She said to him, "What are they doing over there?" He looked over, then responded, "Oh, them? I saw her with him the other day. They seemed to be chatting." She dropped what was in her hand on the table and said, "They gave me this the other day. I'm not sure what it is." He gasped and said, "That's where it is! They were looking for that the other day! You should give it back to him."
Today we're looking at pronouns. They can be incredibly useful tools in the English language, both in written and spoken situations. Pronouns keep things light and less bogged down, and we all use them without even thinking about it.
But pronouns can also be confusing. When too many of them are strung together, like in the passage above (which is just something I made up off the top of my head, and thankfully not anything I'm currently working on), suddenly the reader has no idea what is going on. Not only does it make it hard for the reader to understand who is speaking, but many times they lose focus on what is being discussed in the first place.
The overuse of pronouns is an easy trap for authors to fall into, and one I struggle with myself. As the writer, we know who is speaking and what they are talking about. We can even imagine the entire conversation in our head down to the smallest detail, so it's easy to write it in a way that makes sense to us. What we have to remember is that our readers aren't in our heads with us. They don't know who "he shrugged his shoulders in annoyance" is if we don't tell the readers who is annoyed. Pronouns are something we as authors need to be careful about, or we risk losing our readers.
My advice to you, and what I try to do myself, is to do a simple count. How many times do you use "he" or "she", and compare that to how many times you use their name. There needs to be a balance there. No, there isn't some magic formula or percentage, but it needs to be a good mix that flows well within your text.
Also, and this is almost more important than counting, is to have someone you trust read it for you. Again, not just anyone, but someone you trust enough to know they will tell you the truth. This is a topic I plan to cover in depth next week, but in essence what you want is someone who will actually tell you there is a problem, and won't just tell you its wonderful to please you. Find someone who will take the time to really look at it for you. A huge red flag is when that friend says, "Wait, who is this again?" You just lost them.
Listen to those friends, and understand that those comments are incredibly beneficial to you. Instead of rolling your eyes and saying, "Come on, keep up!", go in and fix it. If you've managed to completely confuse one person, chances are you are going to confuse more, and that isn't something you want. You want your readers to see the conversation as vividly as you do in your own mind. Pull more details out from your imagination and add it to the text. Again, your reader isn't in your imagination, so you have to bring it to them.
Happy writing, everyone!
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