(Note: This is how we’re going to handle SPOILERS from now on. I’ll list the things there are spoilers for at the top, and put the appropriate asterisk when the spoiler is coming up. When you see the mark for the thing you don’t want spoiled, skip to the paragraph break “#”. Spoilers today will include:
* = Game of Thrones Season 1
** = Chrono Trigger
*** = Doctor Who end of Season 4
**** = One Piece roughly from ep ~100 and on
***** = BBC Sherlock
WIthout further ado, your evening post:)
This is a post on something small, but FUN, so therefore DEFINITELY worth discussing.
But first things first: introductions!
Hello. I’m Schnee, of the Schneeblog.
Question: What did communicate just then?
Not a trick question.
I communicated my name.
A normal everyday introduction.
Now, what about this?
“I’m Captain Jack Sparrow, savvy?”
What did that communicate?*
Or how about this?
“Who are you?”
“My father was Maekar, first of his name. My brother Aegon reigned after him, when I had refused the throne. And he was followed by his son Aerys, whom they called the Mad King.”
“You’re Aemon Targaryen…”**
Or what about this event in Chrono Trigger?
It’s 600 A.D. You’ve finally gathered both parts of the legendary sword, the Masamune, which was shattered by the evil wizard Magus. You see that there are archaic letters on the hilt. You line up both halves of the sword. It spells a name:
The name of an old hermit from the year 1000 A.D..
People REMEMBER scenes like this. People remember CHARACTERS like this.
My question: WHY?
What’s up with NAMES?
How can something so accidental have such a HUGE impact?
And also, what’s going on in the above examples that DIDN’T happen with my name at the beginning of the post? Or in COUNTLESS other scenes of characters introducing themselves in stories?
There are names. And there are names that are MORE than names.
When Jack Sparrow says his “I’m Jack Sparrow” line, he’s not just talking about what people call him, he’s reminding you of everything that he is. ALL the stuff we love about his character: the haphazard wackiness, the cleverness, the off-the-cuff planning, the quirky way of talking, the suave (over)confidence–ALL that stuff is communicated in those few words: “I’m Captain Jack Sparrow, savvy?” One line, just him saying his name, and we experience EVERYTHING that is Jack Sparrow.
Same thing in the Game of Thrones example. THAT name has a past, a stigma, all sorts of emotions and associations that come RUSHING IN at the moment we hear it.
In the Chrono Trigger example, seeing that name gives us CRAZY pause! It makes us realize that there’s something MUCH BIGGER going on in this story. We’re confronted with this mystery of crossed timelines and it brings to mind all sorts of frightening questions: Who is that man, really? Are there other time travelers we don’t know about? How much story is out there that we’re still completely in the dark about?
So, NAMES THAT ARE MORE THAN JUST NAMES.
Why do people enjoy this device so much?
The answer is that we absolutely LOVE intense emotional experiences. Humans LOVE feeling ALL the things at once. It’s a rush! A regular name is devoid of emotional content, but the kind of NAME I’m talking takes a TON of complex feelings and thoughts and condenses it into a SINGLE MOMENT of experience. We go about watching Pirates of the Caribbean with all these things we like about Jack wandering aimlessly around our brains. But when he says that line, it all gets DIRECTED to ONE MOMENT and we get to feel it ALL those awesome things at once.
It doesn’t even have to be happy emotions.
Take this one:
This NAME is a symbol of fear. The fact that a name can inspire such dread tells us SO MUCH historically, culturally, and psychologically with regard to the specific person. It’s acts as a barometer for courage, showing us who is brave and who is a coward by who dared to say it. The turning points for more than one character arcs occur when he/she decides to start saying the Name.***
This scene from Doctor Who is another great example, not with a name per se, but with just two words that gave EVERY Doctor Who fans chills when they heard them:
Two words and we’re going NUTS. If it had been explained in a whole speech, it would not have packed that kind of punch. It was the quick switch from being completely in the dark to OMG THAT?!?!****
I have to talk about One Piece here, which again goes above and beyond what I thought was possible.
It’s impressive enough to do this with a name, One Piece does it with a single letter:
The Will of D manages to be one of the biggest mysteries in the series while ALSO communicating this overwhelming aura of ambition, determination and willingness to go above and beyond from the few characters who possess it. It’s one of those things I actually have NO IDEA how Oda pulled off. But yeah, he managed to condense a legit MOUNTAIN of epic feelings and history into a single letter. Crazy.
I wanted to write about this topic because it’s fun and cool and I want to see more of it. But it gave me an idea for something I want to continue writing about, hence the name of this series:
DEPTH is one of those things, like my THINGS post, that make bad stories good and good stories GREAT. And like THINGS, NO ONE seems to talk about it.
I think DEPTH through names is a great introduction to this topic. It’s a simple phenomenon that clearly illustrates the objective of DEPTH in storytelling:
To extend the story experience beyond what’s on screen/paper to engage the MIND of the viewer/reader.
A regular name is something we take in, but a good solid NAME is something reels us in and makes us THINK and FEEL stuff. So that’s what we’ll be looking for as we continue to explore this topic.***** (and, for what it’s worth, ***)
One more thing. When I say “a name that is more than a name,” I do NOT MEAN THIS STEPHEN MOFFAT: