by Tim Kane
Recently, I set to work editing down the pronouns in my manuscript. No short order. In the process of weeding them out, I sliced away 4000 words. Yet even then, I wasn’t done. Passing the book onto a freelance editor, he found ways to even further minimize the impact of repetitive he’s and she’s. What follows is a list of some situations that I found cropping up over and over.
Join Multiple Sentences
Starting every sentence with a pronoun or the character name is not only repetitive, it’s poor writing. Combine sentences to decrease the pronouns and keep the flow going.
- Instead of “He _____. He ______. He ____.” Try “He ______, ______, and ______.
Use Subordinating Conjunctions
Grammar is your friend. Honestly. Make a list of a few useful subordinating conjunctions and memorize how to use them.
- Instead of “_____ as he _____.” Try “______ while _____.”
Avoid Extra Description
There are times when the situation is so obvious, you can do away with the extra language. Look at these examples.
- “He nodded his head,” becomes, “He nodded.”
- “She shrugged her shoulders,” becomes, “She shrugged.”
- “He held it in his hand,” becomes, “He held it.”
Think about it, what else are you going to use to hold something, your foot? We’re not chimps. Likewise, you can only nod your head or have a smile on your face. Thinking only takes place in your head and tears only come from people’s eyes. Cut unnecessary description whenever possible.
Gerunds are those “ing” words that act like verbs or nouns. No need to go crazy memorizing the grammar on this one, just get a feel for what works.
- “Muscles tightening along her neck,” becomes, “Neck muscles tightening.”
Cut the Obvious
You know the situation in your story better than anyone. If you’re penning the next War and Peace with twenty some odd characters in each scene, there may not be much you can do about repeating names. However, most of use only have two or three people on stage at any given moment. The reader is smart. She can figure out what’s going on, so you don’t need to remind her of the obvious.
- “He passed the book over to her,” becomes, “He passed the book over.”
- “She took the money from him,” becomes, “She took the money.”
If it’s obvious who the action is affecting, then do away with the extra “to him” or “from her.”
Delete Most Dialogue Tags
These things are insidious. They breed faster than fleas. Again, this goes along with the obvious. If there are only two people in the scene, most readers will be able to tell who’s who. Especially if you’ve done your job as a writer and given each speaker a distinct voice.
Now, don’t try and think about all these while you’re writing. You’ll end up frustrated with a blank page. Save these tips for editing, after the fact.