PDA

View Full Version : A Mysterious nickname question.



KellyAssauer
01-27-2016, 09:01 PM
This is the first time I’ve ever written a mystery novel. After I sent out a scene, both of my beta readers brought up the same exact question. It surprised me, so I thought I’d toss this out here and see if anyone (or everyone) sees the exact same thing that they did.

My “investigator” (Oni) is having a casual conversation with a person she hadn’t considered a potential suspect. Robby (the husband of another character) has a job in marketing. He attended a weekend training conference four hours from his home in the same month as the murder...

Here’s the scene:

==============================================

Robby laughed “Oh yeah, I remember that weekend well.”

Oni raised an eyebrow, “What made it so memorable?”

“Well, besides the fact that I was really interested in the material being presented, that was the weekend the power supply to my laptop got it's nickname.”

“Nickname?”

A sheepish grin appears and then quickly fades across Robby’s face.

“I arrived that Thursday around noon, got my hotel room key and then signed in at the conference about two blocks away. I spent all day Friday in training classes learning about our new system. That evening I was going over the material in my room on the laptop and the little square power supply started throwing sparks and then puffs of smoke! It was about 1:30 in the morning and I had to dive and unplug it fast. The rest of the weekend became a bit tricky for me since I had to conserve battery power.”

“It was throwing sparks?” asked Oni.

“Yeah. Apparently on that particular model of power supply the wires going into the little box wear from use and this compromises the insulation. The thing can go up in smoke without any warning.” Robby relplied, looking across his desk at Oni.

“Oh, I think I still have it!” He reached into a lower desk drawer and after a moment of sorting pulled out a small white plastic box with two dangling wires. There was clear evidence of a brown scorch across one side.

“Meet Sparky.” He grinned.

================================================== ========

That’s all there was to this scene! - and yet both Beta readers tell me that Robby isn’t telling the whole truth.

Each reader has asked me the exact same thing: They want to know the identity of the other person that was in Robby’s hotel room at 1:30 in the morning when the power supply went up in smoke.

When I asked why they thought there was another person in Robby’s room… each one said the same thing:

They said that one person by themselves cannot create an agreed upon nickname. There had to have been -at least- two people in that hotel room. To quote my betas:

Beta 1: "One person could give funny names to stuff all day long and it wouldn’t matter to anyone until another person hears it and agrees, and that’s when it becomes a nickname. Not only that, but it wouldn't have been named it 'Sparky' if at least two people didn't actually witness the characteristic that's being used to describe it."

Beta 2: "Robby doesn’t take credit for nicknaming the power supply. He says “That’s the weekend” it happened. Any executive type person would have instantly taken credit for it if they had done it and some would take credit for it even if they hadn't have done it. There was another person in the hotel room and that second person nicknamed it."

================================================== ===

So that’s my question.

In this situation, given the few facts at hand (and that you’re reading a mystery novel) would you also read this and instantly suspect that there was at least one other person in the hotel room with Robby - based only on the fact that he doesn't take credit for it, and that a nickname can't happen unless two people agree upon it?

veinglory
01-27-2016, 09:05 PM
I so would not think that hard about it. He could have decribed what happened over the phone to his wife or to someone at lunch and come up with the nickname that way.

Also you spelled his name two different ways, did they notice that? ;)

Twick
01-27-2016, 09:11 PM
I think they're reaching. No one has to "agree" to a nickname - the originator can never mention it, but still think of "Sparky" whenever he fires her up (yes, I see what I did there). And Robbie may not consider a simple nickname something that he needs to take credit for. It's not like it's going on his resume - "2016 - Improved sales, re-engineered our production paradigm, and nicknamed my laptop."

KellyAssauer
01-27-2016, 09:22 PM
I think they're reaching. No one has to "agree" to a nickname - the originator can never mention it, but still think of "Sparky" whenever he fires her up (yes, I see what I did there). And Robbie may not consider a simple nickname something that he needs to take credit for. It's not like it's going on his resume - "2016 - Improved sales, re-engineered our production paradigm, and nicknamed my laptop."


