Going nameless

One of those thou shall nots of writing is, apparently, using an unnamed protagonist. A rule, which like any other, maybe, just maybe, can be broken every now and again.  I hope so, because I’ve broken it a few times.  And gotten away with it, meaning gotten published.


My most brazen attack on the rule was in a flash fiction Sci Fi / ghost story mashup, “Airlock,” where both of the characters had no name, the ghostly narrator and the stranded captain who is the sole survivor of a lunar mission gone bad.  I actually tried to redo the story with names–after reading a thou shall not on the submissions guidelines of one of the markets I wanted to submit to–but the piece was rejected even with forgettable names and I reverted to nameless.  And sold the story a few months later to Perihelion Science Fiction.

I also have two pieces of micro fiction with unnamed protagonists, both under 50 words, which may be an easier exception to the rule: “Stranded,” which placed 2nd in a writing contest and was published in On the Premises, and “First Frost,” which has not been published. More significantly, although less radically, I have sold a new short story, “Preschool War Games,” to a major pro YA market despite the protagonist having no name beyond being the father of Siggi (one of the 13 valkyries that appear in several of my works).  Siggi’s papa actually has a name, he’s the protagonist for a couple of other shorts (“The Einherja” and “Crazy”) and appears in my WIP mythica novel, Ragnarök Willie.  But the story just didn’t sound as good with him being named, so I took a chance and won.

I’m not necessarily advocating this in general–like most rules there is good reason for it–especially in longer works.  Readers, and we writers do absolutely need to cater to the needs of our readers, kinda like to know who all these characters are.  Names help. A lot. But, as they say, rules are meant to be broken.

CR Hodges

PS: Siggi’s soldier / scientist papa’s name is Dr. Harold “Hard” Regis.  The unnamed protagonist in “Stranded” is one of the five marooned astronauts from “Three-Quarter’s Martian,” and the unnamed protagonist for “First Frost” is named Haakan in the long version (some 3000 words) tentatively titled “The Last Frost Giant.”  In case anyone cares…

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2 Responses to Going nameless

  1. crhodges says:

    Here’s an example of the rule, from a respected short fiction outlet, Flash Fiction Online: “We’re not hugely keen on stories with unnamed main characters. Hiding your main character’s name is not a new idea. It just isn’t a frequently published idea because, to be frank, it doesn’t work.” But they do go on to say that this sometimes works in first person.


  2. crhodges says:

    And here’s an example of a great short story (not one of mine, but wish I had written it) published in a pro market with a nameless protagonist. http://dailysciencefiction.com/science-fiction/future-societies/s-r-algernon/followers

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