Saturday, July 25, 2009

Making use of minor characters

At the end of Laura Blumenfeld's story in this week's Washington Post mag taking readers through Secret Service training, there's a note:

"Although a few subjects asked not to be identified, in most cases the Magazine chose to omit the names of minor subjects to make it easier for readers to follow the story."

This is a long story, a couple thousand words. Blumenfeld follows three trainees -- Krista, the 4-foot-11 former social worker, Dan, the new father, and Scott, the Iraq veteran who lost three fingers in combat. She also introduces us to their teachers, who have protected past presidents.

The trainees we don't spend much time with are only identified by their background: The Home Depot manager, a sky diver, the Tulsa cop.

I think it worked. Had the Tulsa cop been David Johnson, I probably would have forgotten who he was until I saw "the Tulsa cop" offset by commas. For a story with so much going on, I think it was cleaner. I think it makes better use of the characters. Of course, some would argue you're keeping something from the reader.

It's a damn good story. Give it a read, and let's hear what you think of the device.