In Defense of the Unnamed Character
by Boyd Miles
Any basic bit of writing advice tells you to name your characters.
A name allows the reader to identify with and care about the boring
bits of life the character must suffer through for the rest of the
story. You can even find advice on how to pick the "perfect
name". I say screw that.
Leave your character nameless when telling the story and the
reader is forced to identify with them. The character and the reader
become one, the action is happening to you not some guy name Bob that
you have never met and could care less about. So when his wife dumps
him for a troupe of Chinese acrobats the reader gets to feel the
pain, not just go, "Dumbassed Bob's wife left him, good for
her." The reader can dislike Bob, feel sorry for Bob or worse
yet not care about Bob. But if you have cleverly sucked the reader
into the story of the nameless person that they can see as themselves
then they do begin to care. It becomes, "I can't believe she
left me for a troupe of Chinese acrobats. What did I do to deserve
that?" Then you tell them what they did to deserve that and how
they got their revenge. Lead them around by the nose for a bit and
show them the error of their ways if you want or show them how they
got the better end of the stick. Whatever you want them to feel you
can make them feel, about themselves not some schmuck named Bob.
Once the character has a name they are fixed, a being, unique and
alive. Unnamed they can be projected, inward or out. The reader can
become the character or the character can become, "I knew this
guy in school, I hated him." Some people can't see themselves at
all but they can see others in a story, let them enjoy the misery you
are inflicting upon the character by allowing them to name them after
somebody in their own life.
I know the above is going to be the worst bit of advice ever and
any time you use it your story will go unpublished and unread. That's
the way it is in the world. Editors like names, readers like names,
nobody wants to have to think. Play it safe, name everybody and if it
is science fiction or fantasy make sure the name can't be pronounced,
you see that a lot so it must be the right way to do it.
Spin the wheel of characters, plug them into the plot, don't
experiment, you will do just fine.