[Think Aloud] – #27 – The Absurdity of Protagonists Remembering Everyone They’ve Met

Think Aloud explores book-related discussions encompassing reading, writing, blogging, and perhaps newsworthy content. The focus is to push the boundaries, stretch the mind, and encourage dialogue within this community. Let’s all think out loud.

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Table Topic:
The Absurdity of Protagonists Remembering Everyone They’ve Met

Abstract:

Protagonists ought to be forgetful of the names of those they meet on their journey.


Thoughts:

There are three types of people:

– those who remember someone’s name (but can’t match name-to-face);

– those who forget someone’s name (but recognize their faces); and,

– those who remember every name and face they’ve met

Just kidding, the third one is a myth.

Point is: as someone who is great at recognizing faces but less so at retaining names if it’s in a large setting (post-introductory spheels), I’m calling shenanigans on protagonists seemingly able to recall the names of every person they meet.

Granted, of course, no author is evil enough to write in a Robert, a Robbie, a Bob, a Robby, a Bobby. (That’s just male character names too). Can you imagine the confusion? Except surely only readers would be confused…seems like nothing slips past these leads.

See, if the casting is tiny, I’m sure it’s easier to remember the Elizabeths to Beths to Elizas. But in some cases, like in large scale SF-F, the narrative voice we follow is bound to meet tens of hundreds of people. 

Say you’re a symbol of hope–The Mockingjays or Divergents or the Boys Who Lived–and you have some meeting with a group of people. The situation would look something like this:

You go through your hellos and nice to meet yous and they tell your their name and you’re thinking ‘this person’s cool!‘. Then later that day, when you meet them again, you’re all high five-ing and are able to recall this person.

And that’s where I draw the line. You know what I might be thinking? “I remember your face…but I can’t put a name to said face…” — but this reaction rarely (if ever) occurs. What have you protagonists? Why your mental prowess so powerful?!

This doesn’t even consider those characters who live under the page (otherwise “irrelevant”) and don’t have an active voice. Pacing does wonders to fast forward to relevant events but it also dismisses those people you come to learn on passing through a conversation by the campfire or waiters/waitresses or that individual who crafted your artillery for battle.

There’s rarely any “oh shit” moments of awkward confusion as to the individual presented before them. The best representation I’ve probably come across is “hey…you”. Never is there a “Oh hey what’s up John!” followed by a response in “My name’s Veronica.”

Brain farts, you know?

These protagonists seem to know everyone and everything as if they’re gifted with people walking around with a “Hello, My Name Is…” sticker on their forehead. I won’t say it’s impossible (to the memory recall or the name tag) but damn is it wildly unrealistic.


Afterthought Prompts:

Now on to some things for you to think about:

How good are you with remembering names? (Mainly speaking to those you may meet once and never speak to until weeks later)

What’s the most number of characters you’ve met in an ensemble and what book was it from?

As always, think aloud. 

Cheers,
Joey

connect: afterthoughtAn // twitter  |  anotherafterthought // goodreads

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Post Inspiration:

I’m awkward, I get it. But how many ways can you ask “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name…”. Could you repeat it once more? Maybe by the third go around I’ll remember it. Unlikely.

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54 thoughts on “[Think Aloud] – #27 – The Absurdity of Protagonists Remembering Everyone They’ve Met”

  1. This post made me so happy because it’s one of those simple human things that you just never see book characters do. Thus, making this post wonderfully surprising

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  2. I don’t remember names or faces easily, to be honest.

    Or titles apparently, because I do vaguely remember one novel where the character had trouble with names so he just called everyone by increasingly ridiculous nicknames. But I can’t remember what book it was. Useful, huh?

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  3. I love this post. I am great with faces (like, “hey, that woman in the supermarket viewed my house 5 years ago”) but names sometimes elude me. In these situations I like to revert to calling everyone “mate,” which I feel is a tactic fictional characters should employ. I read Glass Sword a few weeks ago and I felt that everyone should be wearing a name badge.

