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In the novel (3rd person omniscient) that I'm writing, there is one character that has an overbearing presence all through the story but is never seen and no one interacts with him. What I'm trying to do is write the epilogue with the character as the focus. I'll be introducing the character at the beginning of the chapter (without naming who he is), focus on his actions and just when the chapter ends, I will identify him.

So what I'm looking for is -

  1. What do you think of this approach ? Will the readers (or you as a reader) like this ? or do I need to change my approach ?
  2. Any Good books which have chapters using this approach ?
  3. If I do use this approach, then how do I introduce the character ? The setting is a post-apocalyptic world and the character is the titular reclusive dictator of the survivors. So calling him "Thin man" or "The Long Haired man" ala this question will not be appropriate and calling him "The Dictator" would ruin the surprise. So how do I approach this ?

Note: While the question looks similar to this, it is not as that question was focused on a specific scenario and I'm looking for a more generic approach (In other words, I can't have tribal names).

  • Great approach actually. Better to start with no names at all in my view...a Party where everyone is wearing a mask for example. Some characters may even rise to the level of nameless using that approach. Not easy to do however... – Doctor Zhivago Aug 25 '16 at 20:03
  • duplicate of this? writers.stackexchange.com/questions/21808/… closely related and probably helpful, anyway. – Lauren Ipsum Aug 25 '16 at 21:35
  • @LaurenIpsum: It is not exactly a duplicate of that as the concerns are different (although it does answer question no.1), though it is helpful – user96551 Aug 26 '16 at 16:47
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I love this approach, don't change it! I once read a mystery book with an approach similar to yours, it ended on a cliffhanger but was nevertheless, satisfying. Try describing him like "the adjective figure" such as "the brooding figure". Pretend you're at the scene where the character is in and you don't know his name. How would you describe him? I hoped this helped!

  • "Pretend you're at the scene where the character is in and you don't know his name. How would you describe him?" - This is good...In a way I'm at the scene since I'm writing the story but what if I was actually hidden behind the curtains watching it...Nice approach... – user96551 Aug 26 '16 at 16:49
  • Great answer! I love the "figure" approach. It's so mysterious. – Numi Aug 30 '16 at 10:57
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I think it's a good approach! As a reader, I would enjoy the sense of mystery, and I don't think you should change it at all. As for what he should be called before he's introduced, what about his eye color? There's nothing special about, for example, brown eyes. It would be hard to make that a spoiler. If not that, what about giving him a habit- for example: "the smoker;" "the fidgeter;" "the foot-tapper;" "the whistler." While I can't recall any books that use the nameless approach, ( though there are probably a good amount of them out there) I have used it in my own writing by referring to a man according to the color of his cloak and "the hooded man." There's so little ways to use this approach, which makes it pretty difficult, but I do like it a lot. I hope you can work it out, and the very best of luck to you! (I hope I was helpful, and I apologize if I wasn't)

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A character does not have to be named, but they do have to be identified, otherwise the reader gets lost. If you don't identify them by name, then you should identify them by some defining characteristic that makes sense in the context of the story. This says something important about them in story terms.

Generally, taking this approach is an expression of how other characters see that character. The defining characteristic by which you identify them should make sense as the characteristic that define them for the other characters, and it speak volumes about how the other characters see that character: are they in fear, awe, or contempt of that character? How they identify that character will define that relationship.

Giving that character a name later also define a shift in mood or in point of view. Maybe one of the characters gets closer to the character. Now the sobriquet they use to use no longer fits and they need to use a real name. Maybe they are in different company where the sobriquet would be inappropriate or dangerous to use.

Point is, all these choices are structural, not arbitrary. They say something important about the relationship between characters and you need to make sure that they say the right things about those relationships at the right time. Any techniques works when it supports the story; every technique fails when it does not support the story.

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