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I'm writing a scenario that describes what one person did when he worked for a company and want to use proper names for readability, but not use the real names of the people or company. But my phrasing keeps coming off as awkward. What's a clearer way to do this?

Example 1:

My friend "Chuck" who worked for a vendor "ThisCo" decided he'd had enough.

Example 2:

My friend (I'll call him "Chuck") worked for a vendor (I'll call it "ThisCo") decided he'd had enough.

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

If you add commas to your first example, it will carry the weight of the parens without needing the larger pause and extra words. The quote marks and the generic wording of ThisCo make it clear you're using placeholders.

My friend, "Chuck," who worked for a vendor, "ThisCo," decided he'd had enough.

Subsequent references don't need the quotes.

Chuck had been working for ThisCo under a manager, "Kate," for 10 years, but when Kate left and "Vern" came on board, conditions quickly soured. Vern was the nephew of ThisCo's CEO, and it showed.

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1  
Thank you. That's just what I was looking for. – Caveatrob Feb 24 at 21:07

I prefer the first example. Example 2 sounds a bit wordy and the breaks in the writing (the parenthesis) make it sound choppier.

I don't think you need the parenthesis around Chuck's name. Just say "My friend Chuck".

Alternate ways you could phrase it:

  • My friend Chuck who worked for vendor ThisCo decided he'd had enough.
  • My friend Chuck worked for vendor ThisCo and decided he'd had enough.
  • My friend Chuck who worked for ThisCo, a vendor, decided he'd had enough.

It all depends on what you are going for. Your second example could be used if that sentence flows well with your writing style and the way your narrator talks.

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John Green has on one occasion used members of heavy metal bands to give a bit of clever flavor:

So today some people wanted me to talk about, uh, tell some ex-girlfriend stories. I'm happy to tell an ex-girlfriend story although of course I don't want to use any ex-girlfriends' real names because they are nice people and now they are adults, and they have lives, and the thought of, y'know, them being discussed during FIFA matches is probably not something that's terribly exciting to them... So I am going to use, uh, pseudonyms. Specifically... I'm just going to name my ex-girlfriends after members of 1980s heavy metal bands. So, today I'm going to tell you the story of Dave Mustaine, uh, one of my college girlfriends. Dave Mustaine: nice girl, dance major, very, um, opinionated? Very very attractive, nice person, who I made the mistake of going to Alaska with.

Another option is to borrow from fiction; one popular option for office-corporate type situations is to use the characters from the movie Office Space, which comes replete with a cast of characters: flawed protagonist Peter works at IniTech, also mentioning a rival company (IniTrode), an annoying boss (Lumbergh), two close coworkers (Samir, Michael), a bumbling but ultimately sympathetic coworker (Milton), an annoying coworker a couple cubes down (Nina), and an inappropriate coworker (Drew). Similarly one could steal, say, the cast of the Dilbert comic strip, or to really call attention to the deception you could say,

My friend -- let's call him Garfield -- worked for Lasagna Incorporated when one day he decided he'd just had enough...

John Green above also employs a tactic of deliberately calling attention to the change before telling the story; this is often phrased as "names have been changed to protect the people involved," or sometimes, "the innocent." So you can just mention, "I'm going to change names to protect the innocent here, but I had a friend named Chuck who worked for ThisCo when he decided that he'd had enough..."

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