In my last post I addressed how using too many exclamation marks in dialogue can negatively affect the reader’s experience. To catch the issue, I suggested that authors read their dialogue out loud.
While that was a post was about an overuse issue, reading your work—not just dialogue—out loud can also help identify another common problem I see in books that haven’t been professionally edited: underuse of pronouns.
Once in a while I encounter writing like the following, which is similar to the language in a book I recently read. Actually, that’s not accurate. I gave up reading after about 50 pages because I couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve changed enough words to protect the identity of the author.
In the following paragraph, Lucy is alone:
Lucy crossed her arms in front of her chest and sighed as she gazed out over the water, feeling sad and lonely. It wasn’t the first time Lucy had felt this way, but that didn’t make it any easier. There was just so much history there, and so much pain. Lucy knew she needed to move on with her life, but she just couldn’t.
I find it hard to believe that if the author of that passage were to read that paragraph out loud, she wouldn’t immediately realize how jarring it sounds to hear the name Lucy over and over again. It’s clear that the scene is about her, so it’s not necessary to keep repeating her name. After the first reference, a simple “she” will do just fine.
If that’s not making sense to you, think of it this way: When you tell a funny story about something your dad did when he was on a solo fishing trip, most likely you begin with “My dad was fishing by himself,” and from then on you’ll use “he” or “him.” There’s simply no reason to use “my dad” more than once because it’s not necessary.
Just like listeners to anecdotes about your dad, readers of your novel are smart enough to “get” it, so respect them! If not, they might not make it past the first 50 pages.
This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2017 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.