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Recently, I've developed a habit of writing he/she/him/her and overusing the character's name at the beginning of sentences. For example:

Pandora ran through the snow, following the coughs to a small building that barely qualified as a house. There were huge holes in the sides, and embers danced on wood left behind. Inside was a man in a business suit with dirty hair setting a girl down. She coughed till she almost turned blue. This must have been the voice I heard.
The man looked around, anxious. "You're going to be fine." He consulted the child. He began to remove his jacket and wrap it around the little girl. A small smile fell on his face. "Now, I'm going to find some help. Just wait here."

She groaned in response as he left her in a small hidden corner. She sat there dazed before she looked to realize that this was real, that this was her life. "What is going on?" She cried, her whisper turning into a sob. Tears fell, tracing the curvature of the girl's face as she pulled herself into a tight ball. "Why did this have to happen to us?" Her hair fell in front like a curtain almost; As if to hide her from the world around her.

What grammatical and stylistic alternatives can writers use to avoid this problem?

  • I think this is a genuine writing question and belongs here. This is not a "what should I write" question. I'll try to make this clearer. – rolfedh May 31 at 17:42
  • @rolfedh Do we have a policy here about using straight quotes instead of the curly ones? Just wondering why you changed them – DM_with_secrets May 31 at 18:17
  • @DM_with_secrets I edited for consistency - so the question would use the same style of quotation marks. Previously, I believe there was a mix of straight and curly quotation marks. I don't know if SE has a policy one way or the other. – rolfedh May 31 at 18:34
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Firstly, I think pronouns and character names are some of the things that often stand out less to readers than you might think - they're easy to gloss over, in the same way as the word "said" after dialogue, which usually doesn't need replacing with a different verb.

However, sentence variety is important. It's possible that the problem you're seeing is too many sentences beginning with pronouns, rather than too many pronouns. One way to address this might be to rearrange the order of some of your sentences. For example, you could change the sentence beginning "He began to remove" to something like

Removing his jacket, he wrapped it around the little girl.

Now you don't have "he" at the start - but be careful, because any sentence pattern can become repetitive if overused.

Finally, the more pressing issue for me in this passage is that I'm a bit confused about what's going on. Is "I" the same person as "Pandora"? [Note: this related to an earlier version of the question - it is now clear that "I" is Pandora's thoughts]. I'm assuming so, and that the rest of the passage is about the man and the little girl that Pandora is watching (although in the last paragraph we seem to be in the little girl's perspective, which was a bit too abrupt a change in viewpoint for my liking). To help catch these issues, you could arrange with a friend to read and edit each other's writing. - but make sure it's someone whose writing skills you trust!

In that case, you could also make use of Acid Kritana's suggestion to replace some pronouns with nouns or noun phrases - you can get away with saying "the man" and "the girl" more often when it's coming from the perspective of someone who doesn't know who they are. Just be cautious about doing this when the viewpoint character does know. For example, if Pandora recognises the man as her friend Johnny, she's not going to talk about "the man", she's going to say "Johnny" and "he", and that's not a problem at all.

Good luck!

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    You had great insight and recommendations! I hope you don't mind my edits. I tried to make your points crisper and linked them to the original question. – rolfedh May 31 at 22:00
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    Honestly, it's getting to me a bit because it doesn't sound like me any more, but I know that's something I need to be able to deal with on a site like SE. (And it turns out the way to get a line-by-line critique is to post one's writing as an answer instead of a question!) But the only thing that's changed in terms of content is the addition of the suggestion about working with a friend, which is not necessarily a bad idea. Maybe the fact that this is a writing site is making it bother me more than usual, I dunno. – DM_with_secrets Jun 1 at 6:21
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    I've made a few changes, but not too many. And I'm trying to remind myself that this site is about giving people clear answers, and that an answer is not my writing "baby"! So what matters is the content of the suggestions, not whether the prose is in my "voice"... – DM_with_secrets Jun 1 at 6:30
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    @rolfedh forgot to tag... – DM_with_secrets Jun 1 at 7:42
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    @rolfedh Sorry, the more I think about it the less happy I am - I've rolled it back, but added your suggestion about asking a friend, thanks :) I hope that's not a problem. If you think it definitely needs to be less wordy, I'll have a go at that – DM_with_secrets Jun 1 at 10:27
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It does seem like a couple too many of pronoun usage, but using them most of the time wouldn't necessarily hurt. Just replace it with other words, such as man, and combine some sentences.

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