Wick Communications

Can you have too many names?

In Writing techniques on 27 Oct 2011 at 4:11 pm

Photo by Hu Totya

We community newspaper editors are notoriously enamored with the names of locals. The theory goes something like this: If you get a dozen names in your story, at least you can be certain you will sell 12 copies of the newspaper.

I like including local names in our stories at the Half Moon Bay Review. We do it every week. We harvest local names by the bushel around here. I think it’s a fine line, however, between selling those dozen copies and boring to tears the other 12,000 folks in town.

This is the paragraph that got me thinking about all this: (And my apologies to the writer. I don’t want to make an example of anyone and there isn’t anything “wrong” with this. Just wanted to make a point.)

The artwork includes paintings, photos, sculpture, collage and jewelry. Artists include Ann Hollingsworth, Anne Ingraham, Arthur Hofmayer, Bill Long, Carole Brehm, Catherine Favre, Charie Harris, Clifford Hunt, Colleen Murray, David and Hijin Hodge, Deborah Clark, Deborah Brown-Penrose, Don Baldwin, Ellen Vogel, Emelia Preciado, Ethan Hofmayer, Jan Tiura, Janet Jarvis, Jennifer Alpaugh, Jennifer Clark, John Donohue, Judy Johnson-Williams, Judy Shintani, Kathy Bristol, Leslie Hunt, Lisa Kairos, Margaret Lindsey, Mauro Ffortissimo, Miryana Tesic, Nancy Margulies, Nina Miller, Pamela Martin Noyes, Randall Reid, Rachid Bousellum, Richard Kirchner, Sheila Edwards-May, Susan Alvaro, Susan Friedman, Susana van Bezooijen, Vicki Cormack, Victoria Woodrow and Winifred Dell’Ario. …

Well, hindsight being 20-20, I probably would have written around all those names. I say that advisedly. As I say, I don’t think there is anything wrong with their inclusion, I just don’t think most of our readers would bother reading them. That means one of two things: They will skip ahead, letting their eyes skim the names, or they will turn the page. I think that last outcome is a significant enough risk to warrant seeking another solution.

Here’s an idea: Perhaps you include the list of artists as a sidebar/box. That way your powerful prose won’t be interrupted by all those names. Or you could include them as a Web extra. You could even run a tease in the paper announcing that you had more info on the Web, perhaps including the names and some of the artwork in question, on your website. That’s nearly always a good idea.

I suspect some of you disagree. We have a long tradition of including names in our papers. I’m certainly not suggesting se stop including them, only that we be judicious about a long list of names like this.



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