Thursday, March 26

Day Twenty-Six: Clarify Ambiguous Pronouns

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Twenty-Six of Fiction University’s Month-Long Revision Workshop. Over the last month we’ve been working on the larger revision issues and ignoring the specifics of the text (in most cases). Our stories are now solid, our structure and various story arcs are sound, and our scenes flow smoothly from one idea to the next. The novel is “done,” and we feel comfortable that it’s good and well-written. Now it’s time to polish our literary jewels until they shine, so roll up those sleeves and let’s get into the nitty gritty of the individual word choices.

Ambiguous pronouns creep into our work and they're not always easy to spot. We know what they refer to because we wrote them, but if the pronoun isn't near what the referenced noun was, or there are a lot of nouns in the sentence, it can be confusing to readers what that pronoun refers to.

Today’s task will take stamina to complete. Search through the pronouns and fix any pronouns that aren’t clear.

1. Clarify Any Ambiguous Pronouns

While searching every single instance of it, this, that, he, she, him, her, his, hers, etc. is way more than anyone wants to do (and why we get a whole day just for this), it can be worth it—especially if you've gotten a critique where someone was confused in one area that made perfect sense to you. The culprit, is usually one of these little suckers. Even if all you do is a search for it, you’ll likely catch most of the ambiguous sentences.

If this task is too daunting for an entire novel, try focusing on the action scenes and scenes with more than two characters in them. The more people or things going on in a scene, the more likely it is to find an ambiguous pronoun.

Revision tip: I don't know about you, but my eyes tend to glaze over the longer I've been revising, so I'm more likely to lose focus at the end of the manuscript when I'm tired (especially during these "find and replace" polishing stages). If this happens to you, too, try starting at the end of your novel this time and revising backward. Looking at the end when your eyes are fresh will allow you to spot not only bad pronouns, but anything you might have missed during previous sessions. 

By the end of today’s session we’ll be ready for a vacation (I know, I’m right there with you), but we’ll have a much cleaner manuscript overall. Next, we’ll continue to play with our search feature and look for weak words that don’t do anyone any good.

Tomorrow: Strengthen or Eliminate Any Weak Words

New to the At-Home Workshop? Find the current list of revision steps and earlier prep work on the introductory page.
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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