1. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    A tenth of my novel is "he"!

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by King Arthur, Feb 3, 2016.

    I just discovered "he" is used 3000 times in my 30,000 word novel.

    That sounds like way too much... A tenth of the novel! What are good ways to fix this, and how common should the word "he" be in a novel?
     
  2. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    Ex.
    When he reached the field he saw the sun rise and he knew the red dawn was auspicious. He looked across the battlefield and he saw the infantry would be marching into the sun. He knew that would would give the enemy the advantage.

    Becomes;
    The sun rose giving way to a red dawn; Arthur knew this was an auspicious sign. From his vantage point it was evident the infantry would be marching into the sun, giving the enemy the advantage.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2016
  3. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Silly Word counted all the "he"'s in my novel including those in "the", or "weather", etc... I hadn't though of that.

    The sun rose giving way to a red dawn; Arthur knew this was an auspicious sign. From his vantage point it was evident the infantry would be marching into the sun, giving the enemy the advantage.
     
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  4. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Oh, software. The good thing about it is, it always does exactly what you ask of it.

    Which is also the bad thing about it.
     
  5. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    Nothing like getting exactly the answer you asked for . . .

    Next time but a space before and after, then search, _he_ . I've had to do that a couple of times and it seems to work.
     
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  6. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Except it won't count "he's", "he'd", etc. ;)
    (Not that those should really matter that much, at least if they're only used in dialog and not narration, but still.)
     
  7. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    _he_ turns up 528 times in 30000 words.
     
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  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well that's an improvement! ;)
     
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  9. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    My book is written in first person so not very many he's but in general i think the word I tend to use the most, when it is not needed is "that" so during my first draft I had to make not to use it and when i did, i would have to see if it was truly needed, if not I would delete it.

    I think 3000 times for a word like "he" sounds like a lot for 30,000 words. On the bright side, you can edit that stuff out :)
     
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  10. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Thanks, but read the other posts...
     
  11. Greenwood
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    Greenwood Active Member

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    Like in KhalieLa example, a good way is to show what he sees directly, instead of repeating he all the time. Once it is clear that he is the one seeing or sensing things, the he's aren't needed all the time. Simply writing his name can also be a good trip away from he, although that too requires cautiousness against overuse.

    500-so words out of 30,000 is a great improvement, constituting 1/60th of your work. That's not that shocking and won't be noticed as quickly as 1/10th. Do be careful though not to completely eliminate the clarity of who is seeing what, says what, or is referred to when you edit or rewrite.
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The search function in a wordprocessor is excellent, but as it's been pointed out by @Robert Musil , it can't think, it can only find. And counting word usage doesn't really do anything to make your MS better, if you've over-used a certain word or phrase.

    Rather than counting any small word like 'he' or 'the,' if you're really concerned that you've used these words too often, just start at the beginning and go through the entire MS, flagging up each instance of use. Consider each instance and see what you can do to remove the word in each case.

    This is also good if you have pet words—the kinds of words that are NOT invisible when you read—and see how often they appear as well. For some reason, I used the word 'scrabbled' so often in my 200,000 word MS (I think about 8 or 9 times) that one beta noticed it. I went through, using the above method, and was able to reduce it to three usages. I think it did, finally, disappear.

    Good tip about the space-he-space trick, @KhalieLa .
     
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  13. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    A friend of mine, a computer science guy, once came up with a concept that would fix all this. As yet, it hasn't been done (he didn't know to do it, despite his years of experience) by anyone that I know of.

    It was the simple DWIM command... Do What I Mean. :)

    As far as I'm concerned, this is the Holy Grail of computer science.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2016
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  14. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    A second search for " he'" (space 'he' apostrophe) would take care of that.
     
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  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yup. And besides, the word whiskers (so called) we all use are the ones we won't think of looking for. :)
     
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, that occurred to me as well. I never thought to go through my MS looking for the number of times I used 'he' or 'she' or 'the.'
     
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  17. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    To seriously answer the OP: totaling up how many times you use a certain word is one sort of metric, but a pretty crude one. I think you should be more concerned with whether your prose sounds awkward, as a whole. It's not like there's any golden rule about "you can use this word 100 times, but not 101".

    I think that generally it's a good idea to re-read stuff you've written (several times) as part of the editing process. Among other things, overuse of certain words is something you would hopefully catch. And of course, you should have others beta-reading it as well, and they certainly should point out if overusing certain words is detracting (or maybe adding? who knows) to the quality of what you've got.

    I mean, if the words we say/write were capable of imparting our exact, unambiguous meaning to any potential reader/audience, then that would be the Holy Grail of pretty much everything, I think, not just CompSci. :)
     
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  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Nothing addresses this issue more quickly that reading your story out loud. Your own words will jar you if they are wrong, and you'll certainly pick up on an over-use. As @Robert Musil pointed out, it's not a mathematical situation. It's how many times you use a word when you should have used another one that counts. If reading out loud doesn't throw up any problems, you probably don't have any!

    One of the best writers in our face-to-face writers' group is a woman whose eyesight is impaired. Consequently, she has to use Jaws (a programme designed so blind people can use a computer) to write with, and the computer has to read her work back to her out loud. Her writing is incredibly lively and always runs smoothly. I know because I'm the one she chooses to read her offerings out loud at the meetings. I never have difficulty getting through any of it, even though I don't have the opportunity to read it through to myself first.

    I think her facility with the flow of her words might have a lot to do with her constantly listening to what she's written ...read back to her by an unemotional computer. If there is a problem with word choice, sentence structure, any kind of repetition, that robotic delivery will certainly bring it to the fore.
     
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  19. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Totally coincidental, yet apropos, this image just floated across my Facebook feed:
     

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  20. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    If you want to get really anal, computers don't DO anything, they just repeat what humans have programmed them to.
     
  21. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's an AI joke. I guess you'd have to be a coder to get it. ;)

    My bad. I'll stick to writer/language jokes on here from now on.
     
  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I actually downloaded a free piece of software that calculates how many times you use words in a manuscript and exports it into a spreadsheet for you. I used it in editing, because I thought it might show me what words I should be cutting. It does differentiate between he, he's, he'd, etc, and you can choose to ignore case or not.

    I'll dig it out and post the link later in case anybody wants to use it.
     
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  23. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    That'd be great, thanks.
     
  24. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    It's not you, it's me. Humor often goes over my head, and especially on the Internet it's hard to tell sometimes...
     
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  25. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think "he" is a problem in itself - I'm sure a substantial percentage of mine is "she" (female protagonist). For me, I know that "she" is going to appear in almost every sentence - but I try to make sure it doesn't START every sentence. Vary structure.
     
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