Tags:
  1. tonten
    Offline

    tonten Senior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2009
    Messages:
    142
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada

    Delaying Naming a Character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by tonten, Sep 27, 2009.

    Delaying Revealing a Character's Name

    I once read somewhere (forgot the author's name) that delaying revealing a character's name for pages or even paragraphs on end is pointless.

    She said, why not just get to the point and name them so it will be less confusing to the reader?

    Of course, I personally think this is just one of those amateur rules like the "show and don't tell rule", where writing guides usually include.

    I guess it depends on one's own writing skill and reason of thought for delaying naming a character.

    I just want to confirm what I am doing is sensible or ok.


    Example 1
    Scene 1. Characters are named. It is written from someone else's point of view, totally separate of the main character. Let's say Kevin.

    Scene 2. The PoV is the protagonist in a completely different scene. He meets the characters in scene 1. One of the characters is referred to as "the man" in the narrative like, 'Bob watched the man walk up to the post. The man jumped up and down."

    I use "the man" in the narrative because the protagonist does not know who "the man" is, but the reader probably knows "the man" to be Kevin from the previous scene.

    Is it better to just reveal the name of the character to make it easier the reader to read, such as "Bob watched Kevin walk up to the post. The man jumped up and down."

    Or keep it consistence with the narrating PoV character and make Kevin remain "the man" until he is introduced?


    Example 2
    Some guy turns around and bumps into "a cloaked" figure.

    I use the word "cloak figure", because it adds more mysteriousism and suspense to the scene.

    However, the readers can probably guess who the cloaked figure is, because he was introduced earlier somewhere along the lines.

    Should I just stopped referring him as "the cloaked figured" in the following paragraphs and just reveal his name immediately in the narrative. Or should I wait until someone says his name, or use some other narative like:

    It was Matthew.
     
  2. Banzai
    Offline

    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    12,871
    Likes Received:
    150
    Location:
    Reading, UK
    I don't see anything wrong with using a placeholder name, whilst writing, to change when you decide the name you want to use. I think that's a much better idea than using the wrong name simply for the sake of having a name- if you get what I mean.
     
  3. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    I believe tonten is referring to not revealing the character's name immediately, as opposed to the writer not deciding on the character's name before the writing is well under way.

    For the latter, I agree with Banzai. Don't procrastinate diving into writing just because you aren't satisfied with the name you've chosen for your character. Most of the time, you can change a character's name easily at any point in the writing.

    As for why you might want to withhold a character's name from the reader, tere may be many reasons. The name itself may give too much away. For instance, if you are writing in the Terminator saga, learning that someone's last name is Connor is probably very significant, and something you may have reason to conceal in the early passages.

    Any information the author chooses to give to a reader needs to be scheduled. The author decides when is te best time. You shouldn't throw everything at the reader at once, or much of it will be lost. That includes names.

    As you correctly point out, when two characters who know each other well meet, one isn;t going to think, "Ed Wilson, my friend for 20 years who is a butcher at the meat market on the corner." More likely it will be more like, "It's Ed. I've been looking for him." Let the Wilson part wait until there is a good reason for it to come up.

    In a first person story, the character may not come up until someone calls on the phone and conforms they have the right person, etc.
     
  4. tonten
    Offline

    tonten Senior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2009
    Messages:
    142
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    yeah what cogito said, I meant reveal a character's name. I rewrote the first post to make it more clear.
     
  5. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    There are few if any absolute rules when it comes to writing. Very often the ones that people treat as absolutes are ones that we should keep in mind. There are few stories that would benefit from delaying revealing the name, but there are cases when it can be done and should be done.
     
  6. tonten
    Offline

    tonten Senior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2009
    Messages:
    142
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    meh so I guess it depends on the situation. I guess only the writer can decide that. If I'm doing it wrong (which I don't), an editor can point it out in the future anyways.
     
  7. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    In "Fight Club", the protagonist is never named.
     
  8. Banzai
    Offline

    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    12,871
    Likes Received:
    150
    Location:
    Reading, UK
    Neither is the protagonist in Layer Cake.
     
