1. MissPomegranate
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    MissPomegranate Member

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    Waiting to Refer to a Character by Name...?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by MissPomegranate, Aug 29, 2010.

    Ok, I don't know if this is really weird, but I hate just coming out and saying a character's name. Not when I'm reading something, but when I myself am writing it.

    For example, in the first chapter of one of my stories, you meet two main characters, but you don't know their names until they introduce themselves to each other, which is near the end of the chapter.

    I was wondering if readers would be annoyed by this?
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    to be honest I would just skip ahead to find out and then go back to reading the story lol Personally when reading I like to have introductions made and over an done with so I can enjoy the story.

    In my first novel my MC has his name screamed at him its the word that opens the novel.
     
  3. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    It can be fun to not reveal names, but only for so long unless you're making a point. :p I agree that it usually looks a bit odd to just drop in a name in the narration a line after you meet them, but I tend to try to name characters as soon as possible unless I'm feeling lazy or the situation doesn't call for it. It's a lot easier in first person 'cause either the character knows or doesn't, and if he does, it's peachy. :p I've been writing a lot in first person lately, which made it really easy for me. :p When I was doing the rare third person story I did start stumbling over character introductions, but again, since all the characters already knew each other and there were no introductions to make I just waited a few lines then name dropped in conversation, or just out and out said it. Sometimes you have to be obvious or wallow in a mess of "he" "the guy" "the dude who'd said that thing before the other dude who'd just spoken"... :p
     
  4. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    I usually like to work it in fairly quickly, if possible.
     
  5. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    If the point of view character knows the person in question, IMO, there's no excuse for not revealing the name as soon as reasonably possible. Unless you want to make the POV guy horrible with names. Nicknames can work, but only within reason. I'd find it extremely unlikely if he was referring to his best friend as "the blond" until someone happens to mention a name.
     
  6. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can do it as a term of endearment, I guess, but usually AFTER you've introduced them. And made a point of introducing that nickname. :p
     
  7. Annûniel
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    Annûniel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't reveal a character's name until it's directly spoken by another character or through introduction of himself or herself. So if a person already knows the person they are talking to, the name can be spoken in dialogue.

    I don't think it should bother the reader. I feel it leaves some mystery about the character to not force a name right away.
     
  8. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Now I feel better -- frequently, when I'm imagining a scene in my head, I don't label the characters. I mean, I can see the activity, so I don't need to think that "Kyle says this" or "Lee Marian says that."

    So I know how you feel. I don't always think of the names first, because I don't need to. But when I'm actually writing, I try to put the name in quickly. Names are a handle for the reader -- they indicate a whole person in a single word. That way the writer doesn't have to say "the tall woman" or use a pronoun all the time.

    I don't find names difficult to work in because the author is totally in control of the story's world. Unlike a real-world conversation where you have to wait to introduce a character, in a book or story you can get right to it. First line: "Treny had driven his flock nearly to the fields when the first explosion roared down the mountainside." Your reader now knows that Treny is a shepherd (or a hired man or a farmer) and that he is male. One line. If you use "Treny" later on, the reader will know you you're talking about.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i would... and if you haven't got a very good reason for doing it, agents and publishers most likely would, too...
     
  10. Cecil
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    Cecil Member

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    I'm not sure why you wouldn't just say the names right off the bat, especially if it's in the third person.

    It's simple: "Bob walked into the room and saw his friends Lyle, Katie, and Susan."
    The first line of any story in third person could easily have the main characters name in the first line. The moment a character does anything you just write "So and so did something." Why would you torture yourself or your reader with anything else?

    I can see first person being a problem, but only for the POV character because he's not likely to think of himself by his name. However, for every other character, as soon as POV see's them, just write "I saw Sally coming towards me."

    Am I missing something here? Why would you think you need to wait for characters to say each others names? That's the whole advantage of written fiction. The exception is when the POV doesn't know the character's name (or has amnesia so doesn't know his/her own name) in which case the reader may have to put up with some other kind of tag, so just make it clear who's who.
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If I'm reading a story and I don't know the name of a character and there's no good reason for me not to know, then I do get annoyed. I'd keep thinking "Is this person trying to hide their identity? Is this person a secret agent of some kind? A criminal on the run? A superhero with a secret identity?" If none of these are true, and there's no logical reason to withhold the name from the reader, then it just looks like the writer is incompetent - the writer is doing something purely for his or her own amusement that contributes nothing to the story.
     
