Monday, April 11, 2011

The overuse of 'he' and 'she'.

Editors complain about the overuse of the pronouns 'he' and 'she' and I'm very aware of  them after one editor pointed out I had several in a long paragraph. The editor suggested I use more conjunctions. There must be a better way. I think it's too easy to fall into the habit of joining clauses that makes the writing read like a list. When I did a Find on one of my completed stories, I saw clusters of 'she', but in at least one of those sections, I was aiming for emphasis. In two paragraphs I found:
She rolled  She watched  she stretched, she murmured. she revelled
 Since 'she' is the only character in the scene I couldn't use her name. We don't usually think of ourselves by name. I could use rolling, watching, etc, but somewhere in the sentence 'she' would still appear and I need her to act in this way.
It's the same with 'I'. When the 'I' character narrates the scene, describing his actions and reactions, how do you avoid the 'potato effect'? i.e. text with too many eyes.
When reading novels, one begins by studying the prose but if the story is worth reading, one soon becomes absorbed and forgets to pay attention to the details of the author's craft.

In the previous sentence I would have been more comfortable using 'I' instead of 'one'.
Ho Hum, this is one dilemma this writer is determined to overcome.


  1. Hi Wendy,
    This is a common complaint and can be overlooked easily until the editor picks up your ms.
    Having made the same error it seemed like a good exercise to work these examples into a paragraph, even though the original context is an unknown quantity.
    She rolled She watched she stretched, she murmured. she revelled ...
    So here goes...
    'Rolling across the bed, languid eyes watched fading sunlight leave the sky. A welcome stretch loosened tight muscles, still aching after too short a rest. When the phone rang, a murmered 'hold on' failed to quiet the insistent tone. Despite an akward delay before answering, (her) heart and mind revelled when familiar tones echoed through the handset.'
    End result is stilted and doesn't flow very well. Using 'she' once or twice could make a lot of difference.
    Great post... it is a dilemma for me too. Even writing this comment without using 'I' was difficult. 'It' bothers me too. Ho hum... who said writing was easy?

  2. Well done, Rosalie. You worked around them very well. Now I have a new dilemma. 4 'her' in one sentence. At the moment they all seem so necessary to the image but it reads clunky, of course. Oh well, I managed to get rid of a paragraph full of 'they' so I'll just have to think outside the square like you did.

  3. I was thinking about it last night... here we go with a potato post... What I realised I was doing is just using another subject, related to the 'she' in question. The eyes, muscles, heart and mind etc. When there was no one else to confuse the situation.
    4 'her' in one sentence. That could be challenging.
    Good luck with it. Enjoy yourself while you work.

  4. Got rid of one 'her'. Enlarged the image and broke up the sentence into two, so I hope the three 'her' have become invisible now.