I am still-- always-- thinking about what we call our characters. Talk about picky. I was just reading a book where characters are referred to by their names, by their roles, and often by some physical trait. For example:
A woman is called Fidelia (I'm making this up for the usual reasons) on first reference.
Then next time, she is called "the ad executive" or "Peter's wife".
Then she's called "the brunette."
I actually came across a reference to her as "the brunette ad executive."
I remember my friend Lynn Kerstan remarking that such a passage made it feel like there was a big crowd in the room, though there are actually only two characters (Fidelia and Peter, the blond airline pilot husband :).
Anyway, take a glance at your own story, and tell me how you handle this. Do you always refer to a character by name, and then pronoun (and what do you do if there's more than one "he"?), and if you do replace the name with a noun, what do you consider acceptable and not?
I was just writing a passage where I was referring to a male character by his last name (Petrus). Now this scene is being told from the POV of another character, Lakoff. Petrus has come to Lakoff's city and office for a business meeting. So I had Lakoff think of his as "Petrus" and then "the visitor," and I stopped and thought... should I do this? Is it clear enough that the visitor is Petrus? Is there a good reason not to use his name?
Oddly, I think I find sort of generic terms like "the other man" or "the visitor" or "his guest" as acceptable, while personal terms (like those that tell much at all about this person, especially his hair color) make me squirm-- they seem amateurish somehow.
Okay, here's my justification, lame though it might be, for "the other man, et al" being acceptable substitutes. Those are all in relationship to the POV character. That is, Lakoff is a man, so "the other man" refers to, uh, the other man. Lakoff is the host, so the other man is "the visitor" and "his guest". This seems okay to me even if Lakoff himself would not necessarily think those terms-- after all, we don't think entirely in words, and "the other"ness of someone else is something so primal that we probably think it without language, and we writers use those terms (because we do communicate entirely with words) to replicate the feeling that the other is, well, the other.
But I'm not sure. I just feel that the generic terms are acceptable sometimes (not often, and never, I'd suspect, if the POV character KNOWS this person well), and "the blonde ad executive" conversely seems like a neon sign of amateurishness. What do you all think?