I was wondering if there is a rule or advice in which order to name my characters.

For example, if I want to tell that Bob, John and Rob entered the room should I just name them in random order or is there something else I need to consider?

I am writing in third person limited if that`s relevant.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE Lymaba! Just a tip, it's encouraged to wait at least 24 hours before accepting an answer. Only 10 people have viewed your question so far, so there is a high chance that other people might have a different opinion and different advice. Of course it's up to you do decide whether you want to accept something or not and if so what and when. You can also always switch the acceptance. Just a tip for the future. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! – Secespitus Aug 16 at 7:49
  • @Secespitus thanks for the tip, I'll keep that in mind – Lymaba Aug 16 at 7:53
  • 1
    Related: In what order should I describe a setting? . I hope you find my answer there helpful -- really, I think you can treat this as a sub-case of that :) – Standback Aug 16 at 9:31
up vote 3 down vote accepted

First of all, if you say "bob, john and rob entered the room" you should keep that order later. It's better to not mix name ordrer. For example, in Harry Potter, it's always "Harry, Ron and Hermione".

However, it's not a strict rule and if you want to change the name order, you can. Just make sure to have a good reason for that because it might confus the reader.

Now that you know to keep the same order, you just have to figure out what this order must be the first time. There are several rule to consider:

  • Who is the main character? This order often (always?) start with the main character.
  • Who was introduce first ? In Harry Potter, Ron is introduce before Hermione. So, at the begining, you have "Harry and Ron" and, when Hermione join the club, you have "Harry, Ron and Hermione".
  • If the character are all introduce at the same time, list them by order of importance.
  • If the importance is the same between character, you can just list them alphabetically.
  • Make sure to respect the 'group of characters'. In Harry Potter, "Fred and George" are always together. So, if you have a longuer list of characters, make sure to keep them together in your longuer list. For example : "Harry, Ron, Fred, George and Ginny".

Finally, the most important point is for you to be confortable with the order you choose.

You are writing in the order that is important in that situation. There is no clear rule and you can vary from situation to situation.

For example you could simply start with the first one to enter the room:

Bob was the first to get to the party. A few minutes later John appeared and both of them started talking, when Rob made his entry, loudly announcing his presence as always.

If they appear at the same time you can use this to change the order from the one that will be noticed by other people first.

Rob was the first everyone saw - or hear to be precise. Everybody knew he loved to make a show out of everything and wanted to stand in the spotlight wherever he went. John and Bob were the silent type, talking with each other and entering the room right behind Rob, who was already walking towards the buffet.

You should not just randomly throw names around. Every character has something that makes them important and some personality traits. These need to be shown to the reader and the first appearance is an important situation where you need to make these character traits obvious.

Of course you can also name all three of them first and then start to describe each of them. In such a case you should keep the order in which they were introduced:

Bob, John and Rob entered the party. Bob was the loud one, announcing his presence to everyone that could hear him. John on the other hand was always very silent, trying to stick to the shadows and hoping that nobody would talk to him. Rob was the middle-ground and slowly took a look around to see who was already there.

Reverse order of importance.

The order of entry is an opportunity for you to create conflict.

To do that, you should list them in the order of reaction by the MC, greatest last, so you can move into describing that reaction.

If I say "Bob, John and Rob entered" but my MC truly hates (or loves) Bob, it is unlikely the MC even noticed John and Rob behind Bob, and it feels odd to note that detail without any emotion and then switch back to an emotional reaction to seeing Bob.

If I say "John, Rob and Bob entered," I can follow that seamlessly with any emotional reaction to Bob we want.

If the MC doesn't really have much reaction to any of them, presumably somebody there is important to the story later; I would make them last, and have the MC notice something innocuous about them (the shirt Bob is wearing, or he got a new haircut or finally shaved that stupid goatee, etc). This locks the character in the reader's mind much more than just a name, and allows an easy intro later when Bob has something to say: The MC can comment on whatever they noticed was new about Bob.

Again, describing that noteworthy detail about Bob is easier if Bob is the last named character.

If none of these characters really matter later in the story, and the MC is neutral on all of them, the order doesn't matter. Unless you need them for filler in a party, I'd just leave them out.

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