Bad [Advice] From My Writing Past #16: Minimizing the Redundancy of He (2/12/2002)

Bad [Advice] From My Writing Past #16: Minimizing the Redundancy of He (2/12/2002)

Question asked by someone in a writing group:

Advice needed:

When I’m writing and am called to describe a series of actions on behalf of a character, all the while trying to keep the fluency of the story by not using redundancy, I’m faced with a problem.

If I’m writing out a series of actions that a character carries out, its virtually impossible not to use the words “he/she, his/her, character’s name” over and over again. The question is this: How do I refer to the character without sounding redundant or pompous by use of unnecessarily complicated references to the same character over and over again.

Perhaps I’m not the only one faced with this scenerio.

Help? 🙂


My response to them two days later:

There are many ways to do this. Let’s say, for example, that you want to write about the following set of actions:

Adam entered the moonlit room. He stood by the window. He gazed at the moon. He smiled.

One way to minimize the use of “he” is to combine the separate sentences into one. For example:

Adam entered the moonlit room, stood by the window, gazed at the moon, and smiled.

This works because “he” (as the subject pronoun) is a common denominator in the four similarly structured sentences.

However, an even better way is to vary the structure of your sentences; it doesn’t necessarily get rid of the “he” word, but at least it cushions or hides it. For example:

Adam entered the moonlit room and stood by the window. Gazing at the moon, he smiled.

This technique works because the offending pronoun or character name isn’t always at the front of the sentence, where subject nouns typically reside. It also breaks the pattern up so that the emphasis isn’t always in the same place.

Still better, break Adam up into parts and focus on the specifics. Like an entree, “he” as a whole is hard to digest repeatedly, day after day, regardless of what you call him. So take the ingredients that make him and create a different dish every time; try something like:

Adam entered the moonlit room. His feet planted themselves at the window, and as his eyes rose to meet the moon, his mouth curved into a wistful smile.

Getting my drift so far? I haven’t even finished yet.

Here’s yet another way to meet the dreaded “he, he, he” challenge dead on. Take a long, hard look at your words and your sentences. If your character (or parts of him) is making all the action in the scene, then the rest of the setting is too passive. For example, you could empower the surrounding environment and try this:

Adam entered the moonlit room. The window framed his body in a wash of pale light, as the moon outside met his gaze and smile.

Last, but not least (I’m sure there are many more ways, but I am hard put to come up with them right now), try getting rid of verbs you don’t need. For instance:

As the moon outside met his gaze and smile, the room’s single window framed Adam’s body in a wash of pale light.

Why did I get rid of “Adam entered the moonlit room?” One, he’s in the room, which implies he somehow entered it. Two, I was getting sick and tired of reading it.

😉 Crappy sample sentences, I know, but I hope this helps.

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