3 Ways to Avoid Using Too Many Pronouns

3 Ways to Avoid Using Too Many Pronouns | Tips for avoiding the use of too many pronouns and subsequently boring your readers. A must read for writers who want to spice up their prose!

Have you ever read through your work and found that he said this, she did that, and then he walked over there and saw her do something else? She laughed, he cried, she felt embarrassed and then he sat down. He thought about the first time she’d made him cry while she continued to laugh, and then you cried because you realised you were using too many pronouns.

Your characters do things and stuff happens to them so you need to use pronouns, but too many of them is repetitive and unimaginative and boring! I feel repetitive writing this, but don’t bore your readers.

How do you know if you’re using too many pronouns?

Like just about anything in writing, it’s difficult to tell what’s right, what’s wrong, and what doesn’t matter because someone somewhere is always going to disagree with you.

Sometimes you can tell by just looking at the page or highlighting all the pronouns. You’ll be able to see how often they occur, but this doesn’t necessarily tell you how much of a problem they are.

The best way to tell you’re using I/he/she too often is to read your work aloud. Sometimes pronouns go unnoticed, sometimes they don’t. If you read your text aloud you should be able to tell where it sounds repetitive and where it sounds boring.

How can you stop using too many pronouns?

If you’ve read your work aloud and concluded that you do use pronouns too frequently, here are a few tips to help liven up your text.

1. Vary your sentence structure

Alex was breathing so hard that his chest was burning. He didn’t dare look over his shoulder as he ran. He just kept putting one foot in front of the other and hoped he wouldn’t trip. He was still being chased by the monster.

[Subject][verb]. Each sentence follows the same formula, which is probably the main cause of pronoun overuse. If we use different sentence structures, we can make the scene more exciting.

Alex was breathing so hard that his chest was burning. Not daring to look of his shoulder, he ran. Right now it was more important to avoid tripping, so he just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Behind him, the monster still followed.

Once I’ve established who the subject is, I’ve experimented with using the action or setting to start the sentence. The result sounds a lot less like a list.

2. Combine sentences

Alex was breathing so hard that his chest was burning. He didn’t dare look over his shoulder as he ran. He just kept putting one foot in front of the other and hoped he wouldn’t trip. He was still being chased by the monster.

Alex was breathing so hard that his chest was burning. Not daring to look over his shoulder, he kept putting one foot in front of the other and hoped he wouldn’t trip. He was still being chased by the monster.

Better still. If there are fewer sentences, fewer sentences start with pronouns 😉

3. Have more agents

Characters don’t exist in a vacuum, and elements of their environment can be agents of verbs.

First, let’s add some environment:

Alex was breathing so hard that his chest was burning. He could smell the rich soil of the forest, which he could feel between his toes, but didn’t dare look over his shoulder. He just kept running and hoped he wouldn’t trip over logs that he couldn’t see in the dark. He knew he was still being chased through the forest by the monster. He could smell its hideous odour coming from behind him.

Once you’ve established whose point of view the audience is reading, it’s not necessary to keep saying he could smell, he could see, etc. Remove the filter words and give the environment some agency.

Alex was breathing so hard that his chest was burning. The rich smell of soil rose up from the forest floor, which was cool and soft between his toes. With no moonlight filtering through the forest canopy to illuminate the ground, he didn’t dare look over his shoulder. What if he tripped? Behind him, the monster crashed through the undergrowth, its hideous odour the harbinger of death.

Using pronouns is not a bad thing, but being repetitive can be. Try to focus on what’s happening in the scene, not who’s doing it or who it’s happening to. Write about the experience, and if you can write about it with variety, you can write your way to a more engaging scene.

3 Ways to Avoid Using Too Many Pronouns | Tips for avoiding the use of too many pronouns and subsequently boring your readers. A must read for writers who want to spice up their prose! Head over to jackalediting.com for the full article, and more great writing tips from a freelance book editor!

Louise

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