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Many of the minor characters in my story have official titles. CEO, Sergeant, Lt. Colonel, Ambassador, President, Prime Minister, Chief of Staff, Director, etc...

If the character is minor, should I just use the character's title and never give the character a name?

If the character is very minor (appearing in only one chapter), can I just use the title?

What if the character is recurring?

If a certain character is a major figure in the story and has multiple titles and names, which one should I use? (i.e. - The character is called one name by his best friend, another by his wife, and another by his employees. Everyone else just uses his official title.)

Must I use the same name consistently for this character when writing as an omniscient narrator?

  • I'd have the function of the character leading. To write is to leave out (clutter), after all. – Bookeater Apr 3 '16 at 14:45
  • It really does depend on the character. Some characters are mysterious forces present in your book, driving the plot in an unseen way. Giving them only a title may make them seem mysterious. Example, The commander. Other characters are merely trivial and don't need names. Example, the waitress. Other characters are minor but still get a name, such as Rosaline. – Xandar The Zenon Apr 18 '16 at 13:18
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There are no hard and fast rules. It all depends on the context.

Even an omniscient narrator is going to focus on one viewpoint character at a time. So, consider that person's point of view. How will they address a given character? How will they refer to the character when speaking about them to someone else? (This also depends on who they're speaking to, of course.) How do they think of the character in the privacy of their own mind?

Consider one character, John Q. Everyman. How will the following people think of him, speak to him, speak about him?

  • His wife
  • His ex-wife
  • His boss
  • His 6-year-old son (who lives with him and his wife)
  • His 17-year-old daughter (who lives with his ex-wife)
  • His mother
  • His best friend
  • A waitress who's serving him and has never seen him before
  • Himself

I've found the best way to study a technique is to read books that use that technique. For omnisicient narrator from multiple viewpoints, I would recommend Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which tells its story through an enormous variety of viewpoints. Some other good examples are Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor, all Vorkosigan books from Komarr onward, and all books in the Sharing Knife series. Bujold is a first-class writer, well worth reading for anyone who wants to improve their writing.

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  • I share your admiration for Bujold, but she made a rod for her own back in the naming game with by making all the Barrayaran nobles' names begin with "Vor". As I think you may be implying, it can get a little confusing, especially in the novel Barrayar where so many of the characters are called Vor-something. After that Bujold had to get good at identifying characters by means other than than their rather-similar sounding names. All this is said to reinforce your point: a writer who wants to study the technique of keeping multiple characters distinct would do well to read Bujold. – Lostinfrance May 11 '16 at 6:16

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