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  4. I love this post as it is something I have been noticing more in books recently. I read a book recently and was wondering how the hell the protagonist remembered the name and face of someone they met briefly years before! I am crap at remembering faces, and I usually can’t remember a name until I’ve seen it written down (which then usually firmly locks it into my memory). I just wish authors went for realistic writing and not just what’s easier for the plot.

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    1. Haha, glad you agree! But is it really a plot promoting thing for characters to have perfect memory of names? I guess it might be fussy to have to narrate (in first person POV, for example) one’s forgetfulness all the time but even once or twice would do it justice to at least demonstrate realistic flaws.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. eheh I never thought of this, but its true. its like the have no space for just common human mistakes or they only do it when is to upset someone they dislike. what about making the character resonate more with us people who can’t remember names until you tell me 3 times and even then! 😉

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      1. I couldn’t agree more. but then again maybe they have some special ability us, Res of human kind, don’t have haha (Wink )
        Wouldn’t it be funny to have a character who never remembers the name of the people that are not directly related to him\Her? I would love it ahaha

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  6. I can usually remember faces, but names are way harder. In the past couple of years, I’ve met a lot of kids and parents. I can always remember the kids’ names, but blank on the parents’. I think it’s because I put all the effort into remembering the kids’ names.

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      1. Lol. I have totally done that before. Or I just never say the parent’s name when I address them. So embarrassing. Oh, and just the other day I called this lady Jennifer when her name was Nicole. UGH.

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      1. Not that great haha that sounds more like the memory Sheldon has. I just have an easy time remembering memories in clear detail. For example the first time I meet people is something I can easily recall so when I see faces, its like a flashback

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  7. I am absolutely horrible at remembering people’s names. I can remember things like song lyrics and what happens in a book, but remembering names is hard! I just started a new job at my local high school and I can not remember any of the names of my co workers. Awkward!

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    1. Immersing yourself in new environments can definitely be tricky and is usually resolved with repetition and time. Characters who meet new people on a whim, for example, often only get a few meet-and-greets to learn of their name and they seem to carry the narrative forward with ease. It is perplexing.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I could easily remember the faces of people even those I only see pass by in the campus. But it usually takes time for me to remember their names like, “Hey…!” One time, I had to ask a classmate’s name again because I completely forgot about it despite being in the same hour-and-a-half class twice a week. ><" Great post, Joey!

    Like

      1. And they keep those business cards in a pocket in their pants that’s enchanted like Hermione’s bag, “Accio business cards!” 😂

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  9. Haha! I never actually thought about this. excellent point! I’m the type of person who will recognise a face but the damn name would be floating out of my reach. I then try to get them to say their name without them knowing I forgot (which is tricky and doesn’t work most of the time)

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  10. This is SO TRUE. I mean, why didn’t anyone write about this before? Now I’m left wondering HOW can every character remember every name so perfectly. I have trouble with remembering names, too, I think I’m more of a remembering-faces-person…and lots of people are this way. WHY aren’t there characters like that in books? Oh, maybe to prevent us readers from reading tons of times the same descriptions? I don’t know. Anyway, interesting subject!!

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    1. You must forget I am the master of thinking up the most mundane of topics that question realism in fiction LOL.

      It can definitely be disengaging to have to read drabble about “oh, shoot, what was this persons name” or “their face screams familiarity, it itches my brain but I cannot respond candidly until I know if they are a Marie or a Mary…” BUT, my argument is that once would often be enough, surely, to highlight this realism.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I don’t know how these characters can do it when I can’t even keep track of the characters they are randomly meeting along the way, haha.

    Endgame: The Calling…OMG so many characters. I gave up on the book halfway through, because I really had no idea what was going on with any of them or remember who any of them were. You have to memorize their name, their nickname, and where they come from. Because other characters in books will refer to them at different times by a different name LOL. So I actually applaud James Frey for even writing this book, because I don’t know how he could remember any of those names and characters let alone have each character remember every single game player and people they meet along the way.

    As for me, I suck at remembering names in books and in real life.

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    1. I’ve probably flipped back to earlier pages on average of once per book if it’s a large enough ensemble to trip me up. Even worse is when you sit there and dwell on a particular part in the novel that just doesn’t make sense when there’s two important characters who have almost the same name…and it’s like “BUT THIS PERSON WAS JUST–WHAT?”

