1. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    Giving minor characters names

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TheSpiderJoe, Apr 20, 2011.

    I'm curious to see what the collective group has to offer on this subject. In my current story, I've got a handful of characters that have some minor roles to help the main characters transition from one stage of the plot to another. Some of these characters, ones that directly interact with others, are given names and others I don't feel need identities in order to enhance the story.

    Going back to my original inquiry, is having too many character names in a story necessarily bad? I don't want to give the impression to readers that these characters will play an important role anywhere down the line. I'm just doing so for the sake of interaction.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not sure - it is very rare I don't give a character a name. I try to develop them as much as I can in a few sentences. The only ones I don't think I ever properly name are a prosecutor and advocate (defence) Prosecutor and Advocate were used instead of their names.

    Shakespeare is my hero with this - two sentences of dialogue and the character is clear.
     
  3. MoonlitJess
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    MoonlitJess New Member

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    For me, I never name a character unless they are directly involved in the dialogue at some point. It sounds like that's the case for your characters, so go ahead and name them.

    However, if you feel like you may have too many characters (which it sounds like you do), see if you can find a way for more important characters to help transition the plot from point to point, instead of creating new characters to do that job. It's easier on the reader if he or she doesn't have to keep track of too many people.
     
  4. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    A lot of the time my cast shrinks over time and re-writes, so I end up with the background characters being re-used main-er characters from before. My main character's father doesn't have a single line of dialogue in the novel I just finished, but since he was one of the main antagonists in the first draft I know far more about him, so I named him early on, even though he pretty much just snores or dances in a couple of scenes. It makes it easier to name people, because I end up with a bank of names that I've already vetted and approved for suitability.

    I guess it depends what the story is though. I have small casts, so naming extra characters is fine. If it was something with a vast cast of small-part extras, I'd only name the ones who appear several times. So even if a character had a large part to play in one scene, I may not name him.
     
  5. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    The late Michael Crichton always impressed me with his ability to build up a random character to the point where you honestly believed he was the focus of the story. That same character only had a role up to the point when he got killed, or was the doctor that studied the dead guy who was a part of some time travel experiment, or was the father of the little girl who got bitten by compies that had escaped to a Costa Rican island.

    I guess when it comes down to it, the question is are there any minor characters in your story? Do the characters you have named play a small role in the major story? And if they don't, then what makes the characters you are focusing on so special?

    Even the person who was murdered at the beginning of the book could be considered a "minor" character in the grand scheme of things. But if that person doesn't have a name, then why is the detective trying to solve his murder? For that matter, you need the names of the victim's family to investigate don't you? And the names of the suspects, etc. One suspect might not actually be guilty of anything more than yelling at the victim. And that person could be construed as a minor character, but they still need a name.

    I don't know if any of that makes sense or not, but there's my two cents.
     
  6. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    with crime writing it's probably more important to name as many characters as possible to emphasise the importance of everyone in case they turn out to be the murderer or something. Not naming someone is equivalent to saying they won't die or kill anyone, which kills some suspense. In a romance or something maybe only the major characters and a close couple of friends could be named, and everyone else is just incidental. In fantasy novels casts get huge, and coming up with cool names gets boring, and throwing too much information at the reader might be too confusing, and names are an easy thing to cut back on as a compromise to save some back story, since minor characters come in millions and there will probably be a lot of major characters simply because it's hard to explore a world without doing that, and there's no point to fantasy without exploration. :p

    and so on.
     
  7. Finhorn
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    Finhorn Senior Member

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    I think to many names is bad. It confuses the reader if you introduce someone new every other page. Besides in real life I meet people daily that I'll never see again or don't care about. I may care about my reaction to them, but not them themselves. Like the bum I gave my lunch money to both today and last week-It's important because I complained to my friend Hari that I think I'm being swindled by a pro, but the bum doesn't need a name.

    I think if they're a plot device (a bar tender giving a quest) the reader doesn't need a name. If they are going to come up again (Hey remember that bar tender who got killed?) they still probably don't need a name. If they are going to become a staple (We go to The Blue Bar every Tuesday because Joe gives us the 4th beer free) then they need a name.
     
  8. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm thankful if the writer keeps the number of named characters low, so there are fewer ones I need to remember. But that may be just me.
     
  9. slyfox
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    slyfox Member

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    I've had military officers name one or two underlings and the rest are just "extras" who are addressed by rank. "corporal, I want this perimeter secure, understand". Hierarchies help to keep the number of speaking characters down while still including a cast of thousands. I think this is the way to go.
     
  10. Bran
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    Bran Senior Member

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    i tend to use nick-names for minor characters, and occasionally, names from mythology.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why shouldn't they have names, just because they are under eighteen years old?
     
  12. dnsralg
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    dnsralg Senior Member

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    I only name a minor character when I think it's absolutely necessary. Even then, I only give them a first name, choosing plain, non-flashy names. I pick my names from the top 100 names for their gender + approx. year of birth.
     
  13. Tim Sousa
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    Tim Sousa New Member

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    I think a character should be named if they are going to have a significant effect, or if they are going to be referenced frequently by others. If a character just shows up in a scene or two, and doesn't have anything significant to contribute, they may better remain nameless.
     
  14. dnsralg
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    dnsralg Senior Member

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    Honestly, I think it's writer's choice. Where you may not choose to name minor characters, someone else will.
     
  15. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    SECOND WITCH
    When the hurly-burly’s done,When the battle’s lost and won.
    THIRD WITCH
    That will be ere the set of sun.
    FIRST WITCH
    Where the place?
    SECOND WITCH
    Upon the heath. .
    THIRD WITCH
    There to meet with Macbeth.
     
  16. author97
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    author97 Member

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    Too many names can get confusing, but don't stress over it. All of my characters are named, unless their role is so minor they barely walk over the pages. If you fell that the character ought to be named then go ahead and name him.
     
  17. AJSmith
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    AJSmith Senior Member

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    :D

    I have a hard time not naming my characters, even if their roles end up so small they don't need a name. In planning, I like to know a bit about them. You can always know their name, even if the reader never gets to.
     
  18. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    It depends on the narrator, I think. If it's first-person and the character has no care to learn the minor characters' names, then don't bother putting them in. If it's second-person, then it's the same for first-person, don't bother if the character doesn't care. If it's in third-person and it's omniscient, then you would probably have to put the names in. If it's in third-person limited, then it's probably the same for first and second-person narrative since the narration is only limited to the protagonist's thoughts.
     
  19. Eurlo
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    Eurlo Banned

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    I thnk this is my problem right now...Too many characters all at once and then having to name them:(
    I may have to rewite a whole chapter because of this problem....
     
  20. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    I think I honestly had to put my foot down and say "no more names!"

    There is a lot of stuff that goes on in my story and after a while I was getting annoyed with writing "the officer does XXXX" and the like but giving them names arbitrarily didn't sit well with me either. So, I buckled and just gave out names to characters that would either:

    1) Have more than a minor interaction with the MCs
    2) Will possibly be mentioned/featured in sequels/prequels

    Other then that, I'm just going to leave the rest be. I will now play the worlds smallest violin for all of the minor characters in literature that never received a name.
     
  21. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I name all characters that do or say anything significant.

    I wouldn't necessarily name someone who is just a 'passer-by', as it were. What I'm working on has a few of those - a barman, a waitress and a bus driver.
     

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