1. agentkirb
    Offline

    agentkirb Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2009
    Messages:
    494
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    Houston

    How to refer to someone without revealing their identity

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by agentkirb, Apr 17, 2012.

    I'm trying to write a flashback scene, that will probably end up being close to 2000 words long (not just a short couple of paragraphs). Basically how the scene goes is the MC and person X both do a few things and engage in dialogue back and forth... then at the end "person X's" identity is revealed and it turns out to be someone that the readers know about already. And that is supposed to be the "twist" ending at the end of the chapter to drive the plot further along.

    The problem is, I end up referring to this "person X" a few times and I can't really think of a good way to refer to the person without being obvious that I'm trying to hide the person's identity. The way I'm doing it right now is by giving him the nickname "Boss", because he's the MCs boss and they have a good working relationship so I figure that sort of thing is plausible. So two lines of dialogue would be like:

    “Hey Boss, wait up.” Larson said, running towards his fellow colleague.

    “You shouldn’t be here.” his boss said.

    ---

    I feel a little awkward using the phrase 'his boss said'. And I'm sure as I keep writing more of the scene I'll need to think of other ways to refer to this person other than just using the person's name. Any ideas?
     
  2. molly16
    Offline

    molly16 Member

    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2012
    Messages:
    26
    Likes Received:
    2
    "the man" "the one with the blue jacket" "Larson's Superior" Maybe those? Or, capitalize or italicize "he"?

    Hope it helps :)
     
    1 person likes this.
  3. agentkirb
    Offline

    agentkirb Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2009
    Messages:
    494
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    Houston
    That will work fine if used once or twice, but I don't know if I could regularly use it. I feel like as a reader they are going to notice "hey... this guy is going out of his way to not directly mention the name of this character" and that would ruin the twist end to the chapter.

    I'm thinking another idea would be to come up with a nickname that makes more sense that I could use like an actual name.
     
  4. Erato
    Offline

    Erato Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2012
    Messages:
    294
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    A place called home
    I'm going to start from the assumption that it's really, really necessary that we don't know, because it's not generally a good idea to withhold something like that.

    I think you are right to feel awkward using "his boss said." You can use it a few times; you can also say, "said the boss" and "the other man said" or avoid a tag altogether. Remember, when you begin a new paragraph, you're changing speaker. Also, don't end a quotation with a period and then use a sentence fragment outside the quote.

    "Hey boss, wait up," Larson said, running toward the other man. ;; To say "fellow colleague" is redundant; two colleagues are fellows. And the term colleague seems to imply that they're of the same status.
    "You shouldn't be here." The boss didn't even turn around.
    "I just had to catch you before you left."
    "Catch me some other time. I'm busy." ;; You can only keep this up so long before the reader starts referring back to the latest tag for a signpost - who's this one again? Oh, yeah, that's him, that's him, that's him - and maybe use a name sometimes. It will help you that one may have a distinct role in the conversation, as the asker, or the teller, or the flatterer, and that one may have a distinct way of talking, with, say, Southern expressions, or a NYC accent, and so on.
    "I had a few questions about the Alderni project..."
    "Larson, please don't come here. This place is not for you."

    Another way is to latch onto a physical characteristic, like dark glasses, or an article of clothing. This works especially well from an third person omniscient viewpoint, where the narrator doesn't recognize the man. You should avoid this only if it will make us recognize the boss as Person X whom we know.

    "But I sorted the files last night!" cried Larson, then cowered.
    "Well, they're out of order," said the man with the leather jacket, and picked his teeth. "So resort them."

    Hope this helps.
     
    1 person likes this.
  5. agentkirb
    Offline

    agentkirb Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2009
    Messages:
    494
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    Houston
    That actually does help. Thanks.
     
  6. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,984
    Likes Received:
    5,502
    I think that doing this by avoiding names or using descriptions rather than names is a very dangerous strategy. It's likely to feel to the reader like a manipulative gimmick and a messy and awkward manipulation of language. You will have lost their trust, and that will be the end of that.

    If you absolutely _must_ do this, I would set up a substantial amount of infrastructure around some reason for the character to have changed their name. I'm imagining "reveals" like:

    Miss Sterling turned to call, "John! John, I forgot: Are you free Friday morning? James Williams and I are getting married, and I'd love it if you could be one of our witnesses at the courthouse."

    or

    Fred laughed. "Are you crazy? I'm not publishing as Fred Schultz; everybody and his brother associates that name with those trashy vampire novels I used to write. From now on, you can call me Jimmy Black. My publisher tells me that it's a _very_ marketable name."

    or

    Fred grimaced. "Fred Schultz is already taken in the Guild--he played a mailman in a Brady Bunch episode or something, so I have to change my name. My agent recommends Jimmy Black. What do you think?"

    Or something like that. And once you do this, I wouldn't use it as a throwaway--I'd weave it into the plot in more than one place, and give it a meaning more important than the name change. John is in love with Miss Sterling. Fred's writing or acting career is.... OK, I can't think of anything, but it needs to matter. If you just have a name change for no reason other than the surprise, then the reader will feel manipulated again.
     
    1 person likes this.
  7. agentkirb
    Offline

    agentkirb Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2009
    Messages:
    494
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    Houston
    @ChickenFreak: I think I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and do that. I can refer to him for the rest of the story by another name... like maybe his full name or something. And then in this scene because it's a character's flashback I can get away with only referring to the guy as an informal name or a shortened version of a name. For example... Andrew -> Drew/Andy. I don't want to use that name so I'll have to think of a good one to use.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,984
    Likes Received:
    5,502
    To me, just using a nickname isn't enough. It's still going to feel like a gimmick.

    Really, I think that the best plan is to get along without the desired surprise. I know that you really, really want it, but I can't see any way to make it seem natural, short of adding an entire substantial subplot to make a name change seem logical.
     
  9. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    I don't know your story, but theoretically speaking, I'd get the person X to have changed names, or to have a name that they used then, but don't use now. That way, the MC can keep referring to them in their thoughts and flash back to the dialogue etc, as long as they are not in the present scene together, where it would be awkward to not reflect on the fact this is that person.. To call anyone other than a victim of crime or a perpetrator a "Person X" is, in my opinion, not a very good idea.
     
    1 person likes this.
  10. AmyHolt
    Offline

    AmyHolt Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2011
    Messages:
    475
    Likes Received:
    17
    Location:
    Warsaw, IN
    I've seen this done in a few books and they always latch onto a physical trait like Erato said. I thought it worked fine.
     
    1 person likes this.
  11. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    you don't really need to give him a nickname, if that would be too obvious... otherwise, just use gender-specific [or not] generalities:

    the man
    the big/little/dark/pale/whatever man
    the guy
    the [whatever] guy
    person
    caller/speaker/lurker/whatever-er
    he/him
     
  12. agentkirb
    Offline

    agentkirb Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2009
    Messages:
    494
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    Houston
    Nah, I think your original idea works. Add a subplot/reason for him to be called a different name. This "person X" isn't a central character to the story, but he is referenced a few times and is important when it comes to the plot. So like... in the rest of the story I can refer to him as Mr. Bossman (or whatever his last name ends up being), maybe once or twice mention his fullname (ie, Laurence Bossman). And then in this flashback, the MC refers to him as Larry (short form of Laurence). It works out because the MC is supposed to be friends with this Larry person.

    I realize now that I was really really vague when I asked the question, because I didn't want to spend 3 paragraphs explaining all the details of the story... so a lot of the answers people gave wouldn't work because of restrictions they didn't know about. Still, I really appreciate everyone's advice and I have figured out a way to solve this issue as a result. Thank you.
     

Share This Page