Good description is the hallmark of a great story. It sets the scene, helps us to picture what is going on in our mind’s eye; it gives us a sense of when the story is taking place. I love reading a well-written paragraph that describes where a character lives or what the heroine is wearing. A good author can really make the tale come to life using the five sense and vivid details. Many times brand names are used, especially in contemporary pieces, to reinforce the description. Unfortunately, this enhancement is often over-used. Using brand names is a big writing peeve of mine.
I don’t mind reading a story that has some brand name products or well-known celeb names, song titles, movie titles, etc. In fact, if I am familiar with these names, it often cements the characters and story for me. What I don’t like is when the author feels it necessary to name-drop in every other sentence. If the character has a particular fondness for designer clothes, an author can get away with a Prada skirt, Chanel blouse and Jimmy Choo pumps on the top of page ten then a Versace gown three paragraphs later.
However, what becomes annoying and in my opinion, lazy writing, is the constant brand name-dropping in lieu of description. I’m talking about a story where the main protagonist pops in the Metallica Black album as he fires up his Ferrari Testarossa. He arrives at Spago where he meets his date, a woman wearing a skimpy Marc Jacobs number and carrying a Kate Spade clutch. He takes her home where they make love on his Ralph Lauren sheets then sip Cristal as they enjoy the afterglow. Wow, really? He can’t throw on some heavy metal music as he fire up his expensive sports car and races off to an Italian restaurant to meet his date who’s clad in a scanty designer dress. If I don’t know what Marc Jacobs’ dresses look like, then I’m going to feel compelled to leave the story to go look him up on the Internet.
Now you might be thinking, “But Melissa, this is a story about a really wealthy guy and they have designer everything.” Okay, then how about this: Our vampire hero throws on his Aerostitch jacket, climbs on his Ducati Monster 796 and races to rescue his vivacious heroine clad in nothing but a silk Victoria’s Secret lingerie set. He’s a vampire for crying out loud. Immortality should put him above being concerned about who he wears and drives.Why can’t the guy simply ride a powerful bike while wearing a fitted red motorcycle jacket? Or how about he just jumps on his bike and races to his lady’s side?
Some of these authors are so over-the-top with name-dropping, that it’s like they don’t trust the reader to even have an imagination. “You will not be able to picture my story exactly as I have written it therefore I am giving you instructions on what you should be seeing.” Yes, we have to be told Levi’s because we can’t picture jeans.
Perhaps these authors are getting corporate sponsorship for product placement. “Pay me $10,000 Armani, and my hero will wear your suits.” Or “Attention Steve Jobs, for a free iPad, my heroine will write her news articles on a MacBook Pro.”
A little goes along way with brand names. It’s okay for characters to listen to country music, they don’t always have to be listening to the latest Rascal Flatts song. What do you think? Do some authors get carried away with brand names in their stories?