My WIP’s Fourth Revision
I will continue to use a discarded scene from my First Draft as an example for editing. A prior post includes the original text alongside edits of the verb BE, one with edits to filters, another editing adverbs, plus this one This time I will start with the edited version and then look at pronouns.
When I ran ProWritingAid I discovered I use more pronouns than recommended. They suggest starting no more than 40% of sentences with them, and using no more than 40% of them in total. And I had no clue I did this, or that it was bad.
Why is overuse of pronouns a bad thing. The best answer I could find on the internet was confusion over who did what. But that wasn’t really my problem because I’d been pretty strict about assigning proper names where it mattered.
No, my problem was different. I’ve not found a term to describe my problem on the net so I will have to stumble through an explanation. I have over described who is doing something and I think the danger is writing this way doesn’t flow well and wears readers out because it leads to a list of things.
Helen walked across the room, swinging her hips, hoping her swaying skirt would catch someone’s eye, but none of them gave her even the smallest glance, so she dropped into her chair, folded her arms, and told herself it didn’t matter to her.
So, we have a 43 word sentence, of which 9 are pronouns, or about 20%. But we didn’t even need to do the math to know the sentence feels all wrong. If I had to wade through more of that kind of writing I’d never get through the story.
The sentence actually contains two thoughts. Helen walks across the room, then sits. So why don’t we break the sentence into two pieces, and then go to work on the pronouns?
Helen walked across the room, swinging her hips, hoping her swaying skirt would catch someone’s eye, but none of them gave her even the smallest glance. So she dropped into her chair, folded her arms, and told herself it didn’t matter to her.
Then let’s move away from the list of things and let her actions unfold in a less listy thing, if that’s even a word. Ha.
Helen walked across the room,
swinging her hips swinging, hoping her swaying skirt would catch someone’s eye, but drew not none of them gave her even the smallest glance. So she After dropping ed into her chair, arms folded her arms, she and told herself it didn’t matter to her.
Helen walked across the room, hips swinging, hoping her swaying skirt would catch someone’s eye, but drew not
even the smallest glance. After dropping into her chair, arms folded, she told herself it didn’t matter .
So, now we are down to five pronoun and 35 words, just below the 15%, and our little passage flows better. Why? Because we stopped reminding readers that Helen was doing all these things. And, with just a little effort we could find creative and interesting ways to get rid of several more pronouns.
What I Tried To Do
As I offered up earlier, ProWritingAid suggests leading no more than 40% of all sentences with pronouns and trying to keep the overall count below 40%. There’s certainly nothing wrong with varying sentence structure to keep readers from becoming bored. And I suspect too many internal pronouns leads to those long, boring lists.
I turned, once again, to my trusty spreadsheet tool, and worked down the list. Sometimes I start from most common and go to least used, and sometimes the reverse. And, rather than dumping every pronoun on the list into the search bar, I put in just a few at a time so I can see the forest for the trees. That would give me the following – her (13), his (10), she (8), he (7), I (6), you (6), him (5), and seven other pronouns with three or less.
This writing exercise is much like water dripping on a stone. Just as water, bit by tiny bit, slowly wears stone away, looking at each pronoun made me view the sentence it was in as well as the paragraph. Many times I found a different, and more pleasing way to write a passage.
Scene = 430 (-12) words. TO BE’S = 1 (+1); FILTERS = 1 (0); NON -LY ADVERBS = 9 (+8); COMMON WORDS = 150 (-4); PRONOUNS = 49 (-16); SCORING = 0.40 (-0.41).
By reducing the pronouns we also brought the total word count down a bit, as well as chipping at the Common Words but our Adverbs popped back up a bit, as well as our Character Scoring.
How It Looked
|Unrevised With Common Words
||Revised To Reduce Pronouns
|Without seeming, Corston steered Running Deer into an alcove, off the main hallway. Nodding to Bright Star and Vitona, he turned his back, comfortable in the knowledge none would dare interrupt him, or try to eavesdrop.||Without seeming, Corston steered Running Deer into an alcove off the main hallway. Nodding to Bright Star and Vitona, he turned away
|His back became away. My change offered little, except it allowed me to delete a word.
