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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Name Game, Part 4

Here we are at the final installment (for now!) of this name-related discussion. It was delayed slightly by a nasty eye infection I've been battling for two weeks (boo!) and the first round of edits for Out of Orbit (yay!), but I'm back and in blogging action. But I will blame any typos on my gradually-recovering eye.

One issue I sometimes encounter when writing: when do you name a character? The major and minor ones are obvious. Most of the time, main characters need names. (And yes, I know there are plenty of books with an unnamed narrator, which is why I said "most of the time".) On the flip side, not every single person the main characters meet needs to have a name, especially if their role isn't all that significant. It's the ones in the middle I sometimes struggle with.

Too much extraneous detail can confuse or distract a reader, and we certainly don't want that. That said, the vast majority of real-life people have names (duh) and it's nice to acknowledge that. But do we really need to know the name of every single person we come across? We can probably even argue that you can have a significant interaction with a person without ever knowing his/her name.

Over the years, I've come up with an incredibly basic rule of thumb for myself: for minor characters, only name them when it would be awkward not to. There have been times when either a character winds up playing a larger role than initially expected, or someone takes up enough room on a page that not seeing a name attached to them just looks weird. The biggest example of this in my books is Captain Sampson in Flight of the Dragon Queen. For the longest time, he had no name, and was just referred to as "the captain". But after a while, that wasn't working out for me, and I needed to do better.

There are plenty of people mentioned in Out of Orbit who never got a name. But there was one instance where Jasmine had a long enough conversation with someone that I had to name him. He only shows up in that one part, but the flow just seemed off when he didn't have a name.

Come to think of it, "avoid being awkward" is a great rule of thumb for a LOT of writing-related things.

Next up: I'll finally start talking about my latest WIP (the first chapter of which is complete)!


  1. A lot of my characters seem to come with names, but yeah, the middle sort-of minor characters are the trickiest to name. They don't come with names a lot of the time, but I've finally squelched the impulse to name every single character.

  2. Yay edits for Orbit!! And more Yays for a completed first chapter!! ^_^

    "Avoid being awkward" is most definitely a great rule of thumb! ^_^ In the current project, I had to name a minor character that showed up only twice, because her role was significant enough to be mentioned several more times in the story and constantly referring to her as "miss thirty something" just wasn't going to work. Lol!

  3. I have a hard time with names. A realllly hard time with names. Sometimes my main players are fine, otherwise I change a main character's name 3/4 of the way through the first draft. With a short story, it matters a little less. With a novel, it's a bit more unwieldy (though "find and replace" is magical, and works far better than it used to).

    It's hard to find the balance between a list of names and people being "he" and "she", so I thin k I'm more than happy to adopt your awkwardness rule of thumb.