Refuse to give names to characters


A tall man with glinting eyes stepped meaningfully from the ship’s gangplank and surveyed the dock.
‘Where is she?’ he demanded, gesturing at a stooped and subservient man beside him.
‘Sorry, sir?’ the servile man asked. The tall man with the smooth black walking stick clicked his tongue impatiently.
‘You know who,’ he said. ‘The demure woman with the scarf.’
‘I’ll make enquiries, sir,’ the balding, diminutive man replied (the same man who had been talking a moment before).
‘Well make them quickly,’ interrupted a tall man with shining eyes. This was not the same tall man with glinting eyes who had so far been conducting the conversation, but a new, even taller man with eyes that shone rather than glinted, who had just disembarked behind the two figures already standing on the dock.
‘You!’ hissed the tall (merely tall – not taller) man with glinting rather than shining eyes. ‘I should have known you would try to interfere.’
‘Interfere?’ queried the tallest available man with the really quite unsettlingly shiny eyes. ‘I would never interfere. I am merely concerned for our mutual acquaintance’s wellbeing.’
‘The demure woman?’ asked the second-tallest man.
‘I would describe her as more reserved than demure.’
‘Ah.’ The still-actually-quite-tall-though-short-comparatively-speaking man said. ‘I’m not entirely convinced we’re talking about the same woman.’

27 comments:

  1. Ugh. I just dealt with this in a chapter I was editing for a friend.

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  2. Oh, I HATE that!!! After 800-whatever pages of The Historian the main character still didn't have a name. It annoyed me so much it's the only thing I remember about the book.

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  3. This pops up in fanfic a lot, which is doubly annoying because we KNOW their names. Two people in a scene, but it's cluttered up with "the tall man", "the Slytherin", "the red-haired git", "the nosy bastard", "the idiot", "the blond"... if you don't know what you're reading, you'll think it's an orgy in there!

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  4. Try reading the Tale of Genji, either in the original Classical Japanese or in Royall Tyler's new English translation. A hundred pages in, I really began to wish he'd put the dramatis personae on a detachable sheet of paper.

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  5. Can you really "step meaningfully"? What part of your body expresses meaning when you do? I wonder.

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  6. I think the first sentence should say "stepped." I know this is a blog about how to write badly, but I think that mistake was unintentional.

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  7. this had me laughing out loud. thanks

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  8. Why is it that a fault exaggerated to the nth degree is so funny?

    My gripe about names is when a whole bunch of major and minor characters have similar names, often beginning with the same initial. You get so bogged down in trying to decide who's who that you lose all sense of the story.

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  9. Ugh. “Stepping” has become “stepped.” I was obviously channeling my inner crapness when I wrote this one.

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  10. Great stuff as ever! And we can even have a little chuckle at Hemingway :)
    Neezes
    http://wordingtheimage.blogspot.com/

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  11. On the other hand, you can have too many names. I mean, does every man-on-the-street-corner and woman-at-the-bar have to have a name? Too many names can be a strain on the memory: I'm thinking of the 500 page saga where someone from chapter 3 turns up in chapter 42, by which time you're thinking, now who the hell's she?, and then you have to regress a few hundred pages to dig out their back history.

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  12. I've been thinking of writing a novel in which all the male characters are called John. I might still do that, but I've yet to come up with a name for the female characters.

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  13. I saw this and thought of you:
    If all stories were written like science fiction stories
    http://www.shrovetuesdayobserved.com/flight.html

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  14. I had a vision of the tall man clicking his tongue reading out bingo numbers.

    Thank you it made me giggle.

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  15. I found this post via Stumbleupon. I was completely entertained.

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  16. Very creative! I read it. It astonished me. Made me smile and giggle a bit, then more etc.You have quite a clever gift. Don't let it go to waste.Sincerely!

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  17. @Jason Either Jane, or Martha.

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  18. "Cormac? Is that you?" Were you referring to The Road? That book pulled this off (they sort of had names, generic names, but names nonetheless).

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  19. "This was not the same tall man with glinting eyes who had so far been conducting the conversation, but a new, even taller man with eyes that shone rather than glinted, who had just disembarked behind the two figures already standing on the dock."

    I'm desperately trying to stifle my laughter at this very serious computer lab. I may suffocate.

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  20. LOL - a fabulous example! Another pet peeve is when the name keeps changing. The last Dean Koontz book I picked up was notorious for that. lol

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  21. Jason Crabtree: Call them John, obviously.

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  22. Bwa hah ah hahahahaa! That's fab. And people do it all the time! In fact, I just went back over a chapter in my WIP and erased all that annoying tripe. Thank you for poking fun at it. :D

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  23. and erased all that annoying tripe. Thank you for poking fun at itamazing pictures of nature

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  24. I really began to wish he'd put the dramatis personae on a detachable sheet of paper.
    amazing pictures of nature

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