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Okay, so two women are in a bar and I'm telling the story from one of the women's POV. Two guys come in and the women are watching/listening to them from a distance. They don't know their names or anything about them.

The two guys have the exact same height and build, so I can't say "the shorter guy" or "the heavier guy," etc. They are both in t-shirts and jeans, so I can't describe what they're wearing to set them apart (unless I start off by saying that one guy is in a Metallica t-shirt or something like that). One guy has dark hair and brown eyes, and the other one has sandy blondish hair and blue eyes. I keep using "the dark-haired guy" over and over, but I need to come up with another way to describe him so it doesn't get so repetitive. I even called him "Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome" once, but I can't use that again.

When we switch POV in the next chapter, we'll know their names, so this won't be an issue. Any ideas for how I can differentiate between them? Anyone's help would be greatly appreciated!

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    Welcome to writing.se! Take the tour and visit the help center to learn how things work around here. This is a pretty good first question, could maybe use some formatting to break up the text though. Thanks for participating and happy writing! – linksassin Mar 28 at 6:07
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    Not really an answer, but remember that you are the author and have full control over your world.You decide if one of them is taller, or if the other wears a trenchcoat, or any other feature that would make this easier (as long as it doesn't mess with anything else, like characterization. – Lichtbringer Mar 29 at 7:26
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Well, first thing, how would you differentiate these two people if you met them in real life? Imagine yourself with a group of friends talking about a couple of strangers and think of how you would make it clear which one you talk about.

As far as I know, people would tend to attribute a name or nickname to the unknown person based on their first impression and use it to refer to them.

Another way you can vary how you refer to them it by using their mannerisms. Does one act like's he's always high on cafeine or does his neutral face looks like a permanent frown? Is his companion always serious? It works for voice too.

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    +1 for assigning a nickname. 'Mr Blondie' and 'The Other One' perhaps. You could use this to expose a bit of the character of the people doing the nicknaming as well. Are they judgemental, are they funny, are they given to flights of fancy, are they lonely etc. – Ynneadwraith Mar 28 at 11:00
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    These ideas are great, everyone! I didn't think of the ladies "assigning" names to them. That seems like the way to go! Thanks a bunch! – Kelvinator Mar 28 at 15:17
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When the men first come in, have the women invent names for them, make it a game.

"Wow, what's his name, do you think?"

"The dark haired guy? I say ... Richard."

"No way, I say William. Definitely a Will. The other guy, a Maybe!"

"Ha! Okay, Will, and, say, Mark."

"Mark! Okay. What does Mark do for a living?"

"He's pretty fit, I'd guess something active. I want him to be a park ranger."

"You just want to get him into the woods. Please, Mark Ranger, I lost my phone, come help me find it ..."

Fill this in with "color", actions, sounds, laughter and descriptions. But they are in a bar and drinking, let them have a little play fantasy while people watching. It's actually a fun game IRL. (Maybe because I'm a writer.) And, as a writer, it gives you a chance to describe the new characters.

If the men are within earshot and they start listening to the conversation, they can quiet down; but in the POV thoughts and anything she says to her friend, the men are Will and Mark. The joking assignment of names ensures the reader is fully aware these are "temporary" names, so they won't be confused if the real names appear.

The real names, if they ever find them out, can be wildly off, that doesn't matter.

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    You don't necessarily have to use realistic names either. I've used nicknames like Chest Hair or Mr. Stick before. It gives you a quick and easy way to refer to them and even sheds light on the personality of the POV character, while not causing any confusion when you learn their real name. (renaming a character from Richard to Frank could be confusing). – Erdrik Ironrose Mar 28 at 11:44
  • These ideas are great, everyone! I didn't think of the ladies "assigning" names to them. That seems like the way to go! Thanks a bunch! – Kelvinator Mar 28 at 15:18
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Unless the two men are identical twins who also dress alike, and they speak and act exactly the same, there is some way to distinguish them.

Think about how you refer to people whose names you don't know in real life. You may use a capsule physical description: "the tall girl", "the bald man", etc. Not applicable to strangers met in a bar, but in other contexts I'll often describe them by some sort of role, like "my math teacher", "the guy from accounting", "the policeman", "my neighbor's brother", etc. If all else fails, you can always call them "the first man" and "the second man".

In most conversations, it isn't necessary to repeatedly identify who you're talking about. You might say, "And then the blond guy said ... and after that he ... and then I said to him ... and then he ..." etc. That is, the person quickly becomes "he" or her" or whatever.

If your characters are meeting these people, then in real life they would likely give their names early in the conversation. For a fiction story you might have them give names especially early just to avoid the problem you're describing.

If you talk about third parties in a context where your characters wouldn't learn their names, like if they're sitting at the bar talking about these two strangers they see across the room, in real life they'd likely quickly come up with short-hand descriptions or nicknames for each. Like they start out saying "the guy with black hair" but after saying that two or three times it would be as awkward in real life as in a story, so they quickly start calling him "Blackie". Or someone says, "Hey, doesn't his beard make him look like Abraham Lincoln?" and then the other person calls him "Abe" and they both laugh but then they start calling him that regularly.

In other contexts, I often fall into regularly talking about someone by a short name for their role. Like I call someone "the librarian" or "the HR guy" or whatever and then start using that regularly like it was their name.

Once the characters start using a nickname, unless it's very extreme in some way, it's easy for the narrator to start using it too. By "really extreme", I mean like, if one of the characters decides she really hates some guy and refers to him as "the Lying Scum", it would sound strange for the narrator to calmly use the same term. The easy solution is to avoid making up that kind of nickname. But for the characters to call someone "Baldy" and then for the narrator to say, "Then Baldy crossed the room and picked up a glass" or some such doesn't sound particularly strange to me. You might put the nickname in quotes the first time or two to emphasize that you're using a nickname, but then just drop the quotes.

  • What's funny, Jay is that in that same chapter, there's a guy that looks like Lorne Greene and the next time I call him "Lorne Greene," until he introduces himself as Jake, then I call him Jake from then on. Another guy who "looked like a human version of the planet Jupiter" is just referred to as Jupiter from then on because we never learn his name. But because these two new guys didn't have a lot to distinguish them from each other besides hair color, I was having a harder time with them. Thanks for all the great suggestions! – Kelvinator Mar 28 at 17:05

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