1. Manu Joseph
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    Manu Joseph Member

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    Use of He/She vs Character name

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Manu Joseph, Apr 27, 2014.

    Hi All,

    A new writer here. I was just writing my first novel and I had a doubt regarding the use of He/She. I don't know what is appropriate. Once you introduce the character and his name, is it a good practise to use He/She everywhere after, or should you continue naming the character often?

    Right now I am using He/She and starting to wonder if it is the right way to go because the number of sentences that starts with he/she is growing exponentially.

    What are you thoughts on this??
     
  2. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    Personally I only use names often enough to make it clear who I'm talking about.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say that in general, if the identity of the character is not ambiguous, the number of uses of their name should be limited. Every page or two, so that a reader who picks up the book knows who the action is about, but not over and over and over.

    However, I'm wondering if there may also be an issue with too many sentences explicitly identifying the character at all. I realize that your reaction may be, "What am I supposed to do instead?" I tried to write an example, and I seem to be in a non-fluent moment; I didn't like it. I'm going to wander off and see if I can find a past example in my old posts.
     
  4. Manu Joseph
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    Manu Joseph Member

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    The part I am writing right now is more of a monologue oriented one..and because of that the use of pronouns(he. him etc) are going out of hand.. hehe.. I am currently using the name sparingly, like once or twice in a page.
     
  5. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    If you're starting sentences with he or she often enough to notice it, yourself, and wonder if it's too often, you're probably telling the story from the POV of the narrator, ensconced comfortably on a bars tool, or speaking to a group at a campfire—being a storyteller in other words. And if that's what you're doing it's a problem, because verbal storytelling is a performance skill, where how you speak the words is as important as what you say. And your physical performance—body language, expression, and gesture—matters just as much. But they're skills that don't carry over to telling a story via the printed word, which is why we so often see the advice to show rather than tell.

    Look through the story. Every place where you see yourself explaining the events or story detail is a problem because readers want to be entertained, not lectured. They're not looking to be with you and learning plot details, they're hoping to be made to experience the events of the story in real time, and to feel the emotions of the characters, rather than learn that they occurred. It's a different way of approaching a story, dictated by the strengths and weaknesses of the medium.
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ha! I found the example I was looking for and rewrote it.

    Imagine that you started with the following "she"-filled paragraph:

    Mary shut the door and headed inside. She dumped her things on the couch on the way to the kitchen. She looked into the fridge and saw a bottle of Perrier. She checked the freezer and was pleased to see that for once, Joe had filled the ice tray. She got a glass and poured herself a drink. She sat down and drank it, then drank another one. Then she started thinking about Jane's problem.

    The problem with the paragraph isn't whether we say "Mary" or "she" or "the young woman" or "the blonde" or otherwise find different ways to refer to Mary. The problem is that we're referring to Mary too often. So we stop doing that, by cutting the explicit ties between Mary and the action:

    Mary shut the door and headed for the kitchen, shedding backpack, keys, hat, and newspaper on the way. Hot, hot, so _hot_ out there. The glasses were clean, the Perrier was cold, and Joe, for once, had refilled the ice tray. She dropped into a kitchen chair with a clinking, fizzing glass of bliss and drank it down, plus a refill, before considering Jane's problem.
     
  7. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    Please take note OP that this post from JayG is contemporary novel-biased. It is correct advice regarding the preferences of contemporary audiences in modern style novels, but is not unive apply to other forms of literature. I know you are writing a novel yourself and should consider what he says, but it often happens that people assume novels are the only form of literature and advice about them applies to everything.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2014
  8. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    Personally I enjoy stories told in literature in the form of stories told by a story teller. It is very much like how we hear things in our lives. Filtered by the telling and the biases of the teller. Presented in a way that is logical for the explaining of an event as well as revealing of it, rather than in a purely script-like way. In a way it makes it *more*, not less literary. If you believed JayG you would have to conclude that all the ancient classics are automatically bad, but from having read and enjoyed them, and enjoyed newly written things in this form, we must conclude that his analysis is incomplete.
     
  9. Manu Joseph
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    A part of the novel I am writing is from the POV of serial killer who is kind of a loner. That limits his interaction to other characters. That is why I am forced to tread the line between showing and telling.
    I am forced to use "He did that, he thought this, etc". Like ChickenFreak's initial example, I am not describing each and every motion but I do find myself describing his actions. One more reason I used He/Him is that I want the reader to get inside the mind of the character.

    And to the Contemporary novel vs Classics.. I think its a matter of who you are writing the novel for. Tastes differ. As for me, I am going for a racy page turner but with more insights into the mind of the character.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    While He/Him may be closer than, say, "Fred", it's further away than just communicating Fred's experience directly. That is, assuming that you're using close third person point of view, then the sentence:

    Fred reached out a hand to feel the radiator. It was hot.

    is more distant from Fred than:

    The radiator was hot to the touch.

    and

    Fred shook his head and thought about what an idiot Josh was.

    is more distant than:

    Fred shook his head. Josh again. What an idiot.
     
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  11. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    You should make it a didactic novel for no reason.
     
  12. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Nonsense. I'm talking about fiction, period. If I meant anything different I would have said it. No translation necessary.
     
  13. Manu Joseph
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    I get your point @ChickenFreak... Just as an example.. Here is an excerpt from the novel.
    A little context before that. The POV character is a serial killer who just killed his mother.

