1. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    Are Character Last Names Mandatory?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by tonten, Sep 15, 2009.

    I realized the other day while writing my novel none of my characters have last names.

    I don't read much, and I'm just wondering, can anyone think of any other novels where characters don't have last names? I want to pick up a few books to read.

    Can anyone weigh the benefits of how important it is to include character last names in a novel?

    *Update

    Realized the characters from the Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin also do not have last names; however her world has a unique naming system.
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    A lot of fantasy novels don't bother with last names.
     
  3. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    First names aren't even mandatory.

    "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy's main characters were "the man" and "the boy."
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Your character could be named by first name only, last name only, a full name, or an arbitrary label. For example, the character MacGyver never was given a first name until the final season of the TV series of the same name. The Home Improvements TV series had the next door neighbor Wilson (last name?), whose full face was never shown either. H. G. Wells' classic novel The Time Machine never named the main character at all - he was known only as the time traveller.

    I have to point out that a writer who isn't a reader first is as rare as a collector's set of Holy Grails.
     
  5. lipton_lover
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    lipton_lover Contributing Member

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    Haha agreed. Actually until know I would have considered it a mandatory prerequisite. But apparently not lol.

    In short, no. You only need whatever you plan on telling the reader. A lot of writers would say, why bother writing down what the reader won't see?

    But after a moment of thought, my answer is actually YES. And my reasoning applies to more than last names.

    At least in creating a novel, you have two things. A world, whether you created it or someone else did, and then the people who live in it. The reader only sees a very small part of that world and a select few of its inhabitants. That being said, you are still creating a world and people to populate it, and in the interest of completing a work of art should finish the job. It seems sorta half-a'd to me if you just write down what the reader will see. If you're truly passionate about it, you should create a world with its own dynamics and citizens, and then write a story about it.

    My inspiration is Tolkien. He's my favorite author, for a few reasons. First, because he's a great writer. Second, because he pretty much wrote the bible for my favorite genre, fantasy. Third, because he was so dedicated he used all of his other skills as a philologist and such to really create a completely believable world with languages, races, cultures, history, everything. Middle Earth and the other lands of that world are truly an unparalleled work of art in my opinion. And the most important lesson you can learn from that is the fact that most readers never see all of that. Even if you read everything he published you don't see quite all of it. His son is still publishing still more of his notes, and others are still offering their own thoughts and perspectives on it. He knew most readers wouldn't learn all there is to know about Middle Earth, but he created it in its entirety anyways.

    So that's where I set my bar, and I think everyone should strive to reach it. It's about personal satisfaction, creating a masterpiece, and also making the actual story easier. Instead of creating a world around a story, you're creating a story around a world.

    Sorry I wrote so much lol. Hope it helps!
    Nate
     
  6. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    I actually hope I am one of them.

    I mean, I used to read when I was smaller. Fantasy/Sci-Fi Genre then the genre became bland for me.

    These days I only pick up word of mouth books/marketed books/mainstream ones like Harry Potter/Da Vinci Code/Perry Jackson & the Olympians etc.

    Still read xanth on occasion and manga. I am starting to pick up on some fantasy again after I started doing my novel.

    Not sure if what I listed would qualify me as a reader or not.
     
  7. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nothing is mandatory in writing except entertaining the audience.
     
  8. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    that's my train of thought exactly- to write to entertain.
     
  9. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    ...signed by Jesus.

    I think that was Cognito's kind way of saying...

    If you want to write, you should be reading!

    There is nothing you can do that will better teach you the skills you'll need to master the art of writing, then to read. There is nothing, nothing, more vital, no tool more critical, than a love and habit of reading, reading everything you can get your hands on.

    Charlie
     
  10. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    oh bleh I actually asked the question because I wanted to know some books so I can could actually pick up and read that would have characters without last names. I'll change that in my first post.
     
  11. Pallas
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    Pallas Contributing Member Contributor

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    You could change how characters are referred in the story, have them called by first name, last name, nickname, depending on varying degrees of intimacy and friendship.

    I think CDRW summed it up pretty well.
     
