1. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Unnamed characters in short stories

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by deadrats, Jul 19, 2016.

    Do you ever not provide names for some of your characters? I have found there are two reasons why my characters don't get names, but I'm not sure about leaving them nameless.

    I recently wrote a new short story. It's a longer short story told in first person. I didn't name this MC because there wasn't a good opportunity to stick in a name. I will probably go back and look again. I sometimes find it hard to name the narrator in first person. Do you guys always name your narrator in first person? How do you slip it in? How important is it that he or she have a name in a short story? Remember, this is for short stories. We are talking about twenty to twenty-five pages. I would never leave my narrator unnamed in a novel. At least I don't think I would.

    In a other short stories, I sometimes don't name minor characters. I have gone back and given then names and fleshed them out sometimes. This takes them from being props to being characters. But other times I'm not sure I want them to have bigger roles in the story. I wrote a story last week with three unnamed characters. All the main characters have names. This one is in close third person. And the MC would not know the names of the three unnamed characters. Sure, it could come up in dialog, but I'm not sure I want them to take up more page space. I have found that when I name these side characters with small roles, they often need more than just a name. Once they have a name, they have there own small histories and lives. I don't want to go down all those paths for these particular characters in my this short story. But I am always on the fence about giving characters names or not.

    How do you decide if a character gets a name?
     
  2. Katy12250
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    Katy12250 New Member

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    Wasn't there a Clint Eastwood movie about a man with no name? Seems like I almost have a sound track...

    Anyway, I've written, now that I think of it, a lot of short stories where even the MC isn't named. I think, for me anyway, if the name would be used in normal dialogue in the story, then the character has a name. Most of the time, when one character is referring to another, they will use a name. However, if it's something like a flash fiction piece with only a few characters, names might not come up or really be important.

    In the novel I'm working on, everyone (so far) has a name and I'm keeping track of them - who they're attached to, what they do, where they're at. However, I'm not going into any detail about the person unless I know they are going to pop up again. No need to know everything about them if they are only going to have a bit part. For example, there was one person who actually played a role in a scene, but he never had a name. When a character referred to him later, he got a name - not history, just the name.

    In several of the flash fiction pieces I've written, there aren't any names at all. In some of the others, names are used. And I think I use names in all my longer short stories.

    So, I'm going to say it depends. If your story makes sense without names, then what's the point of putting them in? If you're confused (or think the reader may be confused), then you probably need names. Also, in my opinion, just because a character gets a name, doesn't mean you have to do an in depth history on them or include any of that in your story. Let them walk in, walk off, and let them go.
     
  3. Meteor
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    Meteor Active Member

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    Well, like Katy I have to say I think it depends. I have written one or two I think where characters remained nameless. Minor characters that have no major role or aren't consistent enough to matter probably don't need names if you don't feel they need them. Take a Commander and his army for example. The Commander and his subordinate lieutenants have names probably because we see them all the time but, his army would be awfully tedious to flesh out, if not nearly impossible depending on the size. We also don't interact with every single soldier regularly either. It would be unnecessary work.

    I usually determine if a character gets a name based on if he interacts with the MC or similar character regularly. What I mean to say is I don't name every Joe and Jane, just the ones who we see consistently. That random soldier who's going to further the story by dying, or getting executed, not so much. Imagine every single soldier in Game of Thrones having a name and getting back story on all of them every time they pop up in a scene in the show.

    Try asking, how relevant it is to name that character?

    One story I read a young man and his friend witnessed a nameless woman getting burned alive as a form of execution. For the MC she played a pivotal role in his development and understanding of the world but, had no name. She was an important yet, completely unknown character. You really have to decide for yourself how relevant a character is to the story and whether or not they should be named. That's my take anyways, I hope it helps.
     
  4. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    At some point I read that supposedly readers have a harder time identifying with and remembering a character if they don't have a name, and even though it kind of sounds like bullshit, it worked its way into my head and now I feel like I have to. Maybe there's something to it, I really don't know. But I definitely have written shorts where working in the narrator's name just didn't come easy, and finding a way to shoehorn it in seemed like it would come across as forced - especially in first person. Obviously in third you have to refer to them as something, but in first you're just not always going to have a story where the narrator's name will come up organically. I think that's fine. What's the point of forcing a name in there, not because you need it to make things more clear or interesting, but just for the sake of it being in there all of one time?
     
