Author Topic: How do I reduce the amount of pronouns and proper nouns?  (Read 2992 times)

Offline ChonkyDay

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How do I reduce the amount of pronouns and proper nouns?
« on: June 16, 2014, 05:05:29 PM »
I'm writing the first draft of my novel, and I put up the first couple of pages for review. I've gotten a lot of great advice, but there's something that Pale Writer mentioned that really caught my attention.

Control your pronouns. They are not simply 'tags' and so should have reasons for being there.

This is something that I just can't fix in my writing no matter how much I try. I noticed that I also tend to use the characters' names a lot as well.

Out of 868 words, John is used 30 times, Freya is used 28 times, he is used 16 times, and she is used 20 times. That's 10% of my story filled with pronouns and proper nouns! The more I try to replace everything with different words the more it seems like I'm trying to be overly-poetic.

So here's my question:
How can I reduce the amount of pronouns and proper nouns that I use in my novel?

Offline 510bhan

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Re: How do I reduce the amount of pronouns and proper nouns?
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2014, 05:35:47 PM »
Do 'they' always have to complete the actions? Can't you imply mood/reaction/atmosphere by referencing things without the tags?

For example -- he doesn't have to look at the branches which whipped against the windscreen and he worried about the journey . . . just say the branches whipped against the windscreen. The night grew meaner and the drive ahead more perilous. Let the 'props' of description do a lot of the work to suggest what a character is doing, or is part of/feeling/seeing. You don't need to say: in front of him/her stood a man -- you can say a man blocked the path/way. :-\

The senses don't need to be used as direct reference to the sense and the sensation -- if you smell an aroma, well . . . I wouldn't expect you to smell a sound.

These are just quickies . . . not the best, but just an alternative which could be tweaked to sound decent. ;)

While smoke filled the air, eyes watered and noses dribbled.
Incense, fragrant and sweet, drifted near the candles at the altar.
A crunch on the gravel. A creak at the door. Out of place creepy noises, set arm hairs erect and pimpled skin with gooseflesh.
Salty broth, thick and hot, wobbled on the spoon. All it required was a gulp.
Rough sand and cold water provided the best exfoliation, well the cheapest if not the most glamorous spa ingredients. An afternoon on the beach did more work than an expensive hour or two in the salon.  

Offline Alice, a Country Gal

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Re: How do I reduce the amount of pronouns and proper nouns?
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2014, 05:47:21 PM »
Any time there are only two people speaking, especially if you have developed their characters well, you don't need name tags or even he/she said.

It will be clear who is speaking. Occasional if you want to be sure the reader is clear who is who, work in a bit of showing.

"What in the world is that horrible noise?" John jumped up from his chair and looked out the window to find the culprit.


Jane set a cup of coffee on the coffee table in front of John. "You did say two sugars didn't you?"

Just off the cuff examples - no one's story as far as I know.  ;)

Still, I think the best is to have well rounded characters. This will generally include different speech patters, word usage or something along that line.
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Offline ChonkyDay

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Re: How do I reduce the amount of pronouns and proper nouns?
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2014, 06:11:59 PM »
Wow. Why didn't I ever think of that? haha
That will get rid of about half of the pronouns. Thank you both so much.

Artemis Quark

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Re: How do I reduce the amount of pronouns and proper nouns?
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2014, 06:47:25 AM »
Sometimes the simplest solution is hiding in plain sight. Thanks for posing the question chajaja. I've wrestled with the same problem as I try to improve the dialogue in my story. Natural sounding dialogue can be abruptly derailed by those insidious tags.  ;)

And many thanks to Sio and Alice for showing us solutions that are easily applied.


Pale Writer

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Re: How do I reduce the amount of pronouns and proper nouns?
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2014, 06:55:02 AM »
I just woke up and am without a coffee but hopefully I can help explain.

When you are writing, don't worry about it. I say this because you should not let grammar interfere with your creative side. Once grammar is understood, it becomes part of your creative writing without intrusion. But until then, when editing, this is when you begin to hone your skills. So how do you remove pronouns and proper nouns, or rather 'only reduce' because there is nothing wrong with using them, it is only when they are not for the story that they stick out.

