I hear a lot of things about how one should give the name of their character early in the writing setting etc. My question is is it ok not to name your character, not to be specific about your setting till a little later say toward the end of the first chapter.

For example if it were a movie, the screen would be black you would see nothing, slow thoughts would gradually progress into a picture. Various images would appear on the screen and the watcher would not know what they ment till later or what was even going on.


3 Answers 3


I'm assuming you're referring only to the main protagonist or narrator. I think it depends on whether or not you are writing in first person. If you are, it's going to be a lot easier to do without having to say 'the boy in the ragged shirt' or 'the youth' every two sentences or so. If used correctly, it could add an element of mystery to the entire novel. However, you must make sure that the reader will not get too flustered trying to keep track of what's happening (the death knell of any book).

If you could do that in third person, I think it might help if you kept the cast of characters small, or, made them very different from the main character (a boy in a world of men). It would actually be a nice literary touch on your part, and it might even help build suspense. (see the short story 'The First Miracle' by Jeffery Archer. I know, it's not a novel, but it's still a nice read).

Another story that keeps the identity of one of the pivotal characters a mystery, and indeed, only alludes to his true identity throughout the entire novel, would be 'Master and Margarita' by Mikhail Bulgakov. It's funny and witty, and definitely worth your time.

There is no hard and fast rule, really; it all comes down to your skill in the end. Write the story, set it aside for a week or so till you've forgotten about it, and then re-read it, pretending it's someone else's work. See then, if you get that magical desire of wanting to turn the page to find out what happened next.

  • 3
    Or, do a 1st-person novel with the name in the first sentence, then never use it again. "Call me Ishmael."
    – dmm
    Mar 18, 2014 at 15:45

There are hugely different types of books. There is fiction written with no regard of possible readers, merely to experiment with language and style and literary conventions, to express the inner truth of the author, to analyse society, to create art, etc. And there is fiction written to sell as many books as possible and to make a lot of money with this job. Only the latter kind of book needs to care about how you "should" this or that.

If you want to sell your book to genre readers, follow genre conventions. In a thriller this could mean to withhold information like the identity of the murderer whom we observe at his deed in the first chapter until the end of the book.

If you want to sell to the widest possible audience, keep it simple and straightforward. In a romance novel this could mean to identify the protagonist in the first sentence or two.

What readers expect or feel exited about or comfortable with will also depend on what the plot of your novel is. You can tell the same story in many different ways. Think of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. He could have begun the book with: "Benjamin Compson was castrated after he assaulted a girl." You know he didn't, and that he didn't is part of what makes this book the eminent work of art it is. On the other hand not many people buy and read that book, if you ask around your non-writer friends. Obviously most people prefer a lighter fare for their bedtime reading.

So you already know the answer. You can do what you like. There is no right or wrong in writing, as long as what you do follows from your plot.

  • Its the first person. Thank you for the input.
    – Samuel
    Mar 15, 2014 at 23:22

Unless there's a fantastic reason for not being specific (i.e. doing so for some specific effect), keeping the reader up-to-date is usually the best idea. Readers like clarity, they don't like to be confused, and they get angry if they feel they've been misled (mystery novels are an exception -- readers expect to be misled). Always be honest with the reader, that's my motto. Obfuscation can work, but I wouldn't wait until the end of the chapter to identify the character we're reading about and where he/she is.

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