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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Leaving the POV character unnamed

   
Author Topic: Leaving the POV character unnamed
Grumpy old guy
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G'day. I've had the idea for a story and I want to start it in the main characters POV but I want to leave him unnamed for as long as possible. The reason is quite simple, he's the villain and most people will immediately recognise him if I name him. While Mordred may not be an historical figure, perhaps, most people know he is the main bad guy in the Arthurian legends.

So, the question is: how long can I take before I really should name him?

Phil.

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rcmann
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Honest opinion? You should name him in the first paragraph. I always feel yanked around when an author does that to me. Like he/she is trying to show off how clever they are at my expense. I usually toss the story down and never finish it.
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Natej11
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You could always use a pseudonym or descriptive term as if he's trying to hide his identity.

Something like "The Stranger" "the dark man", etc.

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Meredith
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Depends. This might be a place to use first person. Perfectly reasonable for him not to use his own name to describe himself. [Smile]
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Grumpy old guy
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rcmann, I understand the anger at being deliberately duped by an author, but this isn't my intention. I need the reader to feel sympathy for Mordred's plight at the beginning of my story, and not to jump to the immediate conclusion he is the villain. He is, in a way, but not the usual way.

Meredith, that may be a solution of desperation that I could use, but my 'vision' of the opening is middle-distance, third person.

Phil.

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Pyre Dynasty
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Ask yourself what your motivation is for not naming him. Is it fear? Are you afraid people won't like your Mordred? Fear isn't a motivation that makes good stories. You fight fear with courage. Courage makes good stories. Courage is writing a story about a villain and not hiding that fact from your readers.

The scenario you are giving us is a magic trick. There will come a point in your story where you pull away the curtain and and say, "Aha, see I was lying to you the whole time." Or possibly it's a joke with Mordred being the punchline. "And that man's name was Mordred!"

Your first word should be Mordred. I would much rather read a story about Mordred than about a nameless figure, who "guess what" turns out to be Mordred. Why use Mordred at all if you aren't planning on playing off on his history?

I think you underestimate people's ability to find sympathy for villains. Think about Gollum. Gollum is a tragedy and you feel bad about the decisions he makes. People love him.

Do a search for withholding, it was an incredibly burned over subject here a few years ago.

At the end of the day my goto advice is try it both ways and see what works better.

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Meredith
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Also, check out the fourth of Mary Stewart's Arthur cycle, THE WICKED DAY, which is written partly from Mordred's POV.
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Crystal Stevens
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Another book you might want to check out is "A Prince of Camalot" by Courtway Jones, which is about Modred's life and his association with Arthur done from the historical point of view. Jones is a historian as well as a writer and is a stickler when it comes to staying with the facts when writing about historical figures. He did a tremendous amount of research before writing this book that's the third in a series. And no, it won't be like you're coming into the middle of a story to read this book. Each book easily stands alone on its own merits, though I thoroughly enjoyed reading the entire trilogy. It gives an entirely new and fresh look at the Arthur legend based strongly on fact.

One of the reasons I suggest this is that Jones makes Modred not only a sympathic character but a likeable one that makes us care very much about Modred and the problems he faces.

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MAP
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I don't understand why readers would automatically dislike Mordred. If you make him a sympathetic character, he will be likable. It's not like he's Hitler.

Of course anything can be pulled off if done right, but personally, I'm with those who say name him on the first page. Withholding his name feels a little manipulative to me, like trying to force a twist.

I'd get pretty annoyed pretty quick with an unnamed protagonist. If the story just won't work if you name him too early, I suggest coming up with a nickname or something to call him by until the reveal. Although I strongly recommend being straight forward about who he is.

But it is your story so do what you feel is best. Good luck.

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extrinsic
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John Grisham names the tangible villain on the third page of The Confession, 2010. The novel doesn't develop a central protagonist in a traditional sense. Grisham takes his time revealing the full depth of Travis Boyette's villainry, most of the novel. However, an immaterial, intangible, abstract villain is the true villain of Grisham's latest legal thriller.

Mordred is a later elaboration to the Arthurian legend, later than Geoffrey of Monmouth's account.

A site hosting Arthurian excerpts from Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Great Britain;

http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/geofhkb.htm

I think Grisham manages revealing Boyette's identity, personality, and character very artfully. My sense of rapport with Boyette oscillates as the novel's action unfolds. Change is strong and essential in a long fiction. Transformative. And the psychological horror of the novel is persuasively transformative.