  12. Hollowly
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    Hollowly Member

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    I don't think it's that important to include last names, especially in these times where we're not so formal. Of course, if one of your characters IS formal, you might want to have last names on hand. Sorry I can't think of any book examples off hand.
     
  13. Dreamer85
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    Dreamer85 Member

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    No hard and fast rule, but I think the choice of using first names and last names really depend on how intimate your character is supposed to be with the reader. Protagonists, for instance, could potentially be best served being called by their first names, and antagonists by their last names. That would be the simplest explanation, although like I said, no hard and fast rule here.
     
  14. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you can do without them, why have them. It drove me crazy reading teen novels where the characters always refer to other students by their full name, when nobody I knew ever did that as a kid unless there were two people who shared a first name.
     
  15. Airman
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    Airman Member

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    In my experience, it depends on the world the author is trying to create. There are plenty of novels with no last names, and some with no names at all.

    The Time Machine was already mentioned. Fight Club is another one. In Fight Club, the protagonist is never named. "Tyler Durden" is the name of his "best friend"/alternate personality, but it's not the main character's name.

    The only time I would think that last names would be mandatory is in sprawling fantasy or sci-fi epics, ala' The Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time. In those instances, the last names help define the characters, especially if you take the time to create countries and naming patterns for each country.
     
  16. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    None of my characters have last names, it's not essential. It depends entirely on the story. Because mine is set in the Highlands, I don't need to use them. Yours might be set in somewhere like America, where people do use surnames a lot. If it's set in a fantasy world, you get to choose whether people have surnames or not.
     
  17. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    It just occurred to me, even in real life, people don't need last names.

    If you don't believe me, just ask Cher, or Madonna, or Bono.

    Charlie :D

    Or you could come up with last names, but leave the last names out and make your book a mystery... ;)
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i beg to differ, cog... for that claim to be accurate, you'd have to add 'good' before 'writer'... my proof is that among the thousands who've come to me for help over the years, a significant number did not read much at all and while writing and thus being writers, were definitely not good writers...

    as for the names question, i think it's been amply and wisely dealt with by your examples and in others' posts...
     
  19. sprackles
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    sprackles New Member

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    In my novel i am currently writing i am only giving the last names of the main characters, i dont feel that i need to give the flat characters last names. :p
     
  20. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    There are writers... and then, there are writers.

    What makes one a writer? The act of putting one word in front of another?
    Perhaps... but perhaps there are other definitions.

    Perhaps you are both right, and both wrong, depending on how you look at it...

    Charlie
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I stand corrected, Maia. But I think if I were to select the adjective, it would be competent. There are many professional writers whom I would consider competent but not particularly good, but I don't think even the level of compentency is really achievable without plenty of reading.

    Reading is necessary to make a vocabulary rise above the level of a thesaurus. Poor word fit is one of the most glaring errors that screams "amateur!" So it's not simply a matter of not learning te lessons that lets a writer fascinate his or her readers. Reading is also important for accurate, comprehensible communication.
     
  22. luckyprophet
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    luckyprophet Member

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    Some of my characters need an entire genealogy. Some canNOT have any backgrounds!

    It depends on the character, and its role in the "play(ing)"
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree that 'competent' is a better word choice for my correction, than 'good'....

    so our corrections cancel each other out and we're both brilliant!
     
  24. Colonel Marksman
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    Colonel Marksman Member

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    Lawl. I have to agree with that, but knowing that I'm rare makes me feel--strange, weird, peculiar, and overall, special. :D


    Anyway, do you think that last names are required for your story? It depends on the story really. In my thriller, the last name to some of the characters were extremely important. It was the difference of knowing who was an ally, and who could be out to kill you.

    But whatever. If you insert a last name and realize you only needed to do it once, then you may want to try mentioning it a few more times. If it's important enough to mention once, it might be important enough to mention later.

    In the modern world, I can see how last names can be difficult to avoid, but for fantasy and children's books, I can see how they can be very easy to avoid.
     
  25. wiggons
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    wiggons Member

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    WOO im back baby

    and last names are not, in my opinion, completely necessary. in my story, only a few have last names, and those guys are either infamous or just full blown hero's.
     

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