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I have a project I have been working on for many years. It is quite personal and is intended for a small audience.

In the story, the protagonist is trying to find/help another character, who for most of the story is not named. The other characters know who this mystery person is, know the relationship between her and the protagonist, and will often refer to her by generic references or titles.

I am worried that not naming her, or referring to her by name would be frustrating.

Any thoughts?

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It has certainly been done with some success. Fight Club, for instance. – Travis Christian Mar 13 '12 at 15:21
See also: Characters with no names – unor Feb 23 '14 at 20:55
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Your worry is a valid one; the reader could be frustrated by this. However, this is something that can be taken care of in later drafts. You may need to shore things up a little to clarify the mystery character and their relationship to the other characters.

Since we don't know much about your project - novel? short story? game premise? movie pitch? - it's hard to give you specific advice. I hope the following scattershot suggestions will help:

  • Will different people be referring to the mystery character by more or less the same phrase or title? If everyone refers to "the MacGuffin character", then the problem is minimized.
  • Maybe different people only have their own pieces of the puzzle and don't interact. If that's the case, they'd have no reason to use the same catchphrase or title for the mystery character. If that's the case, your job is a little harder. I'd suggest looking for commonalities between these characters who will refer to the mystery character. They'll come up with their own tags for the mystery character, but its possible to make them parallel in verbal structure. Better yet, construct the nicknames so they tell the reader something about the character's relation to the mystery character.
  • If the rest of the tale is clear, the characters well-drawn, and the language fairly straightforward, then there should be a mysterious "vortex" when we get near the mystery character. If it's the same feel each time, the reader will be able to make the connection.
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Thank you. This was helpful. – Michael Mar 7 '12 at 16:18

If your story is for an audience of one, your reader can finish the story, look up from the page, and ask you "what's the woman's name?" Problem solved.

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hahaha, yeah I suppose. OK I'll make an edit. Forget the single person audience for now. – Michael Mar 6 '12 at 18:13

I don't believe not knowing a character's name would be confusing unless you make it so. If you continuously refer to the same person differently from each of the other character's perspectives, or if you refer to the mystery person by using different titles, then that could become confusing. You will also need to be careful using terms like "she" and "her", because depending on the context, your reader might not know who you are talking about. As long as you word your story well and pay heed to how you use your pronouns, you should be okay. Just concentrate on making sure that it is easy to understand who is being discussed wherever you use pronouns.

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GO AHEAD AND KEEP IT A MYSTERY!!!! Not only will this hook your readers and they'll want to keep reading, but it will add a different kind of perspective to your novel. However, you might want to consider revealing this person's name toward or at the end of the novel, just to keep the reader happy that you concluded everything. and that is JUST a suggestion.

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