Jan Flanders

As everyone who has not been dwelling under a rock for the past half century knows full well, Jan Flanders is a world-renowned expert on writing, editing, and publishing fiction. She is a bona fide member of the landed gentry dating back to the Jamestown, Virginia, settlement and a magna cum laude graduate of Ms. Finicky’s Foundational Finishing School of Fiction for Well-Bred Females (FFFSFWBF). She resides with her three Angora cats in the heart of the deep South on the plantation, sadly diminished, where she was born and reared, and which her family has owned since before creation. God forbid she would ever allow it to fall into the rapacious hands of any vile Northern carpetbagger! Rest assured that will happen over her cold, dead body. She is still mourning the lamentable outcome of the late War of Northern Aggression, and if you know what is good for you, you would be well advised not to bring up the subject unless you wish to have your ears roundly pinned back. If anyone knows etiquette, it is our own dear Ms. Flanders, and she is doing you a favor by sharing her expertise with the likes of you, so be certain to keep to your place. If you do not demonstrate proper gratitude and humility, she is likely to give you a brisk rap on the knuckles or some other especially tender body part with her ruler to get your attention.

Fiction Etiquette with a Southern Twist Twisted Southern

A delightful good mornin’, class! The summer solstice is upon us, and Ah am positively rarin’ to celebrate. So y’all better not be misbehavin’ today or Ah am goin’ to be forced to give you a dressin’ down in no uncertain terms. And believe you me, when you have been called on the carpet before your own dear Ms. Flanders, it is an experience you’ll never forget—or want to repeat.

With no further ado, let us get right down to our business for the day. The envelope, please, missy. And don’t be draggin’ your pretty little feet as Ah am in a mite of a rush.

Dear Ms. Flanders,

As a new writer, I have observed many variations in styles among the authors I admire—not to mention a few I don’t. One thing that puzzles me greatly is how some authors have their characters use one another’s names quite a lot, while others rarely do so. I have to confess, it does become rather tedious and irritating when almost every line of dialogue includes the name of the character being spoken to. But perhaps this perception arises from my ignorance. It occurred to me to question whether there is a rule regarding how to handle this issue in the most professional way, and who would know except our resident expert, Ms. Flanders?

Just Wondering

Dear Wondering,

You’ve got that right, baby doll. Nobody on God’s green earth knows the Sacred Laws of Fiction Etiquette like Ah do, and Ah am here to set you straight! How extremely perspicacious of you to notice this blemish in style. But Ah ask you, is it possible there would not be a rule for such matters as this? Shut your mouth! If there weren’t one already, Ah would create one mahself.

This is what Ah personally call the “Oh, Jane! Oh, Roger! Rule.” Alas, many of today’s young editors are clueless about this issue, as testified to by the veritable crop of violations that are litterin’ literature today. Oh, Ah am just tooo funny! But Ah digress.

Gettin’ back to the business at hand, it’s enough to put your own dear Ms. Flanders quite out of patience. Think back to your own experience, sweetheart. When is the last time you spoke the name of your friend or relative or even spouse or child while conversin’ with them, other than to yoo-hoo at them from a distance? Pay particular attention to the natural rhythms of dialogue in real life, and you’ll notice that proper names are rarely spoken aloud. Naturally Ah’m not talkin’ about those pet names such as muffin or buttercup, which those of us in the blessed South sprinkle liberally throughout our speech in such a charmin’ manner. That is a different issue altogether.

Our proper names, however, are sacred to us, just like the name of the Almighty. Out of respect we rarely voice them unless we are tryin’ to make an important point or are otherwise compelled, such as when we are in the throes of passion. But we won’t go there, darlin’. That is not a suitable discussion for class. If you want more information concernin’ that highly interestin’ subject, please see me privately after we dismiss.

Now you may be thinkin’ that if more than two people are involved in the conversation, it’s likely you’ll need to identify who is speakin’ and who is bein’ spoken to. And you’re correct. That’s when you’ll want to have your character look at the person they’re addressin’ or lay a hand on their shoulder or some such thing, or simply add an attribution such as “he said to,” and then identify who is the object of the declaration. Nothin’ could be simpler, buttercup.

Now that we have that matter settled and your mind set at ease, Ah feel ever so much better and Ah am sure you do too! Just you mind the proper fiction etiquette so I won’t be forced to administer a sharp rap across your hiney, honey. While Ah may enjoy the experience, Ah guarantee you’ll be less likely to do so unless you’re into—well, that’s another subject for private discussion!

Ah see it is time for us to adjourn and for me to head on out to the woods to properly enjoy the arrival of the long-awaited summer solstice. Those old Druids have nothin’ on me, sweetheart! And Ah just happen to have a decanter of my cousin Buleah Lee’s famous cherry cordial on hand to properly enhance the celebration. Toodle-ooo, y’all!

Upcoming Topics


July: Showing versus telling—is there a balance?

August:What in the world is deep POV? Should one care?