Interrupt him, or try to became let alone. In removing the pronoun I also took out three total words.
|He regarded the source of his troubles. Running Deer stood half a foot shorter than his 5’ 9”, no one would ever mistake her for Grand Haran with her darker skin and glossy black hair. And carrying the Count’s child this deep into pregnancy enhanced her beauty and charm rather than detracting from it. And her animal magnetism continued to attract followers to her, the ones who called her Lashan Princess, but threatened many others who resorted to calling her the Lashan Witch.
|He regarded the source of his troubles. Running Deer stood half a foot shorter than his 5’ 9”, no one would ever mistake her for Grand Haran with
|Her darker became darkly tanned. I deleted a pronoun but didn’t gain any thing in the word count.
detracting from it became dimming it. This is a good example of looking at a sentence, checking the pronoun, and discovering a more interesting word, and deleting a word, but still keeping the pronoun.
To her went away, saving us two words without causing any confusion.
|“You’re looking as beautiful as ever, dear child, but I‘m rather astonished my sister, Ellana, would have bricked you in or whatever you do
||“You’re looking as beautiful as ever, dear child, but I‘m rather astonished my sister, Ellana, would let you roam free without
|Would have bricked you in became Would let you roam free without bricking you in. I saved no words, but found a more interesting turn of the phrase.
Whatever you do in confinement became whatever mysteries you conjure up in confinement. Again, no pronouns went away, and we added words, but the sentence is more interesting.
I must presume a matter became What is of such. We got rid of a pronoun, and led into the next paragraph with a question she could answer. Happily, the sentence is more interesting.
For you to risk her displeasure became for you to risk displeasure? And we got rid of a pronoun we didn’t really need.
|She patted her huge belly and made a face. “I wish my son to come out for I weary of this but time creeps by.” She clutched at that smooth agate with its swirls of green and blue. “Ebert.”|
|We moved the first sentence down and combined it with the third sentence, letting her answer his question directly.
I wish my son to come out for I weary, became I wish my son to come out. We eliminated a pronoun and changed up the sentence structure, and we got rid of four total words, always a good thing.
By combining the first and third sentences, we didn’t add any words, and we cut out three pronouns, while making the sentence more interesting.
|“Yes. Ebert.” Corston tapped the floor with his cane. “You did well, girl, to break off with him. I’m delighted you listened to—”||“Yes. Ebert.” Corston tapped the floor with his cane. “You did well, girl, to break with him. I’m delighted you listened to—”|
|“Make him stop.” She clutched at his sleeves. “He will listen to you, Uncle. I grieve for him for his hurt perhaps matches the pain in my heart, but he must stop.” She took a deep breath, eyes flashing. “Please?”||“Make him stop.” She clutched at his sleeves. “He
|We got rid of one pronoun by cheating with the MC’s speech patterns, substituting all for he
And in the next to last paragraph we changed up sentence order to add variety.
|Corston turned his arms, taking her hands in his. “Yes. Well, I suppose it’s time.” A month had passed since she broke with Ebert, but he showed no signs of coming to his senses. “I will, dear child.” He leaned and kissed her forehead.||Corston
|In the first sentence we tweaked words and cut three words, but no pronouns.
In the fifth sentence I tweaked a word.
|Then he motioned for Vitona and Bright Star and they
||Then he motioned for Vitona and Bright Star to shepherd
|In the first sentence, we eliminated and they steered with to shepherd which let me get rid of a pronoun, and substitute something closer to how I think her ladies in waiting would do. Steering is for a ship.
In the next sentence we changed carried herself with negotiated the hazards which eliminated a pronoun but gave back the word I’d just gain, while drawing attention to the MC rather than her ladies.
In the next sentence we did some rearranging and got rid of three pronouns, and we focused attention on how she changes people around her, which is always a good thing.
|Worry tugged at him. Until she bore a son, the Confederation amounted to little more than words with no physical reality. Given a chance, the heir might weave the two Peoples into whole cloth. But, Ebert threatened to upend everything, and his nephew’s love
||Worry tugged at him. Until she bore a son, the Confederation amounted to little more than words with no physical reality. Given a chance, the heir might weave the two Peoples into whole cloth. But Ebert threatened to upend everything, and his nephew’s love for the girl could not endanger matters of state. Corston would put Ebert’s interference to a stop.
Next time I will talk about repetition.