    He appraised the beheaded body lying on the table. Clothed in black dress with white polka dots and a belt around the waist, she looked like a mannequin from a departmental store, except for the red stains. The thought of cutting up his mother filled him with rage and not satisfaction. I hate that woman, he thought. The bloody butcher’s knife on the table brought back fond memories of his mother’s last expression before he beheaded her. She had that coming. Rigor Mortis, he looked that up on Wikipedia, had started to set in making it harder to move her body.He picked it up, put on an apron and began chopping up her body.

    This is what I meant.

    @MLM - I don't want to come off as preachy. I hate such books, you know which try to create fiction just to get a message across. The message should be subtle.
     
  14. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Based on what you posted it reads a great deal like a report. It's you telling about him and the situation, author-centric and fact based, which is the nonfiction writing technique we all learn in our schooldays. The problem is that it's dispassionate, and meant to inform. Fiction writing techniques are meant to entertain by making the reader feel, as against reporting how the character does.

    It's an entirely different way of presentation, emotion-based and character-centric.
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unfortunately, I have to agree that the sample scene is pretty distant from the character--it makes me feel as if it's a prologue that will shortly be followed with a scene from the main character's point of view.
     
  16. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    It could use more action. I'd try to streamline his thoughts to the essential elements, his hate and rage, and then marry those thoughts to the actions he performs for better flow and more impact.

    You should pick between either saying "he" or "I" all the time. Using both interchangeably is confusing. Either he explains what his own thoughts are or the narrator says what the external perceptions of his feelings are.
     
  17. Manu Joseph
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    Thanks a lot for all the feedback.. I've tried to rework the passage .. Please take a look and tell me if this is better

    The beheaded body on the table, clothed in black dress with white polka dots and a belt around the waist, looked like a mannequin from a departmental store, except for the red stains. He walked up to it, fixing his eyes at the space where her head should have been. His body wound up with rage as he reduced the distance between them. There will be no satisfaction here, just righteous indignation. He hated his mother for all the things she did to him. The bloody butcher’s knife on the table brought back fond memories of his mother’s last expression before he decapitated her. She had that coming. He picked up the arm which came up with some resistance. The body had begun to lock up. He must work fast or it won’t be easy cutting up a body once rigor mortis sets in. He picked it up, put on an apron and began chopping up her body.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    It's smoother, but I'm still feeling that distance. You seem to be standing next to the character explaining his thoughts, rather than being inside his head.

    For example, the sentence

    There will be no satisfaction here, just righteous indignation.

    Is this what he's thinking? Is he thinking, "I won't feel any satisfaction here, just righteous indignation" or any equivalent thoughts? Or is that coming from the narrator?

    Similarly, does he think of a mannequin when he sees his mother's body, or is that what an observer might think? Would he be so aware of the dress and its pattern, and the belt, that it overrides his perception of the woman as his mother? Unless that dress has some very substantial significance to him, or unless mannequins have some special meaning, those don't seem like his thoughts.

    The only part where I feel as if we're really in his head is "She had that coming." The rest feels like a dispassionate observer.
     
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  19. jannert
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    That's an excellent example, and a great way to illustrate the difference between telling and showing.
     
  20. Manu Joseph
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    Couple of questions
    1. In a third person POV, aren't you supposed to be standing next to the character. Wouldn't this give you the freedom to show the reader what the main character is feeling.

    2. There will be no satisfaction here, just righteous indignation.
    The character is saying/reflecting it in his mind. Should i be using tags like he thought to make it clear? or is there an altogether different way to put it? I can't use "I" since it is a third person POV.

    Excellent point about the character not noticing the dress patterns and everything in his emotional state.. I guess I was being the narrator there.. Ill try and avoid that.
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can still be "inside" the character, in close third person point of view.

    I hesitate, given the current thread about rewriting in reviews, to do my usual rewrite-in-my-own-voice-for-demonstration-purposes. But I can't find another way to explain. I'm just writing the following as something that is, if I've done it right, further inside his mind and further from the narrator's:

    He stood for a long time, watching her body. Watching its stillness. She'd never move again. Never hurt him again. Never control him again. He wondered which she would have hated the most--the loss of her life, or the loss of her abiity to control him. Causing pain was her lifeblood, after all, her reason for existing.

    "I learned that from you, Mom. I hope you're proud."

    He put on the apron, picked up the axe, and got back to work.


    I'm puzzled here, because "righteous indignation" seems like a rather unflattering description of one's feelings. It's rather as if he's saying to himself, "I'm having an irrational tantrum here." A person might think that--heck, I've had irrational tantrums--but it doesn't seem to fit the scene.

    BTW, my use of quotes above doesn't mean that you should use quotes for thoughts--I'm picturing him actually saying that aloud.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2014
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  22. Manu Joseph
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    Excellent.. I get your point... It looks like I have a lot of ground to cover.. hehe..
    One more question.. Although the POV character is not in an emotional state to notice things like the patterns of the dress, etc, is it ok to tell them anyways because it helps the reader visualize the scene better?
     
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In close third person, I'd say no. You are looking through the character's eyes, so if he doesn't notice, they shouldn't notice. You could of course try to find a reason for the dress to matter to him, but if no plausible reason comes to you, I'd say leave it out.
     
  24. JayG
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  25. Manu Joseph
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    Thanks a lot JayG that did help. Basically, I have to move the camera from outside the characters head to inside it.
     

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