1. Murkie
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    Murkie Member

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    Referring a character without using their name

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Murkie, Aug 8, 2012.

    I have a character in a short story that I'm finding it difficult to refer to as anything other than "her" or "she".
    She plays the part of the wife of a murder victim who is being interviewed by the police and will by the end of the story be a major part of the twist. Due to the situation and the formality of her involvement, the MC - a police detective only refers to her in dialogue as "Mrs Russell" and I don't feel it would be right to address her like this outside of the dialogue. This leaves me repeating "Her" and "She" an awful lot. Is there a way to get around this, or is it generally acceptable? I've thought about trying to slip a first name in there, maybe as part of of the MC reading her file and discovering her first name, but I think this would confuse the reader and give the narrative too much of a relaxed feeling.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    In the film "Once", the two main characters are never identified by name, and in fact are listed in the cast of characters only as "the boy" and "the girl". My advice is to finish the story and see how it reads. You can probably find some variance by replacing "she" and "her" with "the woman", "the victim's wife", etc, but if the piece is well written, the reader would not be likely to notice or care.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you can use 'the woman' and 'the wife' now and then, for relief...
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Keep in mind that a character on screen does not need a name to be distinguished. The visual appearance suffices. It's much harder to write, but still doable. Read H G Wells The Time Machine for an example.
     
  5. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I have a minor character in a scene with my two MC's. I just use term "he said" and "the (P)private said," to get around that. He doesn't even rate high enough for a description...just think red shirt from Star Trek
     
  6. tupbup
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    tupbup Member

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    Cormac McCarthy's The Road never refers to its main characters by names and its not that noticeable. It was only when I came to write essays about them that I really paid attention. You are very close to your work so it will bug you more. I think you should test it on someone hasn't read your work yet and see if it becomes a problem for them. If the narrative is mostly about the wife then you'll probably find its unnecessary to use her name at all. Using first instead of third person narrative might help you to avoid her name also, and if one of your characters insists on calling her by her first name then you can narrative summary of the dialogue to cover it up.

    (Just some ideas. I always struggle with parent's names in fiction. Children never use their parents names but writing her father all the time gets on my nerves!)
     
  7. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I had this exact same issue, and usually I would just find an excuse to give the person a nickname of some kind. It could be something like Boss, Sargent, President if they are an authoritative figure. Or you could have the character themselves say "I'd prefer you call me X" and get around that. Or instead of having the character say it, maybe somehow the MC knows she goes by a certain nickname and refers to them as that if they don't know their first name. Another option is to just refer to them by their last name without the Mrs, which is usually a common way to easily refer to someone in a formal way.
     
  8. Murkie
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    Murkie Member

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    Thanks for the ideas. The story itself is told from a close 3rd person perspective of a police detective interviewing the woman. Doing this seems to be working as her actions are described as the detective sees them. So I'm trying out the idea of using phrases like "the distraught woman" when I want the reader to feel like he is empathising with her and sticking with "she" and "her" for the rest. I think it's working.
     
  9. Murkie
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    Murkie Member

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    I'm using this method to address the detective, but I want the reader to sympathise with the woman and addressing the wife of a murder victim by just her surname feels too impersonal.
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Ooh have you read Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" - the wife does get a name though but it's truly excellent. The reason why I'm mentioning this is because your premise reminded me of it. The wife of the murder victim is involved in the major twist in this short story and also talks to a police detective. True British classic.
     
  11. The Crazy Kakoos
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    The Crazy Kakoos Member

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    I don't know if what I do is acceptable but if I need a relief from a character's name I may use nouns that are descriptive of that character.

    Like say I have a huge guy named Joe. I may refer to him as a giant, behemoth, big guy, mountain, whatever that seems to fit at the time.

    Say there's Kenji the hired killer. I may refer to him as an the assassin, cut throat, ninja, or whatever.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's acceptable and done all the time...
     
  13. IsadoraZee
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    IsadoraZee New Member

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    I think if it feels natural to the story telling, you should go with it. Don't fight it, make it part of the style. If you feel you must, find somewhere were it would fit to mention her name.
     
  14. Ferdinand&Alfonso
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    Ferdinand&Alfonso Member

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    I like that you want to keep the police officer in character. :D Some tips to get around the "she, her" dilemma. Think about what she's wearing. "The woman in black" and "The blonde" or "The blue eyed woman", and so on. That's something a friend of mine does a lot. She refers to characters by their hair color at least half as often as by their gender.
     

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