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Surname to First Name Transition

edited January 2017 in Writing
To illustrate my query, let us imagine I am writing Double Indemnity, that thrilling tale of murder and deception that was made into an excellent film in 1944.

Insurance salesman Walter Neff (that's with two ‘f’s like Philadelphia), meets the glamorous but neglected Phyllis Dietrichson when he calls to arrange the renewal of her husband’s motor insurance. They start an affair that leads to murder.

So I’m onto Chapter 2, where they meet. The narrative, which is in the first person, contains pieces like these:

Mrs Dietrichson poured some iced tea…

I told Mrs Dietrichson that I’d call back tomorrow night when her husband would be home.

”Mrs Dietrichson, that’s a honey of an anklet.”

Once the affair starts, however, he ditches the formal Mrs Dietrichson for the more intimate Phyllis. Now it becomes:

I met Phyllis in the supermarket as arranged.

He told me that Nino had been to see Phyllis every night at her house.

”I tried to keep Phyllis out of it.”

Neff can’t refer to this woman as Phyllis from the outset, as he doesn’t yet know her first name. But when they become intimate, he would not call her Mrs Dietrichson either.

Would I just go ahead and change the name of the character when the protagonist changes the way he addresses her, or should I stick with one or the other?

I suspect the former, but some clarification would be welcome - thanks :)


  • Change. The way he addresses her is a signpost in their relationship.
  • This thread is open to the public view COS, do you want to edit it into a private category while you still have time?
  • C-O-S. Our minds collide on this. I simply offer a non-professional view that I would keep Phyllis in direct speech after the first useage -- unless formality calls otherwise.

    But. I would maintain the formal Mrs Dietrichson if you are also using a third person point of view as a narration. That way show a distinct separation between the 'outside' third person, and the 'close up' first person.

    Many will will not mix 1st with 3rd. I think it depends entirely on the type of story being told.
  • edited January 2017
    Agree. If it's first person make the change - it's his story.

  • Would I just go ahead and change the name of the character when the protagonist changes the way he addresses her,
    That's what I'd do for first person.
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