People here are probably getting sick of me suggesting to look in the past of the story and the future of the story to help edit the present, but it does help in many ways. It helps you see a larger area of action, an overall view rather than one line at a time which narrows.

It would be easy to show you with a piece of your writing. Hopefully today I'll have time to select a section of your posted piece and give an example.

The thing is... don't expect a full charging change right away. Expect bumps and wobbles until this new style has settled into your own style. When changing something in your writing it is often an uphill battle - habits are hard to break. But you have to be serious when trying, and want to. I'd say look up the uses of pronouns and noun, understand their full meaning, look at many examples in regards to writing. Most importantly - give your self and your writing time. Don't be discouraged.

Offline Annmarie

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Re: How do I reduce the amount of pronouns and proper nouns?
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2014, 07:23:53 AM »
To piggyback on Paley's post ---

This is your first draft, cha. It's great you want to improve the mechanics of your writing, but you can't do everything at once.

What is your goal in the first draft? Usually it's to just get the story down. Start, middle, end. Everything you think will go into it. It's your chance to let her rip, be free and creative without worrying about the words too much. The ideas matter more at this point. The writing is going to be crappy. Try not to let that bother you. Just get the story down so you can see the big things --- the character and plot development, the shape and structure of the story as a whole. I feel you have to get this stuff situated before you start fiddling with individual sentences.

Others work differently and would disagree with me. But I think you're better off finishing your first draft, and probably your second and third, paying attention to the big questions of writing before you start to fret about things like pronouns.

Fatigue comes easily in the long haul of writing a book. It happens even faster if you try to do too many things in your manuscript at once. Every draft should have one or two major goals. Down the road, you'll be at the point where your story and characters are solid and you can turn to editing.

Again, it's great you're asking the right questions about writing. The answers will simmer in your subconscious. But your story may not be at the point where you can concentrate on applying one particular editing technique.
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Pale Writer

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Re: How do I reduce the amount of pronouns and proper nouns?
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2014, 07:58:47 AM »
You piggy-backer :P

Annmarie is correct. When deciding to write it is easy to be overwhelmed by 'fixing everything' - don't beat yourself down.

I promised an example after I found a coffee, so this is something you can tuck into the back of your mind.

John pushed Freya back and glared. He knew that going to the big city would mean a two-hundred dollar road trip, followed by a one-thousand dollar stay at some low-grade motel and hundreds of dollars of food and souvenirs. Every time they went to Seattle John ended up spending so much money that he wasn’t able to spend any extra money for two months.

I would suggest looking up filtering. It is easy for me to tell you this and that, but if you look up the definitions and examples from different sites, you'll get a better overall view and work it into something you understand. Definitions are great but are only step one in understanding what it fully means.

John pushed away and glared.   ( I know who he pushed away because previously you had Freya pull him close - at this time it is John's actions that are important)

The big city meant a two-hundred dollar road trip.  -  'he knew' is understood because it is from his pov you are telling me from. Keep the focus on what's important.

Afterwards, John would be broke.  -  I know from what, I know who, I know why. So move the story forward and tell me the result.


From what I've seen in this section it is because you mostly lose focus trying to over explain the scene, not relying on the reader to comprehend from their own experiences. You should never depend on a reader to understand, but you can rely on their experiences to save you words. This will help you lessen those pronouns/nouns.

Keep in mind, the examples I have given are from how you write and how I modified - which may not fit into your writing as of now. With any critiques or suggestions take the time to look into what they say, find the reason, understand the reasoning (either against or foe  do no close your eyes)

Often readers don't mind these little things, they skip over a lot of what we writers worry over. One could say 'why bother then?' but there are many levels of writers and writing - so it is up to you to choose where you wish to stand.

Don't try to fix everything at once - your writing and story will suffer. Just file away problems you wand to address, and then beat them one at a time.

best writing to you


Offline ChonkyDay

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Re: How do I reduce the amount of pronouns and proper nouns?
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2014, 01:47:28 PM »
You guys are making me feel like such a noob. :p

I always forget to just let some things go in the first draft. I just like everything to be perfect and proper. Anything less feel inadequate to me. I think I'll take your advice and just set two goals for the first draft: tone and story arcs.

The advice about filtering was great by the way. I never realized that that's what filtering is. I'll be sure to keep all of this advice in the back of my mind :) okay back to writing.