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Differing styles: pronouns or names?

Crumbly Writer

A new editor is saying the same thing my professional editor did when she replaced most of my pronouns with names. However, I'm conflicted about this, since it runs counter to the 'never repeat words/phrases in close proximity'. It's clearer who's saying what, but I end up with the same name being repeated two to four times in a paragraph, and this is repeated throughout the book.

Since I don't get many complaints about readers being confused by who's doing what, I'm questioning whether this is a legitimate concern, or merely style over substance? Either way, I figured it was a topic that deserved airing here, so we could all weigh in on the pros and cons.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

When you mentioned this the first time, I asked the published authors on wattpad about it. They all said if the editor changed all pronouns to proper nouns, get rid of the editor.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

When you mentioned this the first time, I asked the published authors on wattpad about it. They all said if the editor changed all pronouns to proper nouns, get rid of the editor.

Context would probably help, here's one of the (most recent) segments, with the highlighted pronouns replaced:

He leaned in, waiting for him. Taylor fought the impulse to jerk away, letting Jacob kiss him. He was tense and rigid when their lips met. However, when they did, he found himself lost in the kiss. It was nothing like making out with cheerleaders. It was as if Jacob's soul rose up, entered him and flew around his stomach. Jacob's tongue ventured into his mouth where he welcomed it. His hands started roaming, running along Jacob's arms-which were surprisingly firm. He reached around and grasped his buns, which were nice and tight. He even flexed them for him, bringing a smile to Taylor's face.

As you can see, it's hardly every pronoun, and I'll admit, it does make it clearer, but again, it ends up with one name "Jacob", being used five times in one paragraph, while the other "Taylor", gets repeated twice. That's a lot of repetition!

I'm not about to fire the editor over this, as he's got some excellent suggestions, but his is a more general question about priority, specifically, how much repetition is justified to make a passage clearer, and whether readers even notice repeated words/phrases/names?

By the way, no offense to the editor, who I won't name here, as I'm not attacking him or questioning his suggestion. I'm interested in other authors' opinions about which techniques get prioritized when writing.

P.S. With my other editor, she again didn't replace every pronoun, but each time they were referred or quoted in a new paragraph, she'd repeat the name instead of expecting readers to remember who was last talking.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

I wasn't attacking the editor. The point I was making was the authors I asked said there's a place for pronouns. I thought you said he change ALL the pronouns to proper nouns. Sorry.

He leaned in, waiting for him. Taylor fought the impulse to jerk away, letting Jacob kiss him. He was tense and rigid when their lips met. However, when they did, he found himself lost in the kiss. It was nothing like making out with cheerleaders. It was as if Jacob's soul rose up, entered him and flew around his stomach. Jacob's tongue ventured into his mouth where he welcomed it. His hands started roaming, running along Jacob's arms-which were surprisingly firm. He reached around and grasped his buns, which were nice and tight. He even flexed them for him, bringing a smile to Taylor's face.


In the above, I find some of the pronouns left in by the editor awkward. Depending on what precedes this paragraph, I'd start with a proper noun. I bolded my changes below:

Taylor leaned in, waiting for him [maybe Jacob here depending on the previous paragraph]. He fought the impulse to jerk away, letting Jacob kiss him. He was tense and rigid when their lips met. However, when they did, Taylor found himself lost in the kiss. It was nothing like making out with cheerleaders. It was as if Jacob's soul rose up, entered him and flew around his stomach. Jacob's tongue ventured into his mouth where he welcomed it. His hands started roaming, running along Jacob's arms-which were surprisingly firm. He reached around and grasped Jacob's buns, which were nice and tight. Jacob even flexed them for him, bringing a smile to Taylor's face.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

His hands started roaming, running along Jacob's arms-which were surprisingly firm. He reached around and grasped Jacob's buns, which were nice and tight. Jacob even flexed them for him, bringing a smile to Taylor's face.


btw, I had a problem with the "roaming/running along" combination. The way this is punctuated, I would have left out the "started roaming" and replaced "running" with "ran." But that's because of the way it's punctuated. To keep your meaning, I'd change it to something like:

His hands started roaming, running along Jacob's surprisingly firm arms before reaching around him to grasp his buns, which were nice and tight. Jacob even flexed them for him, bringing a smile to Taylor's face.