  9. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    In The Flying Sorcerors by David Gerrold and Larry Niven, the stranger Lant and Shoogar refer to as Purple in never explicitly named, but the final pages reveal his real name by implication. It's a pun (and a very good one) unwittingly created by a faulty translator device.

    The stranger, obviously a stranded spaceman, has a translator that identified him to Lant and Shoogar as:
    As a color, shade of purple gray.

    When Purple hears the translation that was used to name him Purple, he realizes the translator was attempting to translate:
    As a mauve.
    and breaks into uncontrolled laughter.
     
  10. Sound of Silence
    Offline

    Sound of Silence Member

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2008
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Close to madness
    H.g. Wells in War of The Worlds doesn't give his protagonist a name either. The inference there is that it takes away an Englishman's identity in a time when British rule is at it's most arrogant. Kind of turns what's known so subtily on it's head. Very, very clever...

    So I guess you need to ask yourself why you're withholding a name. What point does it serve, how will the reader interpret the lack of detail.
     
  11. tonten
    Offline

    tonten Senior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2009
    Messages:
    142
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    I would like to make it clear again to everybody that my original post was not about not naming a character.

    My original post is about delaying revealing the name of a character to the reader, because it is written from the narrator's perspective who doesn't know him. Even though the reader KNOWS who the character/or what his name is from earlier in the book or from an earlier scene.
     
  12. Banzai
    Offline

    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    12,871
    Likes Received:
    150
    Location:
    Reading, UK
    If it serves a person, in terms of the story (i.e. if the identity of the character is to be a twist) then by all means. But if you're just doing it for the sake of it, then it's a bit pointless.
     
  13. baillie
    Offline

    baillie Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2009
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    0
    Any short stories I begin to write I inadvertently leave there name out. I can't help it, but I just can't place my main characters name into the story in a sensible, believable way.

    I usually write in the first-person however, but I do find it frustrating when I go a page or two and read it back just to find out that ive still not reveiled my characters name.

    I dont know about you but I feel that it gives a reader a more distant feel toward the main character. If I am writing about a murder or evil act, I intentionally leave the name out. Like a film, I feel it makes the character more scary to not see so much of him/ her and not be able to relate to them on any level.
     
  14. Nathan Edwards
    Offline

    Nathan Edwards Member

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2008
    Messages:
    19
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Home of the Calgary Flames (a.k.a. Hell)
    Sound of Silence makes a good point, I think. The question as to why you withhold a character name should dictate whether or not you choose to do so (as well as for how long you wish to leave the reader in suspense).

    Depending on the context and structure of your story, Matthew could be given a formal introduction at almost any time. In The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper, the antagonist is mentioned by name almost at the very beginning; the narrative is simply structured so that almost no one can anticipate he/she [NO SPOILERS] is the murderer until the very end.

    Matthew's intro can similarly be put off until, say, you're half-way to three-quarters through the story. This is a fun approach, as you can drop hints as to what another one of your presumably non-Matthew characters is wearing, doing, or thinking so as to keep the reader asking who the mystery party is. By turning things into a guessing game, you draw the reader more thoroughly.

    There's also the allure (and potential danger) of leaving Matthew anonymous until your story's climax or resolution. Perhaps I just haven't read enough or can't think of any examples at the moment, but few stories I've read have ever really pulled this off very effectively. Of the few examples I can think of, the character in question is usually one who never really appeared all that often in the actual story. Rather, they simply appeared to tie up any loose ends that might have arisen earlier (a Deus ex machina if you will). Of course, if Matthew gets fairly regular page time in your story and becomes somebody the reader wants desperately to learn more about, then you can still in theory pull off a last-mention introduction fairly successfully.

    If your stumped in the meanwhile with just giving Matthew some other form of identity other than 'the man', assign some moniker to him. Nothing too fancy, something like Cloak or Dagger, anything that can be MS-Word replaced at a second's notice if you think of something else. As Cognito and a few others have already mentioned, never let the name game put you off from any actual story writing.

    After all, what's in a name? Really?
     

Share This Page