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Why Pronouns Are Important
Contributor
Written by
Maria Murnane
February 2016
Contributor
Written by
Maria Murnane
February 2016

Imagine you're at a cocktail party and someone tells a brief story about his friend Buddy. Chances are the storyteller will name Buddy just once and use "he" from there on because everyone listening to the story knows he's talking about Buddy. If the storyteller were to say, "Buddy did this, and then Buddy did that, and then Buddy went there," it would sound weird, right?

The same goes for books. Read the following two paragraphs out loud. Which one sounds more natural to you?

EXAMPLE A

Buddy arrived at the office brimming with confidence, knowing today was his day to shine and show the world his potential. Buddy strode toward the interview room with a spring in his step. "I can do this," Buddy said under his breath as he reached for the doorknob.

EXAMPLE B

Buddy arrived at the office brimming with confidence, knowing today was his day to shine and show the world his potential. He strode toward the interview room with a spring in his step. "I can do this," he said under his breath as he reached for the doorknob.

Example A makes me want to put the book down. Example B makes me want to keep reading.

I just finished reading an indie novel in which the author used the main character's name (I'll also call him "Buddy") over and over and over when a simple "he" would have done. The story was interesting, but the overuse of "Buddy" was so distracting (and annoying) that it undermined the reading experience for me and will prevent me from recommending the book to others. A professional editor can help flag these problems before your book goes to market, so if you're going the indie route, I strongly recommend hiring one.

-Maria

Maria Murnane is the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services to aspiring and published authors. Have questions? You can find her at www.mariamurnane.com.

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2016 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Comments
  • Susan Artz Okun

    Karen - Thanks for the reminder, attribution is tricky, trying not to be repetitive, yet still clear.  

  • Karen Lynne Klink

    Susan—my understanding about pronouns is they point to the last noun used, so make sure, if you are in dialogue and using "he," for example, that you haven't introduced another character in between your noun and your pronoun. Ex: "Brian was already angry when Andrew entered, and he said,'I've had enough.'" In this case, "he" points to "Andrew," not "Brian," since "Andrew" is closest to the pronoun, "he." If you meant Brian to speak, you would have to either say, "Brian" again, or rewrite the sentence differently. I would rewrite it.

  • Susan Artz Okun

    Maria, thanks for suggesting your blog on beats and attribution, very helpful  :)

  • Vivienne Diane Neal

    Maria, Thank you. I would always wonder if I was using too many pronouns, but now I see that using a person's name in every dialogue can be excessive.  

    Thank you. I sometimes wonder if I am using pronouns too much but you made it very clear. Using a person's name in every dialogue can be excessive.

  • Maria Murnane

    @Susan, that drives me nuts too! I even blogged about it last summer. Here's the post: http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/dialogue-tip-make-it-clear-who-is-talking

  • Susan Artz Okun

    Maria, I appreciate your reminder about pronouns. What about the opposite...I occasionally have a problem when reading fiction where there is a section of dialogue and I can't tell who is speaking. Dialogue is in quotes, but no Buddy said or she said, even occasionally. I have to reread a few times, or count back to who might be speaking, or guess. Sometimes it doesn't matter much, other times it's annoying. And sometimes the author decides to have one person speak twice before the other person speaks, yet the first person's 2 comments are in non-attributed separate but contiguous paragraphs. I can imagine the writer is hearing the conversation in her head and thinks it's clear, but it's not. Has anyone else ever noticed this? Are there guidelines about this? 

     

  • Good example, thank you. Even the name of a character in a book can be used to much.

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