I thought about this the same way you did until it was pointed out to me that it was Robby that used the word nickname. He didn't use any other word, he used that specific word. He didn't say he named it, or that he re-named it, or that he gave it a pet name, or that he's 'called it Sparky ever since'... he was quite specific in the fact that the power supply had been nicknamed that weekend.

Maggie Maxwell
01-27-2016, 09:22 PM
Yeah, I'm scratching my head at the idea that it takes two people to make a nickname. All I have to do is consider something by its nickname, and that's it. It's just giving something a nickname related to a stressful but later funny event. Why should anyone claim credit for it or a second person be required?

E.F.B.
01-27-2016, 09:23 PM
So that’s my question.

In this situation, given the few facts at hand (and that you’re reading a mystery novel) would you also read this and instantly suspect that there was at least one other person in the hotel room with Robby - based only on the fact that he doesn't take credit for it, and that a nickname can't happen unless two people agree upon it.
Based on nothing but the scene you provided, no, I didn't suspect that at all. I also disagree that a nickname can't happen unless two people agree upon it. People give their personal belongings (laptops/cars/whatever else) nicknames all the time without help or agreement from anyone else, and half the time, those names have meaning that makes sense only to the individual.

As an example, if I want to call my laptop "Cindy", then gosh darn it, I'm gonna call it "Cindy", no matter what anyone else thinks.* Maybe there's a story to go with that name, and maybe there isn't. But it's my laptop after all, and I can call it what I want.






*I do not actually call my laptop "Cindy." I call it "You dragon-eaten, useless machine" on occasion, but not "Cindy." :p

KTC
01-27-2016, 09:24 PM
I can't imagine how they thought there was another person in the room. That totally puzzles me.

I don't believe in the two people have to agree on the nickname thing, either. I might change it to:


"that was the weekend I gave the power supply to my laptop its new nickname."

onesecondglance
01-27-2016, 09:36 PM
I think you should be pleased that you have created such an air of paranoia and mystery that your readers are inventing their own red herrings.

mirandashell
01-27-2016, 10:04 PM
I think KTC is right, just do that to prevent anyone else thinking.

I read a lot of MTS and I assumed he'd given the laptop the nickname himself. Do your two betas have experience in sneaking around hotels?

mirandashell
01-27-2016, 10:06 PM
*I do not actually call my laptop "Cindy." I call it "You dragon-eaten, useless machine" on occasion, but not "Cindy." :p

My laptop's name starts with 'f' and ends in 'ucker'......

KellyAssauer
01-27-2016, 10:21 PM
I think KTC is right, just do that to prevent anyone else thinking.

I read a lot of MTS and I assumed he'd given the laptop the nickname himself. Do your two betas have experience in sneaking around hotels?


LOL. Actually... I did press them a little and Beta 1 said in so many words that I've presented a married guy in a hotel room several hours out of town and it may be sad... but the first place her mind went was 'who else was in the room?

Beta 2 is always very picky. He said that if you ask anyone what they did... last night, last week, an hour ago... that people will tell you and that they tell you in first person. I did this. I did that. I ate this, bla bla bla... and in my little scene the one thing that Robby never says... is that he nicknamed the power supply himself. If you re-read it, it really does look as though the is avoiding saying just that. He dances around it. He doesn't want to lie. He remembers the weekend and the highlight of why he remembers that particular weekend, but he won't fib and tell you he nicknamed it - because he didn't. It's conspicuous in its absence.

=)

KTC
01-27-2016, 11:55 PM
AH! So nobody else in this scene...but maybe someone was with him in that scene. Gotcha! (-:

WeaselFire
01-28-2016, 01:00 AM
Is there a need in the story for the laptop to have a nickname? Why wouldn't the guy being questioned remember the event as the night his laptop fried? No nicknames, just an event to place it in memory at that time and place.

