1. struggler
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    struggler Member

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    Using 'she', 'her', 'he', and 'his' WAY too much, help.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by struggler, Sep 14, 2012.

    Going over my novel I've discovered I've got this really big problem in with my writing.

    I use certain words WAY too much when describing what happens to a character.

    For example, in one page I counted I had used the word 'she' 20 times and 'her' 17 times, but I don't know what to do about it.

    Like what happens in this one page that I counted is about a girl who gets attacked and I use 'she' and 'her' when describing what happens. Like 'She did this' or 'she felt her tears run down her cheeks' etc etc.

    I just think its sloppy amaturish writing. But the thing is I LIKE what I've written in regards to everything else. It's just I can't seem to find a way of NOT using 'she' or 'her' or 'he' and 'his' all the time.

    Thoughts? Advice?
     
  2. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am not an experienced or skilled writer.

    However, I find that one thing I do a LOT when rewriting is swapping character names for 'he', 'she', 'him', 'her' and vice versa. I try to balance not repeating the name too much or unnecessarily, versus confusing pronouns that the reader may have difficulty attributing. Generally after ten rewrites, I'm happier with the balance.

    I'm not sure how you would find difficulty in not using 'she', 'her', etc. all the time as you can just swap in the name. Maybe you're writing stories where this is more difficult than the ones I write.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    The first time I tried to get a novel published, one of the comments I got back on my ms was that I repeated character names much too often. Repetition of pronouns is far less egregrious, I think.
     
  4. TrinityRevolution
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    TrinityRevolution Member

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    It is so frustrating!!!

    I encountered the same problem, I had waaaaaayyy to many he and she's, but to me it sounded OK, but I know it's not good enough.

    You really have to mix up your sentence structure to cast them away.
     
  5. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Pick out every sixth pronoun and replace it with the object or character in question's proper name. Instead of saying "it was round", say "the manhole was round".

    Another trick I use is that if a character features prominently in a scene, there should be no more than four lines(excluding lines cut off halfway by paragraphing) between each mention of his or her name. This helps to keep him or her at the forefront of the scene and avoids pronoun spam.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there are various ways to avoid boring repetition... post a couple of your paragraphs and i'll give you some examples...
     
  7. wardwolf
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    wardwolf Member

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    I am by no means an expert, but I think if you run into problems with too many "she"s and "her"s you may want to try changing the sentence structure.

    I wouldn't even say you simply should replace every she and her with the characters' names, but maybe instead of:

    "she looked down and saw her feet dangling and she desperately wanted to remove the chains from around her wrists."

    You could say: "Dani's feet dangled high above, and swayed in the wind, held fast by chains that wrapped around each wrist. A sense of urgency took over."

    Or something like that, hopefully you get what I'm alluding to.
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Lots of novice writers have this problem. Just rephrase the sentence so that things happen without stating that the character experiences the things happening. For example, "she felt tears run down her cheeks" becomes simply "tears ran down her cheeks." You can have tears running down her cheeks without telling the reader that she felt them, if you see what I mean. Don't say "she watched the hawk circle above," just say "the hawk circled above." We'll assume she watched it, otherwise, how would she know what it's doing?
     
  9. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    Get rid of "she felt" and "she saw" and "she thought she heard" and things like that. Tears ran down her cheeks. You still have a 'her,' but at least you get rid of a 'she.'


    If you're going to replace the name with a descriptive identifier, just use one. For example, Mary could also be "the older woman" or "the teacher," but the reader has to be able to easily identify who that is each time.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have trouble explaining how to eliminate those words, so I'll offer an example. First, a fake sample paragraph, with a deliberate and painful excess of "she" and "her":

    She couldn't find a way out. She tried the door, but it wouldn't open. She shook it, but it was so tight that she didn't even hear it rattle. She saw a window, and saw that a bureau was located beneath it. She climbed on the bureau to reach the window. She saw that it was secured with iron bars, so she climbed back down. She shouted through the door. She climbed on the bureau again and she shouted through the window. She climbed down again, but this time she fell and hurt her knee.

    She felt horrible - she had a pain in her knee and a rawness in her throat from all of her shouting. She started to cry. She felt tears run down her cheeks as she sat down against the wall. Finally, she closed her eyes. She tried to calm herself. She needed to think.

    A rewrite with perhaps excess scrubbing out of "she" and "her":

    There was no way out. The door was locked, and wouldn't even rattle when shaken. The window, secured with iron bars, was accessible only by climbing on a bureau. Shouting through the door, then the window, then the door again, produced no result beyond a nasty fall from the bureau.

    Face wet from tears, throat raw, knee throbbing from the fall, she sat down against the wall and closed her eyes. Time to stop panicking and start thinking.

    Commenting on my own rewrite--for a reason, I promise--I think that the first paragraph of the rewrite may feel a fraction more distant from the character than the original paragraphs are. But I believe that this is largely because it's closer to narrative summary; I could probably slow it down and make it much closer while still avoiding the "she" overload. As it is, it seems to function as a sort of summary memory.

    The second paragraph, on the other hand, takes us closer to her than do either of the paragraphs of the first example, and provides a path into a paragraph that dives into her thoughts. IMO, of course.

    That might seem irrelevant to the question of how to avoid repeating a word, but I think that it is relevant to the class of words that we're trying to eliminate. Every "she" or "her" signals that we're _outside_ the character, and adds distance. Every time we describe the environment without those words and without tying them to the character's senses, we get closer to being inside her mind, rather than standing outside her and catalogueing her actions and feelings.
     
  11. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you Chicken Freak for that example. The next time I write (hopefully today sometime) I'm going to experiment with writing in that style, with much less use of names and pronouns.
     

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