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I'm describing a creature in my story, and I'm worried I'm using the word "it" too much. Is there a substitute I can use for the word? Can I keep using it?

Beady eyes look back at him, inky and devoid of any emotion. The creature’s head is small and round, flesh green and sickly-looking. Its ears are long and thin, and its nose is nothing more than two penny-sized holes. Its mouth is open, sharp yellow teeth bared in a ferocious growl.

  • You're certainly overusing the word "and" in your question. – BSalita Aug 12 '18 at 7:57
  • This is an area for the application of AI. Wouldn't it be great to have a website or word processing plug-in that analyses your work comparing it to known great literature. The output would show metrics such as overuse of "its", "and", "is", "was" and a myriad of other literary nits. – BSalita Aug 12 '18 at 8:12
  • @BSalita If the Hemingway App doesn't already do that, I'm sure a rival website does. – J.G. Aug 12 '18 at 11:27
  • @J.G. Thanks. I didn't know about the Hemingway app. Looks very helpful. – BSalita Aug 13 '18 at 12:34
  • @chris-sunami I don't think the title change from "Am I using" to "Is it possible to use" is a good change; it changes the meaning of the question too much. It may be possible to use "IT" too much, but in the example provided, it is not used too much. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Aug 13 '18 at 16:29
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Very common words such as it are almost impossible to overuse, especially in such a short description. (Many writers err due to trying not to repeat a common word. For example, just look at synonyms for said in many dialogue tags.) It's not like the word you're repeating is ukulele. Besides, your description reminds me of one so good to have become very famous:

But who is this creature with terrible claws

And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws?

He has knobbly knees, and turned-out toes,

And a poisonous wart at the end of his nose.

His eyes are orange, his tongue is black,

He has purple prickles all over his back.

Oh help! Oh no!

It's a gruffalo.

As a reader, do you mind the he/his count?

  • Yeah, people often think 'oh, I can't use 'it' or 'he' so much or it'll be boring', but it's like they forget what it's like to be a reader themselves. – Matthew Dave Aug 12 '18 at 11:27
  • while you have a good point, I'm not sure if verse is the best example. After all, it's somewhat defined by subverting normal word-use structures. – Display name Aug 15 '18 at 12:12
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    @Orangesandlemons I wish i could think of a useful prose example, but by definition it would have to be one that's memorable almost word for word; the point here is this kind of thing slips under the radar. What I do know, however, is I've often encountered sitcom dialogue that would meet the desired purpose, if I could just remember it. – J.G. Aug 15 '18 at 14:44
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You are not overusing "it" or "its", the only thing to worry about with pronouns is ambiguous reference; which I don't see in your example.

An ambiguous pronoun reference: Normally a pronoun refers to whichever the previous noun was. A noun is a person, place or thing, and it gets confusing when a single pronoun might refer to more than one such noun.

This is particularly prevalent in same-sex interactions, multiple girls having a conversation or multiple boys having a conversation. While it may be clear in the author's mind that despite the lack of nouns, the first "her" refers to Linda, the second "her" refers to Gina, and the third "her" refers to Barbara, don't count on your readers being able to read your mind!

He hit him in the face, and he responded by kicking him in the knee, which caused him to fall ...

(Wait, who fell?)

When confronted with a slew of pronouns you have written, particularly in same-sex interactions, make a point of checking each one and seeing if it is ambiguous which character it refers to. If not, leave it alone; pronouns are processed almost subconsciously by readers; as long as they aren't ambiguous.

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Those are correct applications of the word "it" as "it" is normally the pronoun used for creatures that are not yet gendered (though I would say if you intend to show that the vicious monster is really a Mama Bear protecting her eggs, I would creatively dodge pronouns until you reveal the twist. Because now the creature has a gender and needs her pronouns. This is more consistency than any hard rule).

And believe me, I understand the struggle of using it way to much. I once wrote a short story about a monster that was so fearsome that there was no real word to describe the thing. The villagers who were menaced by the beast refereed to it as "It" because they had no better words (the twist of this story was that the story is that the villagers were not adults, but kids who were imagining themselves in adult roles during their playground antics... and the monster was literally It... as in "Tag, You're It".). You have no idea how frustrating keeping your Its in check when your pronoun is also your proper noun.

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It is possible to use 'it' too much, though you don't seem to have trouble with this in this instance. Instead, I would recommend varying your sentence structure. If you are worried about using a pronoun too much, just go back and read how many times you used it in the paragraph. If you are using it more than two times per sentence for several sentences in a row, you could try replacing the pronoun with some of these: https://www.powerthesaurus.org/creatures/synonyms

You may have to pick and choose from that list, but some of the options are really good and may help you in future instances.

In general, if you feel you are using a word too much, just try a quick synonym search. It really doesn't take that long, and it can really pay off.

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