Manuscript Preparation, Copyediting, and Proofreading

Q. I’m a book publisher editing a memoir by a physician who served in the military, and most of the individuals described in the memoir are also military physicians. The first time our narrator mentions another military physician, we might say, “The commander of the base was Dr. Sherman Potter, a Navy captain.” Then, in subsequent references, we are using just “Potter.” These doctors called each other only by their last names in conversation, so continuing to say “Dr. Potter” in the text would feel overly formal and would not be parallel with the dialogue. However, it feels overly casual to immediately switch to “Potter” from “Dr. Sherman Potter.” Is it crazy and overly complicated to suggest that first references remain “Dr. Sherman Potter,” the second reference be to “Dr. Potter,” and the third and subsequent references be merely to “Potter”? I am, of course, in a huge hurry to solve this extraordinary important issue in my life and your rescue is greatly appreciated.

A. In a memoir, the writer is usually the best person to be in charge of what people are called. (Consistency in such a matter is something only an editor would come up with.) A person might call a young colleague “Jones” but an esteemed elderly mentor “Dr. Potter.” Likewise, the writer might not want to introduce every character by a full name on first mention. He might not even want to reveal that a person is a doctor on first mention. These are nuances that an editor must respect. Use your judgment to query anything in this regard that strikes you as out of whack. That should be enough. (And while you’re at it, better double-check whether Dr. Potter is actually an army colonel!)