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How to Introduce and Write about Nameless Characters
By Vanessa Finaughty


In most stories, the majority of the characters are minor characters, and many of them may be so insignificant or appear so briefly that there’s no need to name them. I advise against naming characters who only appear once or who have no relevance to the overall plot, as that may serve to confuse readers. Rather, only name those characters who appear frequently, who will appear again in the story or a future book (if it’s a series), or without whom the story cannot progress.

Sometimes these minor characters do drive the plot forward, but they may still appear only once in the story. If your main character is having a conversation with a minor character, it may be necessary to name that minor character to avoid confusing the reader, particularly if it’s a long or medium-length conversation and both parties are the same gender. However, if it’s an action scene, it’s not usually necessary. For example, it’s unnecessary to name the attacker if your MC is attacked by the minor character and the attack itself drives the plot forward, but the attacker isn’t all that important and won’t appear in the story after the attack. How do you write an action scene without naming the attacker?

Here are two examples from Orion’s Harvesters:

Vareck slid the knife from its sheath and spun to face the intruder, thrusting the long blade upwards through his hooded attacker’s ribcage and into his heart. The intruder’s dagger clattered to the ground as he stared wide-eyed at Vareck, then he dropped when Vareck yanked the knife out. He bent and turned the dead man onto his back. Bruises and cuts covered the blond intruder’s knuckles – a man clearly used to violence.

…and:

Liam came up behind the scrawny man and landed an uppercut in his ribs, barely saving Jack from a slit throat. Instead of doubling over like Liam had expected, the black-clothed man went into a short sideways roll, came to his feet next to the kitchen sink and whirled to face them. Jack and Liam closed in on the man from either side. From the glint in Jack’s eyes, Liam could tell their intent was the same – to give the burglar a good bashing before calling the police, if they even opted for that afterwards; it wouldn’t do to be arrested tonight of all nights, just in case…

If the minor character has attributes that make him or her stand out, you could use those attributes to ‘name’ the character. Your characters can also mentally name other characters. For example:

The attacker came at him just as Vareck perceived stealthy movement from behind – the man whose throat he had hit earlier clearly wasn’t as incapacitated as Vareck had hoped. Vareck launched himself to the side. The two attackers advanced without pause, keeping him trapped between them. Vareck lashed out with both knives to keep them from getting too close, backing towards their comrade’s corpse. When his heel touched it, he moved to the side and back, hoping Throat Guy would trip over it.


~ Extract from The Better Writing Guide.

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