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Are You Benefiting From the Intimacy of Pronouns?

Pronouns are those clever little inventions that allow us to replace nouns and
avoid clunky repetition. How awkward would it be if we had to mention our
character Col. Daniel Fitzgerald the Elephant Trainer by name five times in
one paragraph? Thanks to the pronoun, we only have to mention him once at
the beginning of the paragraph, unless another male character interpolates
himself somewhere in the middle. However, pronouns accomplish much more
than just variation of word rhythm.

When used to their full potential, pronouns have the power to accomplish a
number of impressive tasks, including:

1. Aiding suspension of disbelief.

2. Encouraging realistic narrative.

3. Fostering a sense of camaraderie and intimacy between one

character and another and between characters and readers.

Pronouns, much like the dialogue tag “said,” offer a certain amount of
invisibility. We read them, recognize them, and process them almost without
seeing them. Not only does this contribute an extra oomph of speed to our
reading, it also eliminates even the slightest of jolts that might pull us from
the story. Using pronouns to replace character names, whenever possible,
creates a seamless flow of narrative that puts the focus on the what and how
of your scene once you’ve established the who.
Overusing character names is a surprisingly common pitfall. Perhaps because
it takes us five minutes to write a paragraph that will be read in thirty
seconds, or perhaps because we often feel a special connection to our
characters’ names, it’s far too easy for us to mention names more often than
we need to. Particularly in scenes in which only one character is present, we
have no reason to repeat the character’s name in every sentence.

On the other hand, we don’t want to overuse pronouns to the extent that we
mire readers in such a state of confusion that they have no idea who this “he”
they’re reading about really is. Following are some guidelines for deciding
when pronouns are appropriate and when they’re not:

Use pronouns when:

* Only one character is present in a scene.

* Only two characters of opposite genders are present in a scene.

* The pronoun’s antecedent is clear.

Use names when:

* You introduce characters.

* Any chance exists that a reader might attach a pronoun to the

wrong character.

* The flow of the sentence demands emphasis on a character or

his name.

Take a look at a few paragraphs in your work-in-progress and see if

exchanging a few names for pronouns will aid the flow and readability of your
About the Author: K.M. Weiland grew up
chasing Billy the Kid and Jesse James on
horseback through the sand hills of western
Nebraska, where she still lives. A lifelong
fan of history and the power of the written
word, she enjoys sharing both through her
novels and short stories. Visit her blogs
Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors
and AuthorCulture to read her take on the
writing life.