Monday, December 27, 2010

Those Deadly Pronouns

The use of pronouns came up on a list I read. As always, they’re viewed with mixed opinions. My main concern is that the antecedent be clear. I really hate to stop and have to figure it out or wonder who “she” is.

Overuse of proper names is equally distracting. You just have to read your work carefully and make sure it’s clear. If not, look for an interesting way to fix it.
When two or more persons of the same sex are present in a scene, the pronouns are difficult. Try to use descriptions to identify people or use the names more often. The tired waitress, the frazzled customer, the girl. Use dialogue instead of narrative so it’s clear who’s doing what. Review scenes with a number of hes or shes and see if the writing can be made clearer and more vivid at the same time.

Pronouns modify the last stated noun. Example: I found a book in the store. It was old. This sentence means the store was old, not the book, because store was the last stated noun. Use care with pronouns.

Personal pronouns modify the last stated name. Be certain pronouns modify the intended proper noun. Joe and Bill raced around the track. He longed to leave him in the dust. Technically, this means Bill yearned to leave Joe, but the reader may have doubts, and it may not be what the writer intended. Try being a little more creative. Bill’s big Nikes kicked dust in Joe’s face. Joe hated coming in second—he yearned to leave the older boy in the dust, and one day he would. The context makes this clear, even with all the pronouns.

What are your pet peeves on pronouns? Do you have any good examples?

1 comment:

Polly said...

Definitely things to heed. Great post, Ellis, as always.