Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mr. Cizak's Writing Tips #3 -- He Said, She Said

Here's something I see quite a bit of-- Pages of fiction with so many character names repeated that the whole thing looks more like a screenplay than a short story. Somewhere somebody got the notion that there's something wrong with pronouns. This is incorrect. If the reader knows who's speaking, we don't need to see the character's name. This is especially true when a conversation is taking place between a man and a woman. He said and she said are perfectly fine (I'll get to that adverb I just used in a future writing tip). Once a character's actions and place in a scene have been established, we only need to be reminded of his or her name if another character's actions have interrupted and momentarily dominated the scene. So, let's try an example:

Bill put his shoes on. "Baby, it's cold outside," he said to Marissa. Bill found his coat in the trunk, next to the corpse he'd been driving around. "I hate burying bodies in the wintertime."

Marissa disagreed. "I like how the wind keeps that dead body odor from attaching itself to your clothes." This didn't stop Marissa from bundling up as well. She also stretched, perhaps preparing her muscles for the brutal task of digging into solid ground all night. The last time they'd buried a body, Bill had complained of cramps, made her do most of the work.

Now this is all off the top of my head, so I may not be providing the best example. But in the first paragraph, we've established right away that this section is about Bill. Even though Marissa's name is mentioned, we don't need to remind readers that the male in the conversation is Bill unless something major changes. In the second paragraph, nothing major has changed. In fact, the first paragraph has set up the second paragraph so that no names need be mentioned at all, hence:

Bill put his shoes on. "Baby, it's cold outside," he said to Marissa. He found his coat in the trunk, next to the corpse he'd been driving around. "I hate burying bodies in the wintertime."

She disagreed. "I like how the wind keeps that dead body odor from attaching itself to your clothes." This didn't stop her from bundling up as well. She also stretched, perhaps preparing her muscles for the brutal task of digging into solid ground all night. The last time they'd buried a body, he'd complained of cramps, made her do most of the work.

Now that last sentence is tricky. There are some hardcore grammar folks who might say the three different pronouns violate some rule. They may be correct. But we're not writing for the elite. We're writing pulp fiction for people who actually have a pulse, and that sentence makes perfect sense to the average person.

When dealing with more than two people, or two people of the same gender, things get more complicated. Just remember, only repeat a character's name if not doing so will confuse the reader.


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