The overutilization of protagonist names and pronouns--and cupcakes

A common, first-manuscript-page mistake: referring to what your protagonist is doing so much that your first page soon reads like (if you have a female protagonist named Jane):
  • Jane didn't like Mondays.
  • She rolled off her bed.
  • She had already eaten all of the cereal.
  • Because it always had mold, she disliked her shower.
  • She toweled off and put on her shoes.
  • She thought shoes were the most important part of an outfit. 
  • Today, Jane wore gladiator pumps. 
  • She was looking forward to meeting her boyfriend. 
  • After turning off the light, she picked up her bag, and left her house.
  • She got into her Prius, gunned the engine, and promptly flattened a squirrel.
  • She disliked squirrels.   
  • That said, the homeowners' association, of which Jane was a member, would not be pleased about scraping squirrel off the asphalt. 
  • She frowned. 
  • Reapplying her lipstick, Jane screeched over the center dividing island--after all, what else was four-wheel drive for?--and pulled into her favorite parking space. 
It's not even that so many sentences begin the same way--or that many are of similar length and rhythm, which is another thing to avoid--it's that your fictional world will automatically be fuller if you describe things without always attaching them to the protagonist. (That is, without doing the fiction equivalent of writing "I think" before every statement in an essay.) No bueno. 

Use your handy-dandy CTRL-F button (or Apple-F on a Mac--that button is called "Apple," yes?) and count how many "she/he"s and protagonist names there are in your first page. Give yourself a point for each (ideally, you'd have the smallest number possible), plus a mini-cupcake. (I would say a shot, but that will not help.)

Then eat said mini-cupcakes as you find new ways of describing your fictional world. 

Today's submission? 14 points. Ouch. More than a dozen. My teeth hurt.


Yat-Yee said...

Teeth hurting is just a precursor to what is even worse: waist and thigh expanding!

Yes, point taken as well.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Ouch! You make a great point, Gatekeeper. Although, that cupcake does look pretty tasty.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Great post. I think the first time I ever tried to write a piece of fiction in high-school, it sounded like that! :)

Oh and ... is there any cup cake left for me??? I'm such a sucker for sweets ...

Ally said...

Six weeks and counting of no sweets, and now there are teeth marks on my mac screen.

Thanks for that, Gatekeeper.


Connie said...

Hmm. I need to pull out my WIP and check.

Susana Mai said...

I think that absolutely has to do with varying sentence structure, etc. But sometimes it's so hard to get out of the character-focused rut. For me, it's first person that's especially hard--I think we all tend to think of the world in terms of ourselves.

Gwen Hayes said...

I, I , I write in first person.

Iapetus999 said...

First Name: 4
She: 9
Her: 15
I: 1


All my character does is stop working and pull out a letter from her pocket.

But I'm kind of wondering what the alternative is. the F do you gun a Prius exactly? Won't it explode or something?

Chris M. said...

1 on Page 1, 6 in Page 2 (And in looking over Page 2 I saw some that could easily go)

Lindsay N. Currie said...

Can I still have the mini cupcake or at least a handful of M&M's if I admit to occasionally being a protagonist pronoun overutilizer? Awesome post - I guess writing is like dieting. . . everything in moderation.

Agency Gatekeeper said...

lapetus999 makes a very important point: it is important to be accurate in your descriptions, as well as amusing. Having never driven a Prius--Gatekeeper is a threat to self and others and, therefore, seldom drives--I wouldn't know. I imagine flooring it would do...something?

Agency Gatekeeper said...

Another important point: be sure, in your sentences, you know who is doing what. So, that sentence should have read, "While driving, Gatekeeper is a threat to self and others." Seriously. I think all those Red Asphalt videos psyched me out. Freeways? No thank you.

Stef Kramer said...

AG - these are wonderful, helpful posts! Thank you much.

Moses said...

Thanks for these posts. I mentioned them on my blog today for my daily "Passion for Writing" feature.

samsara said...

What about later pages, when the story gets more complicated? How vigilant should we be then?

Matthew Rush said...

I have no idea what a gladiator pump is ... but it sounds like a really sexy shoe for kicking ass and taking names. Is that close?

Denise Friend said...

Yet again, something I've never thought about. I knew that too many, her's, she's and names were a problem. Your post has pushed me in the direction I need to go to correct them. Thanks so much!

HowLynnTime said...

Thanks for the tip. She is a good one I think and she she is thinking. Sorry, that cup cake Really looks GOOOOOOD! I think I better use pickles for my novel, cupcakes may have an unhappy ending.

RaShelle said...

Damn. Cupcakes rock. Checked out the WIP and realized they don't rock that much. Thanks for the head up. ;D