  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Len Deighton's early novels were first-person POV, and the narrator is never named. There is, in particular, one scene where someone calls out a name (I think he's in Berlin airport arrivals) and you get inside his head thoughts "Now, my name's not Harry, but I tried to remember if it ever had been"...

    This added to the mystery of the character, and the shadiness of his world.

    Using a name is a useful label, to stop having to refer to "the moustachioed guard" every time he appears...your character learns his name is Pavel from overhearing his colleague talking to him, and thinks he either is - or isn't - the most typical Pavel he's ever seen...every Pavel is a fat, moustachioed bully, or a fat, clean-shaven bully; well, two out of three's good for this place... After that, the reader will know who Pavel is, and what he's like.

    But if this is just "random guard #01", you know, the crewman who's just in the scene to be cannon-fodder when the flesh-eating monster unexpectedly appears, what's the point in naming him, or fleshing him out? Hell, he probably only has the line "Aaaaaargh!"

    ETA: If you're having to shoe-horn the name in, you don't need it.
     
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  6. Anna100
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    Anna100 Member

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    I'm writing a short story now, where one of the main characters (there's only two, though) don't have a name, except for the name 'graveyard man.' I would usually call him 'he', though, and not the graveyard man all the time, because that would be annoying. The reason why I'm not naming him is because he is hiding his identity from the other character, and my plan for the reader was to not really know whether he is the graveyard man or not (some kind of notorious criminal in my story). I've also wondered if this would be annoying for a reader or not, not knowing the guy's name, and never knowing it. I can't remember (as of right now) reading any stories where the main character had no name, so I'm unsure how I personally would feel about it. But, apparently I've got in the habit of doing this. I wrote a short story for a competition here, and there I also had a character with no name. Don't know why I don't name them, maybe I don't see it as necessary, even though they might be important characters.

    I really don't know why I choose not to name them, I'm doing the same thing as you, so don't know if I can help you. :p
     
  7. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some of it depends on the POV you choose to use. If it's from the other character's POV, and all he/she knows the other character is as 'graveyard man' then it certainly wouldn't be a problem.

    Even if that isn't the case, as long as the story goes along where it doesn't appear to the reader that you're having to do some 'acrobatics' to avoid using a name, as opposed to 'graveyard man' it won't be a problem. This is much more attainable in a short story as opposed to a novel.

    The final thought is if the 'graveyard man' thinks of himself by that name, or that is all that he reveals to people (at least those encountered in the story)

    Just a few thoughts...hope they help.
     
  8. BWriter
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    BWriter Member

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    I have the same issue. My latest story is called A Man Walks Into A Bar and it has 3 characters. The man, the barman and the woman. It is kind of about how people make judgements without knowing them. There is a reason they are not named but still not sure if I can get away with it.
     
  9. Zorg
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    Zorg Member

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    Cormac McCarthy's The Road had no names for its characters other than Man and Boy. It's doable.
     
  10. BWriter
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    BWriter Member

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    Yea but The Road is a fantastic piece of writing.
     
  11. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I think that might true about identifying and remembering characters. But it can be tricky in first person. And I don't always do it.
     
  12. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    On the opposite side of things, how many names can you give in a short story? I'm talking like 4,000 to 5,000 words. I'm thinking six to ten, maybe? When do you think it starts to become hard to keep track of all the names? Or if it's done well, will it just be smooth to follow?
     
  13. Anna100
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    Anna100 Member

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    Yes, it's from the other character's POV. The graveyard man won't reveal his real name (and I don't really have another name for him either). Anyway, I never thought of this as an issue, it's not something I'm going to publish. But seeing this thread made me think about it. Thanks for your thoughts!
     
  14. Keelan Goldhallow
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    Keelan Goldhallow Member

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    I went to a writing camp last week and one of the instructors said she names every single one of her characters but doesn't put the names in the story unless it's important. For example, she wrote a book about a baseball team and named all the players, but only a few actually had names in the story, you know what I mean? So I would say name all your characters but only introduce the names if it comes naturally in the scene.
     
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  15. Katy12250
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    Katy12250 New Member

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    That is great! Sometimes you need to know a lot about a character, including their name, but it doesn't need to be in the story.
     

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