In this session of Copyediting with Keli, I’m looking at the use of pronouns vs. proper nouns in fiction when used to identity a main character.
As I learned from those who gave me feedback on my early manuscripts, the overuse of a character’s proper name can become distracting. Here’s a good bad example I wrote as an illustration.
Katie strolled down the street, enjoying her day off. The tantalizing scent of peach pie drew Katie into the corner café.
Minutes later Katie sank her fork into the flaky crust, savored the sweetness of the fruity filling, and asked herself why it had taken her so long to indulge in her favorite dessert.
When read aloud, such overuse of proper nouns often becomes apparent because we hear the repetition. Training ourselves to recognize this type of redundancy on the page can be a bit more challenging, but doing makes our stories more pleasing to our readers.
Here’s the example with pronouns used in place of proper nouns whenever possible.
Katie strolled down the street, enjoying her day off. The tantalizing scent of peach pie drew her into the corner café.
Minutes later she sank her fork into the flaky crust and savored the sweetness of the fruity filling. Why had it had taken her so long to indulge in her favorite dessert?
By using pronouns in place of unnecessary proper nouns, I avoided their annoying overuse of Katie’s name. In addition, I deepened the point of view, or POV as we writers say.
Using a character’s name repeatedly lends an authorial, narrative tone to our writing. Replacing proper nouns with pronouns whenever the character being mentioned is clear serves to deepen the POV, making a reader’s connection to the character stronger.
In addition to switching proper nouns to pronouns, I eliminated one pronoun—herself—by turning a line of exposition into a question. Since we’re in Katie’s POV, I can simply have her ask herself the question rather than telling the reader she’s doing so. This technique serves to deepen the POV and eliminate telling, thus being what I think of as a two-fer, meaning a two-for-one special.
By replacing proper nouns with pronouns whenever possible, we end up with stories that flow better and keep from bugging our readers. That’s another two-fer, wouldn’t you say?
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