary definition for the word epithet: "a disparaging or abusive word or phrase " (Webster's). No, what we're going to discuss here is the more classical use of the word: "a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing."

There's an excellent chance you've come across these kinds of epithets, especially in fanfiction. For example:

"Matsumoto, you're offering me ... what kind of a drink?" said Ichigo, frowning.

The buxom blonde Soul Reaper sighed: "Why do people always think I'm trying to get them drunk?"
 
"There's a lovely moon tonight," said Shunsui to Ukitake; "and I have some very fine sake."

"You know I don't need excuses to spend some time with you," replied the grey-haired man.
 
"You don't need to treat me like your little fangirl any more," said Soi Fon coldly. The darkly feline woman raised a sardonic eyebrow at her.
 

With help from the cast of the manga and anime Bleach

Are epithets a good thing? As in so many cases, it depends. What did you think of the three examples? Did these epithets work for you - or did they throw you right out of the scene?

Each of the three examples is, in fact, problematic. What do Rangiku Matsumoto's figure and hair color have to do with offering Ichigo a drink? Why is it important for us to be reminded, at this moment, that Jūshirō Ukitake has grey hair? Does Yoruichi Shihōin's physical appearance have anything to do with Soi Fon's negative attitude?

Another issue is that in each of these cases, the point of view (POV) character knows the other character too well to be thinking of him or her in simple descriptive terms. Ukitake is Shunsui's best friend (in many fanons, they're more than that), and he has known him for literally centuries. Yoruichi was Soi Fon's patron, mentor, and captain for many years. On the scale of these two examples, Ichigo and Matsumoto have barely met - but he still knows her too well to think of her in mere descriptive terms.

Of course, Ichigo is a teenaged boy, and Bleach mangaka (manga creator) Kubo Tite always draws Rangiku with her ample bosom spilling out of her kimono-like uniform top - so it's likely that Ichigo would notice that if she approached him with the offer of a drink. If that's what's on your mind, then make it part of your description of the scene:

"Matsumoto, you're offering me ... what kind of a drink?" said Ichigo, frowning.

He couldn't help but notice the rise and fall of her creamy bosom as she sighed, exasperated. "Why do people always think I'm trying to get them drunk?"

In our earlier article on this subject, green_grrl notes there are cases when an epithet can be appropriate. For example, in some situations, people may think of another character by his or her title:

Isane looked up from her desk and saw Unohana watching her. "You've been sleeping badly again, haven't you?" said the captain gently.

Likewise, your POV character may think of some person in terms of the role he or she plays in the POV character's life:

"There's a lovely moon tonight," said Shunsui to Ukitake; "and I have some very fine sake."

"You know I don't need excuses to spend some time with you," replied his friend.

Another excellent point that green_grrl makes is there's nothing wrong with names. There is no set rule for how many times you can use a character's name in a given section of your story, and in fact, names have a tendency to fade into the background:

There's nothing wrong with names:

"You don't need to treat me like your little fangirl any more," said Soi Fon coldly. Yoruichi raised a sardonic eyebrow at her.

Poor epithet choice - irrelevant and inappropriate for POV:

"You don't need to treat me like your little fangirl any more," said Soi Fon coldly. The darkly feline woman raised a sardonic eyebrow at her.

Better epithet:

"You don't need to treat me like your little fangirl any more," said Soi Fon coldly. Her former captain raised a sardonic eyebrow at her

There's nothing wrong with names:

"Well, you managed to survive another one!" said Yumichika, brightly.

"Of course I did," Ikkaku replied.

Poor epithet choice - irrelevant and inappropriate for POV:

"Well, you managed to survive another one!" said Yumichika, brightly.

"Of course I did," the bald Third Seat replied.

Better epithet:

"Well, you managed to survive another one!" said Yumichika, brightly.

"Of course I did," his partner replied.

Whether you think that Yumichika and Ikkaku are simply best friends and comrades or something more, there's no way that Yumichika would think of Ikkaku merely in terms of his most striking physical characteristic and and his official rank - especially when Ikkaku has just barely made it through another earth-shattering combat.

Is it ever appropriate to use a descriptive epithet? Of course - if, for example, your POV character is encountering someone for the first time:

In this case, the name is not the best choice:

Ichigo was pulled out of his glum thoughts by the voice of his teacher, who was apparently about to introduce a new student. Shinji Hirako had the widest grin Ichigo had ever seen, but somehow the effect wasn't at all humorous.

An epithet would be better:

Ichigo was pulled out of his glum thoughts by the voice of his teacher, who was apparently about to introduce a new student. The lanky blond boy had the widest grin Ichigo had ever seen, but somehow the effect wasn't at all humorous.

Should you use epithets? The choice is up to you, but when you find yourself about to insert one, consider green_grrl's basic points:

  • Does it reduce a complex character to a single characteristic?
  • Are you using it to make a point that could be better served by a longer descriptive passage?
  • Is it relevant to this moment in the story?
  • Is it an epithet that makes sense to the speaker or POV?
  • Is it true to canon?

 

Tags: !feature, author:chomiji, writing tips, writing tips:epithets, writing tips:style
Subscribe

  • Post a new comment

    Error

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

  • 9 comments