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think the main point here is that withholding the name of a character only makes sense if it serves a specific goal in the storytelling. Example - spy novel, and our hero has to make contact with Agent Fennel, but only has a general description to go on. In a bar frequented by all sorts of ne'er-do-wells, our hero is certain he'll meet Fennel there, but for obvious reasons can't just ask for him. He is approached by a stranger, who MIGHT be Fennel, or might not be, and through dialogue they gradually discover one another. That would be, in my view, a good time to withhold Fennel's name until our hero was sure it was Agent Fennel.
     
  13. MissPomegranate
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    MissPomegranate Member

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    Thank you, everybody, for your help! I guess it does make more sense to introduce a character early on, since my story is in 3rd person. Thanks again!
     
  14. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I'll be annoyed unless you have a good reason. Why should you want to delay it when your aim as a writer should be to make it very clear who is who as much as possible.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you don't have a very good reason for hiding the name from readers, DON'T!
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Unless there's a very good reason for it, I find it irritating when authors wait even a few paragraphs (for no apparent reason), using "he" or "she" instead of just telling me the character's name.
     
  17. flanneryohello
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    flanneryohello Member

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    I'm just going to echo what everyone else has said but had to comment anyway because this is a MAJOR pet peeve for me. Anytime an author tries to hide something from the reader or otherwise mislead or trick them...I hate that. Cannot stand it. If there's a legitimate story reason, okay (the example above of the spy meeting his contact is a good one). Otherwise it feels like the author is trying to be too clever by half. Worst is when an author withholds information the POV character would know from the reader. It smacks of authorial interjection, and completely rips me out of the story.

    Don't do it!
     
  18. MissPomegranate
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    MissPomegranate Member

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    Thanks everyone! I guess lots of people have a problem with not naming the characters right away (glad I asked!)

    But I'm having trouble just coming out and saying the main character's name. For me, it's just not flowing into the writing, and seems awkward. Anyone have tips on how to include a name without sounding random?
     
  19. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    How is it sounding random? Why can't you just say "John Smith got in the car and drove to work" or something like that?

    You must have a very unusual beginning going on. Can you give us the context?
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you don't have to put his whole name in there right away, though it can be done well enough in many ways... you can tell us his first name, then have someone refer to him by the last name, or have it revealed by a name tag, or on a computer screen, or whatever... too many good ways to do it to list...

    why don't you just go check some good novels/short stories and see how the best writers do it?...
     
  21. Bad_Valentine
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    Bad_Valentine Member

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    Hey Pomegranate, ran into a similar problem myself. Someone pointed out (in another thread) that I was probably having difficulty because I wasn't totally certain about the point of view. That solved the problem for me, don't know if it will for you but just thought I'd throw that out there. :)
     
  22. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    It doesn't bother me. It seems moderately common in short stories especially for the main protagonist never to be named at all.
     
  23. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    Personally, I find it rather difficult to identify with or care about the main character if he/she remains a total stranger.

    I have to get to know the character and find out things about them before I can become invested.
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You can get to know someone fairly well before you learn their name. Of course it does help to have some label to attach to that collection of memories.

    There is one novel that comes to mind, The Flying Sorcerors by David Gerrold, in which one of the three main characters never explicitly gives his name. The name is obliquely revealed near the end, and it is actually a delightful and appropriate pun, but throughout the novel, the other two characters simply refer to him as Purple.

    The name Purple comes from:
    A poor attempt at translation by the computer in Purple's landing craft. It tries to render his name into the native language, and comes up with "as a color of purple-gray." When purple finally askes them why they have been calling him that all along, they report the translation, and he starts laughing helplessly, realizing that the computer had been unable to come up with a better translation than "color of purple-gray" for "mauve."

    Purple's namesake was of course well-known for his love of puns as the highest form of humor.
     
  25. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Lothgar which is why I would go and find the name before reading the rest of the story.
     

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