Paragraph Writing: Overuse of Pronouns
I’m working on revisions for my new book, “Red Satin Ribbons,” in a vigorous attempt to complete it. Days ago I remember shutting down my computer with the odd feeling that something was wrong with the first chapter. It was flat. After wrestling with it in my sleep, I came to the conclusion that although I had an action-packed opening scene, no way a reader would come away with a feeling of knowing this guy. I’ve addressed this issue and I think I’ve come up with a solution.
However, while proofreading the chapter one last time before I moved on to chapter 2, something stood out. I had overused the pronoun “he.” I had no idea how to go about solving this new dilemma. So, I searched the internet and found the answer. The website noted above gives an example, then below it is another example of how the writer corrected the issue.
Below, I’ve included a small portion of chapter 1 of my new book. The first is how it was originally written. What comes next is the rewrite that shows a reduction in the pronoun. But in my third and last example, I’ve cleaned up my muddled mess.
I hope this will be of help to all of you who aim to write well.
Example 1 – As originally written – Approximately 11 “he” pronouns
Red Satin Ribbons
Yesterday, bright sunshine gave Glenwood Canyon life, but it lacked the defiance and ferocity Robert craved. Today, the hazy, damp, cold atmosphere encouraged the canyon’s nasty attitude. Instead of waters along the riverbank barely covering the tops of his boots, as it had the day before, it swallowed Robert’s ankles. Rough, violent currents thrashed and formed white foam, heightening Robert’s need to whitewater raft one last time before he headed home to Seattle. But he had to hurry. The sky had settled into motley shades of gray and it darkened with each passing minute. He gazed at the heavens and estimated that in about two hours rain would spoil his plan to enjoy the river if he didn’t get moving.
Up for the challenge, he hurried to the river’s edge and looked to his left to make sure no one had launched their raft. His heart pounded and it’s then that he realized he was as giddy as a school boy.
Example 2 – First Revision – Approximately 14 “he” pronouns
Red Satin Ribbons
Yesterday, bright sunshine brought Glenwood Canyon to life, but the rushing river still lacked the defiance and ferocity Robert craved. Today, it roared. The hazy, damp, cold atmosphere encouraged the canyon’s rage. Violent currents thrashed its banks while majestic sandstoned walls towered over it. Instead of waters along the riverbank barely covering the tops of his shoes as it had the day before, they swallowed Robert’s ankles. With tight-clamped jaws, he ground his teeth. He wanted the canyon to manhandle him before he headed home to Seattle. But he had to hurry and get started. The sky had settled into motley shades of gray and it darkened with each passing minute.
Up for the challenge, he strapped on his helmet then looked to his left to make sure no one had launched their raft. His heart pounded and that’s when he realized he was as excited as a schoolboy—a feeling he hadn’t experienced since February 14th.
Example 3 – Second Revision (but still a work-in-progress) – Approximately 7 “he” pronouns
Red Satin Ribbons
Yesterday, bright sunshine brought Glenwood Canyon to life, but the river still lacked the defiance and ferocity Robert Jaeger craved. Today, the aerodynamics engineer thought it roared with a vengeance. The hazy, damp, cool atmosphere encouraged the canyon’s rage. Violent currents thrashed its banks while majestic sandstoned walls towered over it. A hawk soared. The young man followed the bird’s movements for a moment then examined rough waters sloshing at his feet. Twenty-four hours ago, the riverbank barely covered his shoes, but now waters rose above the ankles. The uptight twenty-seven-year-old wanted the canyon to manhandle every muscle in his body before he headed home to Seattle. Near the end of this excursion, he expected to become a power-rowing machine while whitewater rafting through the canyon. For that to happen, Robert had to hurry. The sky had settled into motley shades of gray and darkening by the minute.
Ready for a challenge, Robert strapped on a helmet then looked left to make sure no one had launched their raft. His heart pounded; jaws tightened. He hadn’t experienced any excitement since February 14th–the day Christina died.
Though this is much better, it is nowhere near perfection. It will be by the time you get your hands on the book. Well, let’s hope so.
February 16, 2017
NOW, after months of working on this story, read what I consider the “final” version of the first paragraph of chapter 1:
Robert Aaron Jaeger came to Glenwood Canyon out of desperation. Christina’s death had squeezed the life right out of him, leaving him widowed, wanton for companionship, and a single parent to a hyper-active four-year-old. According to the tabloids, the twenty-eight-year-old was wasting away and on the brink of suicide. Columnists from Seattle’s Celebrity News plastered his sunken, frail face on the front page and mocked the bags under his eyes. Reporters taunted him for dodging interviews, for missing high-profile charitable functions, and found immense pleasure in exaggerating his new reclusive lifestyle. It occurred to Robert more than once that these morbid stories had escalated in recent days, but he didn’t have enough energy to put an end to it. On several occasions, he publicly shrugged off rumors of suicide. No one needed to know how close he’d actually come to taking his own life.
Though this version has 10 pronouns, it reads much better.
P.S. After posting this writing tip, someone shared with me a website that offers audio options so that you can hear your text read aloud. It’s free. http://fromtexttospeech.com/
Donna B. Comeaux