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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 846 Response

Character Names

with Shawn Jacobson

Space Tapestry” appears in this issue.

The characters are never referred to by name. Why might avoiding names be an advantage in this particular story?

[S. J.] I didn’t think names were necessary because the dialogs did not require them. But I also think not putting in names opens the story up to a wider range of cultures. My impression is that certain names go with certain cultural backgrounds, thus not putting in names allows the story to escape these limitations.

[Don W.] Quite so, Shawn. “Space Tapestry” can be considered an exception to a general rule.

BwS has a motto: “One can never be too careful in choosing names.” And we encourage authors to name their characters, for reasons spelled out at some length and rather entertainingly almost exactly nine years ago in “Naming Characters.”

Since then, we’ve been able to add an example of the role of names in avoiding pronoun confusion. We once received a submission that used four personal pronouns in the same sentence, each referring to a different character. I’ve parodied it in “Speedways to Literary Oblivion.”

However, you are right that in “Space Tapestry” the speakers and their dramatic functions are always obvious. The story’s structure makes it a comedy of manners and a morality play in which names can be omitted in order to enhance its transcultural quality. The classic fables, such as “The Cricket and the Ant,” do something similar by giving the characters the form and names of animals.

The story takes an unusual, almost experimental form, and Bewildering Stories likes pleasant surprises. But again, one can never be too careful about these things. If the story were longer and if more than two characters interacted “on stage” at once, character names would soon become a grammatical necessity. We must caution would-be imitators that they’re walking a stylistic high-wire: one ambiguous pronoun reference and off they fall.

Copyright © 2019 by Shawn Jacobson
and Bewildering Stories

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