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She this ...He that
Yezall Strongheart
Posted: Monday, October 10, 2011 12:28 AM
Joined: 10/8/2011
Posts: 15

After finishing a paragraph I read it over and I have used the word she or he way too many times at the beginning of a sentence.  How are the ways to avoid that?  Do you use an action to start a sentence?

L R Waterbury
Posted: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 5:48 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 60

The most obvious answer is to use the character's name instead of the pronoun, though that too can get repetitive. The trouble is, I can really make any concrete suggestions without knowing the context of the issue, i.e. read the paragraph and know the story. Personally, I sometimes get around the 'too many pronouns' issue by using noun/descriptor combinations. For example, "The elderly gentleman..." or "The surprised girl..." or "The blond sister..." I think you get the idea.

Then there's the serious surgery approach: rework the entire paragraph. I've done that on multiple occasions, so many multiples in fact that I can't count them.
J Boone Dryden
Posted: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 12:08 AM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 42

I think one of the best ways to avoid using "He" or "She" or some other noun or pronoun to start the majority of sentences is to use subordinate or dependent clauses.

For example:

Noun first -- "John went to the store at 2 in the morning, because he was unable to sleep."

Dependent clause -- "Unable to sleep, John wondered to the store at 2 in the morning..."

It can easily be a matter of varying your syntax.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 3:53 AM

Too many lines beginning with she or he? The problem is simple. I’m betting that you’re describing instead of showing. Look at your story and I’m betting that it will primarily be a series of declarative sentences telling what happens next in the scene you’re visualizing. It’s how we’re taught to write, and works well for reports and verbal storytelling, where you can place the emotional portion of the story into the delivery of the words, as against presenting just the words, themselves.

But look at how we live our lives. Something catches our attention and becomes out focus. We decide if it’s worth paying attention to, and if it is, what to do about it. For example, a pebble hits our window. We don’t just get up and look, we first decide what it was, and if it was someone’s deliberate act or the wind picking up. And if it is thought deliberate, we analyze the possibilities.


1. John heard the tap of a pebble on the window so he went to see who threw it.

That’s a report. It happened and we know it happened. Make it a more serious event and it becomes: “John heard the tap of a pebble on the window. He thought it an odd happening so he decided to look from the kids room. He took his pistol with, just in case.” It’s more detailed but it’s still a report.

2. A sharp rap at the widow brought Jack out of his book. A pebble? He glanced at the clock. Who could be tossing a pebble at this time of night? No one. Yet it hadn’t had the sound of windblown debris. The obvious thing to do was turn out the light and go to the window, but maybe the best thing to do was to avoid the obvious? Given the strange happenings of the past week it might be better to slip into the kids room, where the light was already out, and take a look. Decision made, He dropped the book on the table and took his pistol out of the drawer. It was probably nothing, but still, better to be cautious.

Notice several things.

• There’s more of a feeling of time passing.
• We’re not told what he did, he decides to do it, based on what we already know.
• For each “he” line there’s thought and decision going on to give the feeling that he’s not just reading a script and doing as he’s told.
• We always know why he acts.
• Although I’m telling the story the POV is his, in real-time, and the scene clock doesn’t stop so I can talk about him.
• In passing, without the author having to list them as facts, we learn that he’s reading, that funny things have been happening, that it’s night, and late. Mentioning that he drops the book says he thinks what happened is serious. It sets the stage for him taking the pistol.

It’s much more immediate, and exciting, if the character is living their life in the same way the reader does.
Yezall Strongheart
Posted: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 11:42 PM
Joined: 10/8/2011
Posts: 15

All great answers! I will be able to figure an alternative way of building my sentence. Thank to you all for being so helpful.

@Jay Greenstein, you hit the nail on the head, I'm describing not showing.
Rommel Luna H
Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012 2:06 PM
Joined: 1/20/2012
Posts: 12

Just one more note on this (for whoever is reading - last reply was 3 months ago!), be careful not to be over-conscious of the pronouns.
Sometimes is perfectly fine to use a number of pronouns in a paragraph, but once we "notice" them, they become sore spots to our eyes. I guess it is the way the human brain works.
Although Jay's techniques are awesome in case you really want to get rid of them.

Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 4:49 PM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

I agree with Jay's technique and Rommel's comment. I just wanted to add that overusing pronouns becomes problematic because information is constantly filtered through the characters' POV. Not only does sentence structure become monotonous but emotion and suspense eviscerate as a result. The problem is not the repetition itself but the distance it may create between reader and story.

It's all about varying your sentences!

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