Recently I was leading a discussion with the local writer’s group and the topic was on character names. I’m a firm believer in having distinctive names for the main characters in my stories. Sometimes I’ll even go so far as to have the name be a subtle hint about how that person may behave. Names are critical. Good ones can really carry the story. And it’s a great opportunity to make each character distinctive, so the reader can create their own image of them.
That’s always been my style. I’ve always thought it was the best way to do it. Now I’m not so sure.
Last week I read Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel “Make Me” which was thoroughly enjoyable. Child knows how to draw you into the story and never let you go until the last page. It was during this book that I noticed something. Many of the characters, particularly the antagonist and his crew, are never named. Never.
Child used occupations to convey the information. One guy was the counterman at a diner. Another was a one-eyed motel owner. Another was a hog farmer. He did name two guys who were related, that had an unfortunate run in with Reacher during the story, and then referred to them either as ‘the one kicked in the nuts’ or ‘the one who got his bell rung’. So their real names were unimportant.
Child may have used this technique before, but it was the first time I noticed it. That probably stems from the recent conversation with the group. So it just goes to show, you need to find the method that works best for you. Tell the story your own way.
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