I thought everything that had to do with the roaming should be linked in a single sentence. But that's me.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Taylor leaned in, waiting for him [maybe Jacob here depending on the previous paragraph].

The previous paragraphs are about Taylor's reactions to Jacob, as they negotiate their first encounter.

Yeah, I have a tendency to make excessive claims to make a point when presenting issues.

So you don't see the five (now eight) references to the same person in the paragraph excessive?

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


So you don't see the five (now eight) references to the same person in the paragraph excessive?


Clarity trumps mostly everything else. You don't want to confuse the reader or slow them down so they have to figure out what you meant. So any time that might happen, you need to be clear and use the proper noun.

See why mf is easier to write than mm or ff. You don't have to worry about pronouns confusing the reader.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

See why mf is easier to write than mm or ff. You don't have to worry about pronouns confusing the reader.

Unless you're writing a trans story, in which case either pronoun you use (all 32 of them) will be confusing!

Replies:   richardshagrin
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


A new editor is saying the same thing my professional editor did when she replaced most of my pronouns with names.


Clarity of the text is the aim. You do not need the name every time you mention someone, but you do need it every time you mention them after mentioning someone else. After that it's common to use the name the first time you mention them in the paragraph unless it's clear who it is from the previous paragraph.

In the text you quoted you have:

He leaned in, waiting for him. Taylor fought the impulse to jerk away, letting Jacob kiss him. He was tense and rigid when their lips met. However, when they did, he found himself lost in the kiss. It was nothing like making out with cheerleaders. It was as if Jacob's soul rose up, entered him and flew around his stomach. Jacob's tongue ventured into his mouth where he welcomed it. His hands started roaming, running along Jacob's arms-which were surprisingly firm. He reached around and grasped his buns, which were nice and tight. He even flexed them for him, bringing a smile to Taylor's face.

The first he at the start should be a name unless it's clear who it is as a carryover from the previous paragraph.

Then you mention Taylor, then Jacob then he again. At that point many would see it as Jacob being tense, but it could almost be Taylor was tense. Ambiguity - needs the name for clarity.

Second last sentence has he in a way that it's probably referring to Taylor in one and Jacob in the other usage, but I'm not sure which is which.

In this case I'd pick one character and use their name in most usages for them and he for the other for most usages after naming them. (edit to add) A common usage is to use he for the main character the action is focused on at that point.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
richardshagrin

@Crumbly Writer

Thirty two? I must have been asleep in class. He, she, it, they, you (and maybe you all with or without apostrophes), me and them are the ones I can remember.

Are we talking about Hir, Hem and other semi-generic neuter constructs? I still doubt there are 32 of them.

Grant
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

He leaned in, waiting for him.

...

He reached around and grasped his buns,


He/him, He/his makes it sound like he's doing it to himself. She/her, She/hers would make it sound like she's doing it to herself.

He/her, She/him wouldn't be an issue.

As it is it's just not clear who is doing what to whom, even with the sections that do have the names in them.

IMHO.

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


A common usage is to use he for the main character the action is focused on at that point.


That's sorta what I was doing, but admittedly, I wasn't being consistent about it.

@richardshagrin

Thirty two? I must have been asleep in class. He, she, it, they, you (and maybe you all with or without apostrophes), me and them are the ones I can remember.


My 32 reference refers to a recent New York Times article detailing the fight in academia to be more inclusive. They listed 32 separate pronouns the trans community was claiming (or was being claimed for them by academia) to describe possible variation. Of course, since no two institutions agree with one another, many of those were different names for the exact same circumstance.

@All, well, that answers my question. It has nothing to do with style, but is based on my overly confusing writing! Ha-ha.

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