Saturday, May 24, 2014

Writing: The use of pronouns and who says what?

I think as a writer I'm noticing more and more grammar when I read. Today, I want to talk about two points which are different but still closely linked. The first is the use of pronouns and the second is who says what in a dialogue. I'm puzzled and annoyed at things I have been reading lately.

On the use of pronouns:
I use a lot of my "Frenchness" in my writing and it seems to me that in French, we use personal subject pronouns a lot more than "contemporary" English writers does. I don't know if it's a trend or not but I get really annoyed when I see the name of a character when there could be a pronoun. In the same way, if I have two male characters and I use "he" for both, people seemed to be confused about who does what, which feels like an aberration to me.
The characters aren't supposed to be differentiable only by their names, they are supposed to be differentiated by what they look like, what they wear, where they are in the room, what they are holding in their hands and what they are feelings.
They are different! 
I have the feeling that the extreme use of names in a single paragraph is robbing the reader from looking at the character in a general manner. It takes away dimensions of the character. The writer only has to put a name there and can forget about all the other elements that would give life to the character. 
I, personally, would rather use names only when things get really ambiguous.

Who says what?

Which leads us to "Who says what?" In an equally frustrating way, I can't figure out who is speaking in a lot of pieces I have been reading lately. Lines and lines of dialogue without tags and without a single change of vocabulary for the characters to be distinguishable from each other. Dialogue and action of different characters in the same paragraph, so you think x is talking but the tag belongs to y and then x is talking again or with it y this time, it doesn't make any sense. Sometimes, I feel so confused. But seeing other people's comments on the same piece, I also feel like I'm the only one. 
Am I really missing something? 
I would rather have some more tags, or break the dialogue with some motion than to have the reader needing to read everything three times and still barely manage to know who is talking. It is infuriating when the same authors have so many names in a single action paragraph. 

Once again, I'm not saying I'm doing it right but I'm saying that there is a problem here and I don't see any rules about when to use pronouns and tags to be clear.
So I'm going to give you mine:
1) When introducing a character, use his name three times then you can go with pronouns.
2) When adding a new character in a scene, use his name three times and use the name of the other characters once before changing to pronouns.
3) If you have more than 2 characters talking always use tags.
4) When a characters talks a lot without interruption, use tags for the other characters before and after him/her. And I hope you actually put a tag in the middle of the tirade.
5) When two characters are talking, if they don't have extremely different view points or different accents, use tags at least every three interactions.

And please, please, please, don't start all your sentences with a pronoun, have some variety. 
And please, please, please, if one person is talking and another is doing the action have separated paragraphs. I won't kill you to hit "enter" one more time.

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