1. La_Donna
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    La_Donna Member

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    Not telling the Readers a character's name...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by La_Donna, May 8, 2013.

    Okay, I'm currently writing this story where there is a character (I'll call her X) who is married to her husband. He is the main antagonist, and in love with another woman.

    X is never given a name in the text (she has a name in my head, but I will never reveal it). She is always referred to as "his wife" or "his woman" and entirely in relation to him, making this impression that her identity does not exist without him. I got this idea from Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men", where Curley's wife is only referred to as "Curley's wife" throughout. I want to keep X that way to show she is seen as little more than an object by her husband and all the other characters, and how all the other characters are disengaged from her and her problems.

    Conversely, she has one of the most emotional, tragic plot lines in the story, including suicide, miscarriage, domestic abuse, alcoholism etc, all shown from other characters perspectives (mainly her husband's). I want readers to empathise with her, but do you think that is possible when she has no name and no POV of her own?
     
  2. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This sounds really interesting! Sorry I don't have any practical advice lol but definitely don't give it up. As with anything in writing, if you write it well enough, then yes, readers will be able to sympathise with her :) I guess it's not too unlike first person narrative - you hear only the narrating character and nobody else gets a POV, and it works just fine. You're essentially trying out the "unreliable narrator", which is hard to write but really good to read if done well.

    Is this a short story? It'd be pretty hard to work as a novel I must say.
     
  3. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    A good idea, especially if she isn't the main character and not a POV character and this is not a novel-length story. But even if it was, anything can work when executed well. Have the story reviewed at some point, so you'll find out how others may think of your decision and whether it works or could be improved.

    Good luck!
     
  4. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    I don't know why they wouldn't empathize with her. Never revealing her name and using that to show how she is seen by others and how she perceives herself will make a big impact. I think it's a good idea for this character and this particular scenario. It makes sense.
     
  5. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I think this is a fantastic idea. But I actually do have one piece of practical advice:

    I know you said that thins would be mainly from the husband's perspective? If there is more than just this perspective, I would suggest being careful with how you write the others. If a character from whose POV you're writing the story is referring to her in a sympathetic manner (someone that knows her personally, not just through the husband) then they wouldn't refer to her has "[husband name]'s wife." They would refer by her first name. Again, this isn't an issue from the husband's perspective, or from the perspective of someone that only knows her through the husband. But just a piece of advice before hand.
     
  6. La_Donna
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    La_Donna Member

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    Yes, I had thought about that. I'm thinking the other people who interact with her don't know her well, so they refer to her as "Mrs Whatever", so again she is just her husband's name. Thank you for the advice!
     
  7. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    My question is what does the husband call her directly? When he turns to her and says something does he address her as "woman", "dear", "darling", "you"? Anything at all? This is not a bad idea, but as stated above, it's all really how you handle it. You have to make at least one person in the story care about her--even if its herself-- enough to make the reader feel her. That is not to say no one cares. What I mean is if she thinks little of her and others think little of her, it can be hard to make her a sympathetic character, even with her tragic story. Furthermore, who is the story really about and from whose POV is it being told?
     
  8. Sunny1000
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    Sunny1000 Member

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    I don't think not telling the reader her name would take away their ability to empathise with her. If anything a discerning reader may pick up that she is purposely nameless and feel more sorry for her. This sounds like a really interesting idea :)
     
  9. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    I agree with Mckk.

    This approach can definitely work for a short story, in my opinion. The best way to do it is to decide that you are going to write the story this way and then stick with it. That way you'll spend more time working through the obstacles you'll face with this strategy and less time wondering if it's the right way to go.

    Sorry about the second-person. It's not my favorite.
     
  10. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Rebecca manages an entire novel not mentioning the mc's name - in contrast to the dead wife's name being
    everywhere! It's told from her pov though, and mainly she's know as dear, or Mrs. DeWinter.
    ( Personally, I always thought her name was Rowena or something equally exotic because there was
    no big rush to replace Rebecca's mongrammed items. ) I think your story could work if carefully handled
    but I'd let the reader's know that although her husband appears to be the mc' it's only because she's
    in his shadow.
     
  11. Suffering-is-Beauty
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    Suffering-is-Beauty Member

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    I wrote a book, its not finished yet, but in it i never reveal the mc name. i never give any distinct physical feature for the character and don't intend to. the point is so that the reader can associate the mc with anyone that it reminds them of. i want the reader to be able to think that the mc could be anyone that they have met, so in my opinion you don't have to give the name if you don't want to. let the reader develop the character how the reader wants to, and if its done correctly it'll work. that's my two sense.
     
  12. RHK
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    RHK Member

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    When I saw this topic, I also immediately thought of Rebecca and its nameless protagonist. It works very well in the context of Rebecca, allowing for the exploration of female identity within marriage (women used to take the man's first name too, at least on paper: Rebecca's insistence on putting her own name everywhere is part of her defiance of patriarchial tradition). Don't see any reason why it can't work in third too, although it'll take some skill to engineer, and some readers might still just think it is sexist/old fashioned. Sounds like a very interesting project though.
     
  13. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    So long as she doesn't get a POV scene or focus and she remains a secondary character your idea sounds very interesting. You should definitely do it.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Have you ever read H. G. Wells' The Time Machine?
     
  15. La_Donna
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    La_Donna Member

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    Thanks for all your really helpful feedback!!!

    Andrae Smith - Her husband is essentially the main antagonist, and the whole story is really his story. Her character is firstly to show how unimportant women in the time frame I am setting my story in were valued, secondly how easily problems can be ignored, and thirdly that the antagonist is awful. Her story is mainly shown from her husband's perspective, but from other's as well (her husband's boss, her husband's boss' wife)
    RHK - it's the sexist/old fashioned thing I am trying to avoid! But I have got other female characters who have some agency of their own.
    Xatron - She does, thanks for the advice!
    Cognito - No, I haven't!

    Thanks again
     
  16. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    This sounds like a great experiment and I don't disagree with anything anyone else has said. Just be careful (and it sounds like you will be :)) and you should be fine.

    There are two pieces of wonderful literature where the protagonist never gets a name: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway and "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In the former, I don't think anyone got a name. In the latter, the narrator is never named because the story is her journal. Great literature, both of them. If you've any doubts about what you're doing, check these out. I believe "The Yellow Wallpaper" is available in full online because it was published in the late 19th century.
     
  17. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's certainly challenging for a novice writer to attempt something like this. But if you can pull it off, best of luck :)
     
  18. djzelly
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    djzelly New Member

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    I'd really be interested in reading that! Lately I've been working on different types of characters and points of view and this just sounds awesome. c:
     
  19. LeeG-75
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    LeeG-75 New Member

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    I've used this as a device in short fiction before. I think that character anonymity can sometimes (not always) be a useful tool. As well as having the effect of objectifying a character, it can also help to create the illusion that the character is just 'the person on the street', someone that anyone could know. Sometimes providing a name can take this away from the reader, in my opinion.
     
  20. TimHarris
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    TimHarris Senior Member

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    Robin Hobb did this in her Farseer trilogy (first book) Where the protagonist is only given a name in the last chapter and is otherwise just called "the bastard" or "Fitz". I thought that worked pretty well in showing how he felt
     
  21. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    In real life I rarely call people by their name (I am crap with names, so have developed a coping mechanism, where I never use them when I talk to people), so I can't see why this wouldn't work.

    In addition to the other works mentioned have you seen the film Withnail and I? "I" is never named.
     

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