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rcmann
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Personally I always thought Mordred got a raw deal. It wasn't his fault that his parents could keep it in their pants. Once he was born, Arthur owed it to him, his son, to be the best father he could be. Which, to my mind, he wasn't. So my sympathy is largely with Mordred from the get-go.
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extrinsic
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Ernest Hemmingway names Santiago on the third page of The Old Man and the Sea. Basing a writing principle off these two examples, Grisham's and Hemingway's, I'd say naming a central character ought as a best practice be done by the third page.
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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Personally I always thought Mordred got a raw deal. It wasn't his fault that his parents could keep it in their pants. Once he was born, Arthur owed it to him, his son, to be the best father he could be. Which, to my mind, he wasn't. So my sympathy is largely with Mordred from the get-go.

Most kings didn't go around accepting their bastards with open arms. Normally, they weren't even mentioned publicly or were kept secret. Even if a king's bastard was public knowledge most commoners knew better than to discuss it openly, and the king was usually shamed by it.

The thing is, Modred killed King Arthur. Arthur is always the hero... and Modred the villian for killing him. Grumpy, you really ought to read "A Prince of Camalot".

I do think Modred should be named right away and then find a way to make him sympathetic to readers.

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rcmann
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I know the legend well. Several versions of it. I also recall an old English rhyme that begins, "When King Arthur ruled this land, he ruled it like a swine."

If Arthur was as great as the legends made him out to be, why was he facing all that upheaval and insurrection?

True, kings aren't known for being open about their bastards. But then, Mordred is the only son of Arthur that the legend mentions. Who else could he have chosen for an heir?

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Crystal Stevens:
Most kings didn't go around accepting their bastards with open arms. Normally, they weren't even mentioned publicly or were kept secret. Even if a king's bastard was public knowledge most commoners knew better than to discuss it openly, and the king was usually shamed by it.

Not entirely true. In medieval times, many kings publicly acknowledged their bastards and provided for them. For example, the first Earl of Gloucester was an acknowledged bastard of King Henry I (and one of many).

Back to the original topic, I agree with several of the others. You can keep Mordred anonymous in various ways for probably two or three pages--and there probably ought to be some bread crumbs that make the reader go aha! rather than bah! when you do reveal it.

My comment above about using first person: This would be difficult to pull off, but Mordred could be the quintessential unreliable narrator. [Smile]

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redux
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In Daphne Du Maurier's novel REBECCA the protagonist is never named. She is referred to by others as (the second) Mrs. de Winter. The unnamed narrator-protagonist works well because she constantly feels eclipsed by Rebecca, the former mistress of Manderley.

In other words, if you have a good story reason, you don't have to name your character.

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MattLeo
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I say give it a whirl; if he's the POV character, there's no particular reason for him to mention his name if nobody else addresses him.

You can also prolong this by using proper address ("Your highness" initially, then "Sir") or by giving him a ducal title ("His grace, the Duke of Cornwall"). You might also choose to use the Welsh version of his name ("Medraut" -- he appears by that name as far back as the 6th C, although he's the son of King Lot in early appearances).

Still, if the book is every published, if Mordred is the protagonist the reader will know that from the blurb. It might be best to use the Welsh, Cornish or Latin variants of Mordred's name if you want to avoid preconceptions. Otherwise you'll have to work against those preconceptions. Having the character unnamed in the first scene might help.

As for bastardy, the squeamishness about it is an entirely modern thing. Many a prominent family proudly traces its heritage to a man sired by royalty "on the wrong side of the sheets". Arthur *himself* is Uther's bastard by Igraine.

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tesknota
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MattLeo is right. If the reader reads the summary, and the chance of that happening is very likely, he/she would know anyway.

If you don't want to change his name to an alternate spelling for the entire book, maybe a nickname? But I think that you should name him somehow right away, unless you have a creative and non-misleading way of delaying his naming.

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rcmann
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Remember the truism that nobody is a villain in their own eyes. Saberhagen wrote an entire series of stories where Count Dracula is deeply and unfairly characterized by that bigoted fool, Stoker. Yeah, he drinks blood, but he's just misunderstood, etc. And he makes it sort of work. If an undead, mass-murderer who in life gained the name of "the impaler" can be presented sympathetically, Mordred should be a snap.
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Grumpy old guy
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Well, thanks for the input. Fist, bastardry. The bend-sinister in heraldry signifies the bastard son of whoever's device is also shown on the shield.

As for Mordred, I don't want to name him until I have set up the twist; Mordred killed Arthur because it was part of the deal with his father. If I say any more I'll queer the whole thing. I just want the reader to see a *man* regretting a deal as he stands over the corpse of his father. I actually intended to name him once I'd set out the back-story as Mordred contemplates his choice that brought him to this point.

Phil.

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Robert Nowall
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Somewhat late to the thread, but...Dashiell Hammett never gives a name to the Continental Op in any of the stories or novels that feature him. (A miniseries version of The Dain Curse contributes a name, but this, I guess, would be "non-canon," long after Hammett's death.)
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