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  1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Calling a character by name

    Discussion in 'Short Stories' started by deadrats, May 27, 2018.

    When writing in first person, I often struggle with how and how soon to bring up my main character's name. And in a short story, it's probably something that should happen quickly, no? I've been told to always give my characters names. And as an avid reader of short stories, MCs often have names and rarely go nameless. But it's hard. And I don't want it to sound forced. When you guys write short stories in first person, do you name your MC? How quickly does their name usually appear in the story? And how do you slip it in without it sounding forced or awkward?
     
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  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I've got no use for kale... Contributor

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    Good question. Easy answer is to have someone address the MC in dialogue fairly early in the story. That shouldn't sound too forced, and it's probably better than having the character introduce themselves directly to the reader. Unless, of course, that's the sort of inner voice you're going for, which is totally fine in the right story.
     
  3. Night Herald

    Night Herald L'Anatra di Guerra Supporter Contributor

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    I'm inconsistent in this. Going over my first person shorts:

    Stories A and B have unnamed narrators.
    Story C begins with a direct address ("My name is...")
    In stories D and E, the narrator's name is first brought up when other characters address them (about 450 and 800 words in, respectively; probably later than is sensible)

    I should note that of the three named characters, two are known only by their given names, while the third is known by his last. That's how I do it, but I'm probably doing it "wrong". I agree with what @Homer Potvin says about having someone bust out that name early on. Perfectly serviceable.

    Let me go on record as being totally fine with unnamed narrators.
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2018
  4. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yup. I read a story once where the MC's apparent name was introduced by someone calling him by it in the first few pages. It happened elsewhere also, but (not a spoiler because I'm not telling you the name of the book) it turned out that that wasn't really his name. It wasn't until the seventh or eighth time I read the book (I like it a lot) that I realized that nowhere does the author say "Jeff walked into the room." It's always

    The only exception is when a new character directly asks him his name, and he replies "They call me Jeff," which isn't a lie, but isn't his true name either.
     
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  5. Lemie

    Lemie Contributor Contributor

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    Nothing a little third person can't help!

    Sorry, I'm trying to write this short little thing in first and I hate it. I refuse to read first person and I'm only trying to write it for self torture.

    I will never understand why so many people prefer it.
     
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  6. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    An interesting question. Speaking as one who never writes in first person (unless it really IS me, like now!) I've never really thought about this issue.

    I know when I'm reading any story, I like to get oriented as quickly as possible. However—especially in first person stories—I find I'm more concerned about the narrator's gender*, age and relationship to any other characters than I am about his or her name. The only time name is important to me, in a first person story, is when there's dialogue. I don't want to pick up the wrong end of the stick. I could probably get through an entire short story without knowing the character's name, and not be too bothered, as long as there isn't any dialogue or occasion for confusion.

    *By gender, I don't mean sexual orientation, by the way. That may or may not be important to the story. However, I do like to know as much about the character's gender as I would know if I saw that character in person or on a screen, a stage, or heard them in a radio play. It just makes the story easier to picture.
     
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  7. lonelystar

    lonelystar Active Member

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    Could the character answer the phone with their name -
    I dashed down the hall to get the phone before it stopped ringing. Hoping it wasn't him again. "Tom."
    At the end of the conversations my knees felt like jelly. I sank into the nearby armchair.

    Just an example. Now we know he is called Tom but now we can add more information about the conversation and how he reacts.
     
  8. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I remember reading something where I thought the first person narrator was a boy for something like 3 chapters before realising it was a girl. In my opinion, that's a bit of a fail on the side of the author - there's gotta be ways of making this clear far earlier than that!? I'm still not too sure what her name was. But yes, dropping in her name early on (and the author could have done that easily, seeing as the book opened with 3 lines of dialogue) would have resolved this problem.

    Anyway I think don't overthink this. If you overthink this, that's when it would sound forced. No reason you can't just have someone address your character. There're also other ways where perhaps your character's name is written somewhere - a letter or parcel addressed to him, a name tag at work, test results with his name on it. Even inner thoughts where you imagine your mum talking to you or something :p
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, that's the kind of thing that drives me nuts as well. It just means the picture you've built up in your head is all wrong. Unless wrong-footing the reader is part of the reason for the story (and it can be) then I'd say nail these kinds of things right at the start. I'd rather have that kind of information feel 'forced' than not there at all. If it's not there, most readers will start wondering ...is this character male, female, what? And if they're anything like me, they'll start paging ahead trying to find out.
     
