Author and writing consultant, Rick Shelton, made a statement in a recent workshop that has stuck with me. Although he was giving a Writing Workshop on how we as educators could better instruct children in the art of writing, his truths hit home with me, an author, as well.
"A character should only have a name if he or she does something important in the story."
Hmm. After I thought about it, the statement was so obvious I wanted to slap my hand against my forehead. After all, if the character is so minor that he contributes little or nothing to the plot, why do we care what his name is?
As readers of fiction, we want to connect with the characters in the story. And one of the first ways anyone connects is by knowing another's name. Yet if I give a name to everyone in the story, it devalues the main characters, as well as disconnects the reader. Once a character is named, we automatically begin to picture that character in our mind. We try to form an opinion of that character. Are we going to like this person or not? How is he important to the plot? What is he going to do?
Take for example the beginning (paraphrased) of a recent young author's short story:
Me and my friends, Mallory Grace and Susan and Emily and Emma Claire all went to the mall. Mallory Grace and I decided to get an ice cream. I got chocolate chip and Mallory Grace ordered a plain vanilla. While we were sitting in the food court enjoying our frozen treats we saw some cute boys.
Well, okay. Where did Susan and Emily and Emma Claire go? If they are no longer going to be in the story, do I really have to know their names? The answer, of course, is no.
The young author could just as easily have begun with something like, "I went to the mall with Mallory Grace and some friends."
Again, although the examples are elementary, the truths are still valid. So consider, please, if it is truly important to give a name to the post man, the bus driver, and the sister-in-law's pet poodle. Unless they have more than a ten second part in the story, it's not impolite to allow them to remain nameless.
If you found this hint helpful, you may want to read more from Rick Shelton: http://www.rickshelton.us/