This week: Evil PronounsEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about fixing annoying pronoun problems.
Every English poet should master the rules of grammar before he attempts to bend or break them.
~ Robert Graves, British poet
There are grammatical errors even in his silence.
~ Stanislaw J. Lec, Polish poet
Man 1: Where are you from?
Man 2: From a place where we do not end sentences with prepositions.
Man 1: Okay. Where are you from, jackass?
~ Author Unknown
He? She? It?
Pronouns are evil -- EVIL, I tell you! OK, not really. But they can confuse your readers and mess up your stories and novels.
So put on your editor's glasses and get out your red pen. We're going to attack some pronoun problems!
Can you spot the problems in this paragraph? (I’ll give you hints in bold. )
A hulking creature stood in the glare of the flashlight. Black eyes with no whites stared at me. Ghoulish green skin, split in places and oozing worms, stretched wide as the monster bared its teeth. When it leaped at me, I dodged, but it caught my arm before dragging me closer. The stench of decayed flesh snaked up my nostrils. I shrieked as his head came down toward mine. Maggots and white worms writhed together in a macabre dance that made every part of his face seem to move independently. Its black eyes bored into mine, and now I could see dark red fire glittering within them.
The error: The creature starts out as an “it” and then changes to “he” and then back to “it” again. So what is it? Male or not?
The fix: Use the same pronoun for the monster consistently. Don't change it back and forth or you'll confuse the reader.
What's the problem with this beginning scene paragraph?
She rushed into the room and slammed the door behind her, every muscle quivering. Across the room, the dim glow of the exit sign revealed a figure blocking her way. Beth and Linda stared at each other. A knife blade glimmered in her hand.
The error: The reader doesn’t know who came in the room. Beth or Linda? And which one is holding the knife? Never begin a chapter or scene with a pronoun even if it's a continuation from the last chapter or scene. The reader may have paused between chapters and doesn't really remember the last scene.
The pronouns “he/she” always refer back to the last person of that sex mentioned.
The Fix: Always use the character’s name at the beginning of a chapter or scene. According to the rule above, since Linda is the last person mentioned before "her hand," Linda must be holding the knife. If that wasn't what was meant, it has to be changed to "A knife blade glimmered in Beth's hand."
Can you spot the problems in this paragraph?
First, the warlock learned the spell. He studied the spell every day until he knew it by heart. His superiors told him if he invoked the spell daily, the dragon could not attack the town. They also warned that if he stopped saying the spell every day, a dragon attack would occur. So he repeated the spell per their instructions, hoping the spell would keep the dragon at bay.
The error: By repeating “the spell” so much, it becomes overused and will reduce the prose into a sing-song pattern, which will bore readers.
The Fix: Instead of too many uses of "the spell," you can use the pronoun “it” in its place:
First, the warlock learned the spell. He studied it every day until he knew it by heart. His superiors told him if he invoked the spell daily, the dragon could not attack the town. They also warned that if he stopped saying it every day, a dragon attack would occur. So he repeated the spell per their instructions, hoping it would keep the dragon at bay.
Can you spot the problems in this paragraph?
I’d never seen Ann's parents, but the skeletal people behind her couldn’t be them. They were barely human. They rested their hands on her shoulders, their finger bones white against her black sweater. They moved closer. The spaces between them grew narrower, tighter. Their daughter shrank from the pressure. They encircled her throat.
The error: Wait a minute! Her parents are encircling the girl’s throat? What are they? Skeleton snake people? Or were the finger bones the “they” that moved closer and then encircled her throat?
The Fix: When there are two “they” (parents and finger bones) or two “she” or two “he” in the paragraph, don’t use pronouns if it will confuse the reader. Name them directly instead.
Can you spot the problems in this paragraph? (This is a double whammy.)
Glenn crept along the hallway, Liana's hand clutched in his. Liana pulled Glenn to a stop. Glen glanced back at Liana and spotted the hive queen. She loomed over Liana's head. Her multifaceted eyes glittered in the candle light. Liana crumpled to the floor with the queen's proboscis embedded in her back. The motion carried her head lower and into his gun sights. He squeezed the trigger. Her round head exploded as the bullet struck.
The error: In the first three sentences, the names "Glenn" and "Liana" are used too much. In the following lines, the pronouns "her" and "she" become confusing. Whose head went lower and who was shot?
The Fix: After introducing a male and a female character by name, you can use "he" and "she" if they are the only two characters present. But if there are two female (or male) characters in the scene, their names should be used instead of pronouns. Otherwise, as above, you don't necessarily know which "her" Glen shot.
If a monster or an animal is introduced as an “it,” keep using that pronoun. If it’s a “he” or a “she,” keep using that one. Be consistent.
Never start a chapter or a scene with a pronoun. Always use the character’s name.
When you find noun repetitions in your writing -- don’t bore the reader -- you can often replace some of the repetitions with “it.”
If there’s only one of something in a scene (one “he,” one “she” or one “they”), you can use pronouns. But if there are two or more of the same gender characters, you should be careful about using pronouns because they may confuse the reader.
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Here are some spooky stories for your reading pleasure!
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Your full time Horror Newsletter Editors:
Brooke - Working my way back Kate ~ Midsummer Night Rune billwilcox
and LJPC - the tortoise .
To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter: "Killing Characters" Thank you!
Comments listed in the order they were received.
Vampyr14 writes: I've never thought about the characters in horror stories as being archetypes, but they are! Even down to the names....
The reason is because everything has to be as realistic as possible so readers will buy the monster or other supernatural stuff.
9 years whew! submits: "The Silver Brush" writes: I think this was a good story with recognizable characters that are pretty cliche' My one thing that I like to see is when the reader mentally says, "Don't go there! Open that! or Don't answer the phone!" We all know something's going to happen but WHAT?
You’re right -- suspense is very important to any Horror story.
bobneH .. aka.. just bob writes: Just after 9/11, I added an Arab just so I could kill him off. After developing his character, I started to like him... I made him one of the HEROS in the story..... oh-well.
You must have done a great job of developing him if he went from villain to hero!
Taniuska writes: Killing characters is never easy, especially when you get close to them. But you make some great suggestions on how to tackle this. Wonderful post.
It’s sometimes hard to kill off likeable characters, but you can always write in unlikeable ones and keep the ones you’re close to alive!
BIG BAD WOLF submits "Anthros Versus Zombies" and writes: I know I'll end up killing a character soon; though whether it will an innocent kid or a beloved commanding officer, a zombie will bite them, and the Hero will have to put them down.
Yup, those zombies are hard to beat!
Arakun the twisted raccoon writes: My rule about killing off characters is to never kill likeable characters unless it is absolutely necessary and never kill child characters at all, even if they aren't likeable. Some writers seem to think they have to kill characters the reader really likes to get a reaction out of them, but I disagree. You will get a reaction, but it might not be the one you wanted. If a writer kills off a character I really like, I'm not likely to ever read one of their stories again. However, there is nothing wrong with making the reader think his favorite character might bite the dust and making him keep reading to find out!
I get mad, too, if likeable characters die (remember the tough, lady marine in Aliens? I loved that character! *sniff*). I try not to kill off anyone my readers have become attached to. Killing off baddies is far more rewarding! Thanks for replying to the newsletter!
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