Jeff

mirandashell
01-28-2016, 01:04 AM
Yes because it's character revealing. He's the kind of guy that gives names to inanimate objects. That tells us about him without actually telling us.

Justin K
01-28-2016, 03:10 AM
Why not just change the scene to say ",that was the weekend my laptop nearly burnt down the place," and then let him give it the nickname during this scene. That way it still has the nickname, but not that he invented it earlier. Also, did your betas point out you have a tense issue? Your narration is all past tense except for the line starting with "A sheepish grin appears..."

Good luck with the writing!

frimble3
01-28-2016, 09:43 AM
I think what's throwing your readers is that a) it's a mystery and b) he's making such a big deal about a little, throwaway incident. To an investigator. When I read a mystery, I'm looking for significance, for clues. If he had said "That was the weekend that my laptop's power supply burned out." He reached into the drawer and pulled it out. There was clear evidence of a brown scorch across one side.
“Meet Sparky” it would have seemed casual.

As you've got it, if I was reading it in a mystery, I would also assume something was up, not because there had to be a second person in the room, but because he's making way too big a deal of it. Like a guy who's asked if he remembered the time, and starts with a big, elaborate story about how he just happened to look at the time, right then, and he specifically remembers it, it stuck in his head really clearly, even though there was no particular reason to, because of some wacky reason.
It sounds like he's establishing, if not an alibi, then... something.

rtilryarms
01-31-2016, 06:14 PM
Depending on the importance of this scene...the simple solution is to make a small edit:
Instead of
// my laptop got it's nickname.”

Consider
//I gave my laptop it's nickname.”

Beta-readers are specifically valuable because we are writing for the reader, not ourselves. We should always consider the input. If a couple of words can be modified to make things clear, what's the harm? In your case, you have 2 similar observations. I think it's important even though I was not confused at all.

jmho

rt

MythMonger
02-02-2016, 08:50 PM
I disagree with the notion that it takes two people to create a nickname.

I'm more concerned that so many people that read your scene have come away with the idea that it was the laptop that received the nickname, and not the power supply. I hope it's not a big plot point. :)

KellyAssauer
02-02-2016, 10:08 PM
I've heard a lot of really neat stories thanks to this question. I agree entirely that all I have to do is change Robby's response to: That's the weekend I nicknamed my power supply... and that takes all the mystery out of it.

On the other hand, the stories and ideas people have shared in regards to how many people it takes to establish a nickname... that's still up for debate. One woman told me her Grandfather (the patriarch of the family) had nicknamed her when she was a babe. The problem with her story was that only her Grandfather used the name, and by definition it's more of a 'pet name'. If you want to call your car Brad... that isn't a nickname, you've given it a proper name. There are all sorts of hair-splitting when it comes to how and what people end up calling other people or places or things, and it's been a lot of fun to hear the different takes.

As far as my beta readers go, I can sort of see their point. If I personally nicknamed something, I'd say I did it. The way I have it written: Robby defers responsibility. He doesn't say who does it. Even if he was all alone in his hotel room when the power supply went up in smoke... who does he describe this event to afterwards - that does give it the nickname? Did he walk around the next day showing off the scorch marks and some other person nicknamed it Sparky at that time? Why would this unknown third person nickname the dead power supply 'Sparky" if they never saw it spark and know that it isn't going to ever spark again? That scene sounds a little odd as well. I can, however, imagine a phone call between Robby and the person that could have been in his room. I can hear a voice asking "So, how's Sparky doing?" in that kind of coded way that two people might have after a secret meeting...

I want to thank everyone that weighed in on this. I know what the easy fix is... but to tell the truth, I never imagined this twist in the story and I kinda like it. I might just run with this a little and see where it goes!

rtilryarms
02-04-2016, 06:24 AM
Upon further thought, it's not a nickname at all - it's a pet name. Using that, eliminates all arguments....

On the other hand if any of my readers ever brought this up - I would stop paying them!

Go get 'em sparky!!!!!