1. Wynter
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    Wynter Active Member

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    Do You Have to Name Your Protagonist?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Wynter, Nov 14, 2014.

    Been pondering this lately.

    Like I haven't introduced my character by name yet throughout the story, and I was thinking, do you ever really need to if you write in 1st Person?
     
  2. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    You can do whatever you want. What's the purpose of not introducing your character? What's the purpose of introducing your character?
     
  3. SpacemanLookingForLove
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    SpacemanLookingForLove New Member

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    I wrote a play once, which I'm really proud of to this day, where during the writing process I didn't name any of the characters; I just numbered them. They still had really distinctive characterizations, though. After the first draft, I named them all, but the original writing process is still visible if you know what you're looking for - the characters practically never address each other by name; if you were watching a performance of the show, you would distinguish them by face, not name.

    It hasn't been performed, unfortunately, but getting a performance of it done is one of my aspirations (though lesser than my novelist aspirations).
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    In a short story, it could work. In a novel, I don't think so.
     
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  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Len Deighton's early spy thrillers (The Ipcress File, Billion-Dollar Brain, Horse Under Water) all feature the same nameless hero, like Clint Eastwood's character in "Fistful of Dollars", etc (I'd actually forgotten the film's name and Googled "man with no name"!).

    In both cases the anonymity was a fundamental part of his character, so my feeling is; do it if it adds something (e.g. man of mystery) to your characterisation.

    Deighton was writing 1st person POV, so didn't need to refer to his character as "The man with no name put on his raincoat"

    There's one scene where Deighton's hero (a spy) is addressed as, let's say, Herr Wilson. "Now, my name's not Wilson but I was trying to remember if it ever had been."
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2014
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  6. Slade Lucas
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    Slade Lucas Member

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    You don't have to, no. However, the only books where I think I have seen it done is in some of Roald Dahl's shorter stories, so that might be something to consider. I have seen it in other pieces of media - when I played through the 'Saints Row' videogames I found that, because you named your character and the entire thing used voice acting as opposed to subtitles, the name of the character was never shown. However, in this case the character was the leader of a gang so most people referred to him as "boss".

    I suppose it can work but you have to handle such a method with care so that it doesn't feel as if you are deliberately trying to avoid the name and more that it just never comes up.
     
  7. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    The film was based upon Dashiell Hammett's "Red Harvest", which again had a MC with no name.
     
  8. Lemon flavoured
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    Lemon flavoured Active Member

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    I read a story online (Protect & Survive: A Timeline, on Alternatehistory.com) where the fictional characters were just referred to by their profession, eg: "The Librarian".
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm reading Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy wherein a similar feature is deployed by the writer. Everyone is referred to only by their job on the mission. It makes sense in the first book, but as the second book unfolds in a different environment away from the one that necessitated everyone being called only by their job, it begins to feel gimmicky.
     
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  10. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I were considering it, I would ask myself: What is the purpose behind not naming the protagonist? What does it add to the story? How might it detract from the story? Will it flow without it or, in the end, feel stilted or gimmicky?

    Just about anything 'can' work. In the end look at it from the reader's point of view. Remember, you have that image of the protagonist in your head (as a writer). You have information and details the reader will never have. A name can be an anchor for a reader, a piece of the character 'puzzle'.
     
  11. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am Jack's sarcastic pop-culture quip.


    … The point being that it has definitely worked at least once.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2014
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  12. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    If the story works without needing to name your character, then there is no reason to.
     
  13. Lancie
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    Lancie Contributing Member

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    My favourite book never, ever names the main character which is kind of the point because he doesn't know who he is anymore. I suppose it depends whether there is a reason they're never named other than 'it never comes up' and if it feels right.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    You mentioned that it's written in 1st person. Does anyone ever address the protag by name?
     
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  15. Chiv
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    Chiv Active Member

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    I couldn't read a book knowing that the character's name has been hidden from me for no good reason.
     
  16. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    It works in The Road. In third person, no less.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2014
  17. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    You just can't spell "Palahniuk"
     
  18. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    The protagonist is not named in the novel Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. In this story, the MC is overshadowed by her predecessor who still seems to dominate, despite her absence. Not naming the protagonist adds to the feeling that she is struggling to find her own place in the world.
     
  19. Lilly James Haro
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    Lilly James Haro The Grey Warden

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    I imagine it could work in 1st person but 3rd person would be a different beast entirely. I think in 3rd person it would depend on how you refer to the character, by title? Nickname? Or just descriptors?
     
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  20. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    In The Road, in some parts, the two characters are referred to as "the father" and "the son"; in others, they are referred to as "the man" and "the boy".

    Granted, for most of the story, they are the only two human beings in sight.
     
  21. Wynter
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    Wynter Active Member

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    No, not yet, I'm only four chapters in at the moment though so that could well be subject to change, but as of now I haven't had to mention his name and a sudden drop of it would just feel odd.
     
  22. FrozenLady
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    FrozenLady Member

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    Its up to you like in Jane Eyre the protagonist has a name, we all know the speaker is Jane. It would be better if you give your protagonist a name.
     
  23. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    i have only named my characters, because there are so bloody many of them that it would be impossible otherwise, although *the master swordsman* could work for my MC, as thats his trade, and he is the reason that the series exists...

    it really is up to you, if you think it needs it then go ahead, drop the name in, if it doesnt seem right, dont.
     
  24. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is what I was thinking too. I just read an oldie, The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford and unless I missed it, he only once, casualy mentioned the narrators name towards the end of the novel and he didn't have to. Good book by the way.
     
  25. mad_hatter
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    mad_hatter Active Member

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    I don’t think you have to name your protagonist. If you don’t draw any attention to the fact, then most readers probably wouldn’t notice. If you’re intentionally choosing to do this, I think it would be best to avoid any situations where the name should/would be spoken. For example, if another character were to ask the protagonist their name, as you’re in first person you could say something like ‘She asked me my name, so I told her what it was’. It still works, but it draws attention to your protagonists’ lack of a name. I’d try to skip anything like this.
     

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