I love nicknames for my characters. They’re usually easier and faster to type (and sometimes easier to spell. Hi, Khobelithalichen and Avemorielle…), and they often can be used as part of characterization. For instance, Tobias doesn’t like to be called ‘Toby’ by people he’s just met (or has just been kidnapped by). Phillippe, however, is allowed to call him Toby. He doesn’t just start calling him that until Tobias says it’s all right, though, he’s polite like that.
Other times, the characters have been called by the short version of their names for so long that they’re only called by their full names when they’re either A) in trouble or B) in a formal situation. Benny and Phil, for example.
Stir and Jamie are a little different, though, in that Stir didn’t really like his name when he was a kid, and told his friends he wanted to be called by a nickname–almost any nickname–instead. Of all the possible diminutives of Chester, Jamie picked out the only one that isn’t in any baby-name lists.
Gabriel starts calling Tristan Tan-Tan because the word French/Creole word ‘trist(e)’ means ‘sad’, and he didn’t like calling Tristan something he wasn’t. He eventually turns it into a term of endearment by tacking on the word ‘ti’, meaning ‘small’ or ‘little’.
A lot of the time, my characters go for pet names or nicknames that reinforce the exclusivity of the relationship in which they’re used. Trevor calls Max his pretty princess, and Max likes it because Trevor has always meant it to be something that’s theirs alone. Trevor has never used it in an attempt to belittle or emasculate Max, or in any other derogatory sort of way — neither of them like humiliation or degradation, and it has no place in their relationship.
Jesse calls Chris ‘funny bird’, and like Trevor’s princess, it’s meant lovingly. (True, Chris and Jesse’s relationship is rather different than Max and Trevor’s, but most people’s are.)
As for terms of endearment… I’m one of those mythical creatures: I’m in the middle of the road. Some people utterly loathe terms of endearment between men; others love them deeply. Me, I want them to sound like something the characters would actually say, but otherwise I don’t hate them or have to have them.
In my writing, the go-to term tends to be ‘baby’. I’ve been waffling over ‘sweet boy’, which has the potential to sound kind of creepy despite the fact that the endearee isn’t a boy. (He’s young, yes, but not that young; on top of that he’s also about ten years younger than the one potentially calling him that.) I suspect there will be a conversation between the two of them about it.
Of course, I do have two characters who call everyone they meet by something other than their name: sweetie, honey, darling, dear, doll, cupcake, pudding, sweetness, etc. etc. etc. I don’t really know why the first one started doing it; the second (his son) does it because he didn’t realize that very few other men talked like that until he was about twelve.
So, what about you? Are terms of endearment and cutesy nick/pet names cloying and horrible, tolerable as long as they’re in character, or does it matter?