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  10. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Oh god, not gender or sex-based, but I read Setting Free the Bears by John Irving. The story takes place in Austria. It's written in English, and there is (I read it a long time ago, so correct me if I'm nothing to indicate the nationality/native language/language being spoken by the main character. He's some sort of vagabond backpacker, but I spent the whole damn novel trying to figure out if we were just supposed to understand that it was a story about a couple of native German speakers, or a British or American backpacker, or what what what....

    And yeah, the sex/gender thing can get annoying too. I remember having a story I was writing suddenly click into place mentally when I realized the MC (first person) could be female instead of male. All I had to do was change "my wife" to "my husband", but suddenly the story worked and I could finish it.
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think the key to the issue is what you said: I spent the whole damn novel trying to figure out...fill in the blank here. Unless the figuring out is part of the author's intention to make you 'think,' I suspect that, rather than being an insignificant matter not worth mentioning, these kinds of omitted details absorb the reader's attention instead. What's going on here? Is this a man? A woman? A boy? A girl? Are these American backpackers speaking German, or what? Are they actual Germans?

    Maybe I'm alone in this, but I hate reading stories where stuff like this isn't made clear. I like to get quickly oriented to who, what, where and when. I'm generally content to let the why evolve.
     
  12. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    I can't speak for everyone, but for me the answer is simple. It's because it makes far more sense to me on a logical and 'believable' level. It simplifies things like tense, not being privy to other character's actions.

    I find it difficult to write, 'Simon was wondering if the rain would ever stop.' because there's a voice in my head saying, "How the hell do you know what Simon was wondering??'

    Whereas no one can argue with the line, 'I was wondering if the rain would ever stop.'

    Your feelings on people who write in first, is how I feel about those who write in third.

    Bizarrely, I have no problems whatsoever reading fiction in third. I just hate writing it.
     
  13. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Um... but I'm writing in first so third person POV isn't going to help at all.
     
  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I chose to introduce my character's name in dialog like you suggested, but I'm worried I don't do it soon enough since I don't have dialog for the first few pages. Is there any way you can think of other than what you've mentioned? It did help, but I feel like I still feel like I'm taking too long to put this name out there. I don't want my MC to address readers. I like it best when characters stay in a story. Thanks for your help, and please let me know if you have any other suggestions. I would also like your thoughts (or anyone here) on how quickly a name should be used when we're talking about a first person story.
     
  15. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I don't think there really is a wrong way. I used to write short stories with unnamed characters, but I had enough people in the industry tell me to stop doing that so I started naming them. I will admit, though, I was reluctant to take this advice or think it would make any kind of real difference. But in my experience, it does deem to have quite a major impact on my stories. I think giving a character a name is just one more thing to make them seem "real" or more developed. I also read a lot of short stories, and most of the time characters have names. And I think nicknames or last names do the same thing as a straight first name.

    Just out of curiosity, why are you fine with unnamed characters? Do you really believe character don't do better with names?
     
  16. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Interesting. I don't think it matters if a name is the character's real name or not. It's still giving a name. Your first example is in third and my story is in first. But, hey, were you really okay with waiting a few pages in to get the MC's name in the book you're talking about? You weren't like who is this guy? I don't know if having something written in first or third makes a difference, but I kind of think it does.
     
  17. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Just wondering why you never write in first. I go back and forth for different projects, but I probably write in first more often than third. Both have their challenges. I wonder if it's harder to develop the MC in first since you, the writer, are thinking and telling the story as the MC. It's not like you can really stick in a paragraph and say, "By the way, my name is Joe. I have sandy blond hair and bad acne. And my favorite color is blue, but that's not going to be important to the story." I don't know why this is something I am struggling with now, but it has been coming up as a bit of an issue for me.
     
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  18. Lemie

    Lemie Contributor Contributor

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    First just remind me of some annoying person who tries to force their life story on me. I rather read about what Simon did than reading through something that feels like a stranger on the bus who have never heard of personal space.
     
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  19. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Sure, that could work, but not really for my story. It kind of seems like dialog or directly addressing readers might be the only two ways to do it. Thanks for your comment.
     
  20. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Well, horses for courses, as they say.

    Like I say, no problem reading it - I don't really have a preference - but writing in first just makes more 'sense' to me.
     
  21. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Wow! To diss first person in general like that just sounds like you haven't read enough. Writers read!
     
  22. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks. You've given me some good ideas.
     
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  23. Lemie

    Lemie Contributor Contributor

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    I was jokingly telling you that you should swish your pov... :wtf:
     
  24. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Interesting approach. I have no problem with reading and writing in first or third. Sure, there are issues that come up with both. This is just what I'm dealing with now.
     
  25. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Why?
     

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