A Rose By Any Other Name – Or Without One?

Nameless Roses: Tips for writing fiction which keeps a character's name secret. More Writing advice from Vision Writers Group

original photo by Lukas Roberston on Unsplash

‘A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet’ the bard once said, but would a rose without a name?

Have you ever read a short story or the start of a book where the protagonist or POV character isn’t named? Sometimes it’s the writer holding back the information for a dramatic reveal, or sometimes its a stylistic choice, like calling a character ‘The Gunslinger’ rather than using his name(though arguably that example could be considered a name of sorts if consistantly used as a replacement for a name). Done well or paired with the right reveal it can be impactful. But done not quite so well…

The reason the majority of stories give you the main character’s name as soon as possible (often in the first line) is to give you a connection to the character. Knowing someone’s name is more intimate than not, as countless film and television depictions of one night stands makes evident.

Also, if other characters are observing our unnamed rose and also thinking of them without a name it can create a disconnect not just between the two characters, but between the reader and the observing character, particularly if the observer really should know the observed’s name. In fact this is something that can irritate readers enough to make them rage quit your book.

So, what to do if you want to experiment with a story that hides the protagonist’s name? First make sure the reason for doing so is solid. Is the reveal you’re withholding this information back for awesome and/or mind-blowing enough that all will be forgiven? Is the style cool and/or intriguing enough that no one will care the name is omitted? Think about if  the events exciting enough and your prose strong enough that people will be pulled through the story regardless of the distraction of the missing name.

If you think you can tick all those boxes, write the story, polish it and submit it to your writers’ group or some beta readers. They’ll tell you if they find the story good enough to pull it off, or if they think it might be a misfire.

One last thing to consider if thinking of writing such a story is if the mystery of the unspoken name might cause a distraction from other facets of your story, overshadowing them. What is the more exciting concept for you, that other facet, or the nameless rose?

About Kirstie Olley

Kirstie Olley was the President of Vision Writers Group during 2015-2018, has had ten short stories published since joining the group in 2012, has been a finalist in the Aurealis Awards and received multiple honourable mentions in the Writers Of The Future contest. She also blogs and has free fiction at her website http://www.storybookperfect.com/
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One Response to A Rose By Any Other Name – Or Without One?

  1. Pingback: Vision Blogging: Nameless Roses – Storybook Perfect

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