Vanishing Act

Our lives are full of people without names. They enter our lives for a few minutes and then are gone, yet they often play important roles. For example, when going to a fancy restaurant, you may ask the valet to park your car. You hand him your keys and trust that your car will be well taken care of, returned to you in its original condition. Yet you never know the man’s name.

Likewise the countless people that work in offices. You check in to see your doctor and the receptionist does an excellent job processing your information. What is her name? You might have read her nametag, but after walking away from the counter, you do not remember. She plays an important role because, without her assistance, your doctor would not know that you are there.

When writing a story, you have to decide which characters need to be named. If they are only passing through the story and contribute a small bit of information, then it might be best to keep them nameless. The reader does not need to know the name of every clerk at the store or every student in the class. Naming too many secondary characters pulls the reader away from the story.

If, on the other hand, the character will play an important role later on, then give her a name. Let’s say your main character is a spy in search of an elusive piece of data. He has to infiltrate a clandestine organization in order to gain access to the computer files. He cannot get past the locked door without the handprint of an employee, so he recruits someone to get him in. That character needs a name.

Your job is to write a scene in which your character interacts with a variety of people Say somewhere between five and seven. At least one of them plays a vital role that contributes to the plot of the story. The others come and go, perhaps sharing some tidbit of information that helps your character, but not in a way that alters the plot.

This will not be an easy task. Our inclination is to give everyone a name because we enjoy the recognition ourselves. Hold back, though, remembering that not all characters contribute equally to the story.

Get writing!

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