      Yeah I remember perusing Endgame in the store and each chapter opened up as a new POV?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, every single chapter of Endgame switches to someone new. So it’s hard to keep up and if you’re enjoying one person’s journey better than someone else’s then you have to wait so long to get back to them. No fun. More of a headache. I had to have a cheat sheet with me that had everyone names, nicknames, and place they were from to reference when I was reading lol.

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  12. I’m not too bad at remembering faces but I am terrible with names. My mum has a big family and every time one of her cousins come round I get so confused with who’s who. In these cases I usually smile and nod haha.

    When it comes to a large ensemble, I must say the biggest would be Game of Thrones. The multiple POV was taken to the extreme with that book and if it wasn’t for the show I would be confused as hell. In the end I didn’t even finish the book haha.

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    1. Yeah, I love that for me when I was younger, I was taught to call my relatives as “2nd eldest aunt” or “eldest aunt”. Well, it sounds stupid the way I say it but it’s actually how the translations work out from Chinese to English. (Unless I have it all wrong and don’t know my own language LOL.)

      GoT definitely took getting used to because for a lot of the first season I just had feels and feels and more feels for peoples faces (as they did or did not die) but never really knew of their names… LOL. Damn learning curves.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m not too bad with names – I’m bad with matching those names with the faces! xD I don’t really count how many characters there are in an ensemble, but I think Game of Thrones was pretty hectic imo! I’ve only read the first book, but I’m already just a bit confused by who’s who in GoT! Fantastic topic, Joey!

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  14. Characters may not have trouble remembering everybody’s names, but I certainly do! I am reading a book right now with some very flat side characters and I can’t remember who any of them are.

    I am just as bad in real life. I hate how bad I am at names but I get anxious when I meet new people and new information does not stick.

    This seems like a really boring response, but maybe the name thing is just one that wouldn’t translate into writing that well? Maybe it’s one of those ‘real’ elements that gets missed out in favour of the continuation of the plot? Kind of like how nobody ever goes to the bathroom.

    I like the discussion, though. I’ve actually never thought about this before as far as books are concerned.

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    1. It’s infinitely worse when side characters are all cardboard and sound the same!

      I think the thing with names is that repetition and muscle memory surely play a part…so it’s questionable when these protagonists meets characters in passing 10 years ago and they’re all like buds during the present day.

      I’m definitely not asking for much though. Getting tripped up once is good enough for me haha.

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      1. It really is. I love side characters that I can engage with.

        I do know what you mean. I think maybe it’s a symptom of the way that relationships often develop unrealistically fast. I always find myself wanting more development in friendships and relationships.

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  15. I’ve never thought about it before, but now that you mention it.. damn! No books do that! They’re all like… memory wizards. I have a pretty bad time keeping names with faces, unfortunately sometimes even with people I know and see on a pretty regular basis.

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  16. You have a good point, especially if it’s written in past tense–not only did the character remember the name of a someone at the time it happened, the character also (supposedly) remembers it later when telling his or her story.

    I’m terrible with names. My husband, though, can remember most everyone’s name. He can meet someone one time and see them a year later and remember the person’s name. Not me, lol.

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  17. Okay, in terms of a book ensemble, I have to say it’s the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. 15 books, Multiple POVs, plus legions of similar sounding names…it got crazy but it was really good exercise for my memory.
    I suck at remembering names! I remember faces but it’s so awkward to meet someone but I cannot recall who they are. This actually happened to me in a seminar I attended, and he was so excited and friendly while I was just panicking trying to figure out who he was. Then he went “You don’t remember me, do you?” and I was so stupidly replied, “Uh…just barely.” Gah, how horrible.

    So yeah, props to our teenage heroes for remembering people they bumped into or crossed paths with :p To be fair, most YA books don’t have a large cast of characters, so it’s fairly easy for them to remember the other kids. Harry Potter only knew the kids from his own year and the DA, and some adults who tried to help him or kill him.

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