Thursday, May 22, 2014

Too Many Pronouns

Our Very First Epic Award Winner 2002

First in the series: 

Survey Team Leader Nora Falconi's closest friend, anthropologist Marcus Cranshaw, has disappeared on Class M Planet No. 8055. Nora must find and rescue him before a long-awaited treaty takes effect, and 8055 becomes part of Ast territory.

Question from the E-mail:  People tell me I use too many pronouns, or maybe the wrong pronouns. You were always a strickler for the rules. Can you tell me the one for pronouns? Eva.

Answer:  Eva, good to hear from you.

Sure. The rule is a pronoun always refers to the Preceding Noun. So if "she" follows the word Table, that would technically be against the rule and you'd have to use the proper name. Of course most readers wouldn't complain, as tables, in English anyway, have no gender, and they'd remember the last female character mentioned and subconsciously assign the "she" to  whoever that was.

If it's been awhile since a female name was used, you might want to use it again, just to help remind the reader who it is.

The Most Important Thing is not to confuse the reader. So if two people are present, John and Mary a man and a woman, and the name Mary is followed by “he” — that’s pretty clear, too. Okay, it's against the rule, if you are being picky. But it's still not confusing. 

Now if the scene has two women and the “her” after Mary refers to Jane, then the proper name should be used to avoid confusion. 

I know some folks are taught to always use the name once in a scene, and the pronoun thereafter, but that can get confusing. Also it can be as repetitive as using the proper name every single time. Usually, keeping clarity in mind, most writers use a pronoun a couple of times,  then the name, then go  back for a couple more pronouns. That keeps the repetition from being too noticable.

My personal pet peave is when people use the pronoun on first reference.  To begin a scene with a transition like:

"She went into the Post Office and checked her mail, before running into John, the love of her life. He offered to buy her coffee and she went with him...

That, too, is confusing to a reader. Who She IS? We know John is having coffee with someone he met at the PO, but is it Mary? Her sister Jane? Cindi Lauper? Queen Latifah? Meryl Streep?

There are lots of lists of "rules of good writing" but only two rules that publishers care about.

1. Never confuse the reader!!!!

2. Never make work for your editor. Staff time costs money.

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