The other day I was reading online reviews of a novel and one caught my attention. It complained that the book had too many “named characters.”  It made me wonder, does it really matter whether you decide to name a person in a manuscript?

It does.

To name or not to name

To name or not to name this character? That is the question!

Photo by Natalie Maynor

Giving a fictional person a name bestows upon them a certain degree of importance—it’s what turns them from an unidentified human being into a character. And if you have too many of them, you run the risk of creating unnecessary distractions or making it difficult for readers to keep them straight.

When To Identify A Person By Name In Your Manuscript

So, how does one know when to identify a person by name?   Obviously, the main characters, the sidekicks, the bad guys, etc. need names, but what about the people who are just sort of there? Should they be called “the chauffeur” or “Henry”? “Two co-eds walking across campus” or “Julie and Sara”? “The security guard” or “Frank”?

To help you figure it out, below are seven questions to ask about any named character in your manuscript:

  1. Is the person someone the reader should remember?
  2. Does he or she provide a clue to a mystery?
  3. Does his or her presence or interaction with others reveal something about the protagonist?
  4. What does the character add to the manuscript?
  5. Does the person return later in the story?
  6. Is he or she just part of the setting?
  7. Why does the reader need to register the character?

Note that you don’t need multiple reasons to name a person in your novel. One good one should be sufficient.

When do you think a character should be identified by name?

PRACTICE

Write a scene that includes both named and unnamed characters considering the questions above. Share with us below!

Monica M. Clark
Monica M. Clark
Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).