How to Avoid Pronoun Repetition

How to Avoid Pronoun Repetition

Feeling the monotony of reading I, I, I, me, she, he, they in your sentences? Read on.

It’s easy to overburden readers with paragraphs where each sentence starts in “I,” or “we.”

As writers, we don’t pick it up as easily as our readers do (well, sometimes we do). It’s not fresh to us, but when it’s fresh to them, it’s noticeable in the worse way.

So, the question comes, “How do I avoid the overuse of pronouns?”

The answer is simple: apply my six universal themes to improve your writing.

Feel free to click the link and read them for detail, but for those of us who want to finish this post before starting another, these themes are: Combine sentences, delete actions or minutiae, keep the back story, add dialogue, add scenery, and change up the subject/verb.

These next examples will show you how each specific rule will break up monotony.

The stuff in red is the example we’re working with, and the stuff in blue is what we’re going to change it to.

*Combine sentences.

I often recommend combining sentences if they’re related enough and make sense.

She had a white vase that had pink roses. She put the vase on the counter.

She moved the white vase housing pink roses to the counter.

*Drop actions or minutiae.

He went to the garage before he went home and saw his girlfriend, then he pet the cat and rubbed the belly of the Buddha. When the kettle whistled, he pulled it from the stove and poured the water from it.

He went to the garage before going home to see his girlfriend. When the kettle whistled, he poured the water.

But STAHP!!! Pay attention to what you delete, because you HAVE to be careful about what you lose. What did we lose here? Possibly his religion, which would develop his character. Possibly the fact that he has a cat, which would be important to know if we later find out he’s allergic.

Let’s keep this example and work with it as we apply the next few rules. Then, let’s apply all of the rules at the end and see what these two sentences can become.

*Keep the back story

He went to the garage before he went home and saw his girlfriend, then he pet the cat and rubbed the belly of the Buddha. When the kettle whistled, he pulled it from the stove and poured the water from it.

He went to the garage before he went home to see his girlfriend—who’d moved in with him after a fight with her mother left her bruised and homeless. Bending to rub Buddha’s belly, he didn’t see the feisty cat he’d also inherited with Lorrie. When the kettle whistled, he pulled it from the stove and poured.

But DON’T stop here!

*Add dialogue somewhere

He went to the garage before he went home and saw his girlfriend, then he pet the cat and rubbed the belly of the Buddha. When the kettle whistled, he pulled it from the stove and poured the water from it.

He went to the garage before he went home. “Move cat,” he said to the animal mewing for his attention, and bent to rub the belly of the Buddha. “Babe, can you make me some tea?” he asked Lorrie.

“Sure thing,” she responded. And when the kettle whistled, he pulled it from the stove and poured water from it.

*Add scenery

He went to the garage before he went home and saw his girlfriend, then he pet the cat and rubbed the belly of the Buddha. When the kettle whistled, he pulled it from the stove and poured the water from it.

He went to Rey’s Garage with the hope that his silver BMW was finally fixed. Leaving empty handed, He slipped back behind the stiff-turning wheel of the clunker they’d loaned him and chugged home. He was followed by black exhaust fumes all the way.

As though the day couldn’t get any worse, he rubbed the belly of his bronze Buddha statue only to find that Spiffy—Lorrie’s cat—had also rubbed its stomach. He decided tea would calm him, and when the kettle whistled, he smiled a wry smile.

Still, notice we’re not addressing the subject of the sentence, so it still feels repetitive. This is where the last bit of advice comes in.

*Change up the subject/verb

He went to the garage before he went home and saw his girlfriend, then he pet the cat and rubbed the belly of the Buddha. When the kettle whistled, he pulled it from the stove and poured the water from it.

Roland stopped at the garage before going home, where his girlfriend waited patiently. The cat attempted to rub against his legs, but he sidestepped it in preference to rub the belly of the Buddha. Determined to at least have tea, Roland patiently waited until the kettle whistled and the hot water spilled from its spout.

*Let’s look at them all in action.

He went to the garage before he went home and saw his girlfriend, then he pet the cat and rubbed the belly of the Buddha. When the kettle whistled, he pulled it from the stove and poured the water from it.

Roland stopped at the grease pit Rey called a garage with the hope that his silver BMW’s tire had finally been changed.

“Nope, sorry.”

“How long does it take to change a tire?! You’ve had it a week!”

The man wearing oil-stained overalls only shrugged in response.

“I’m giving you until tomorrow, then I’m calling the police! And whichever mechanic licensing corporation gave you yours!”

Storming out empty handed, Roland slipped behind the stiff-turning wheel of the Ford Fiesta clunker they’d loaned him. Black exhaust fumes followed him all the way home.

The rust-ridden vehicle backfired as it pulled into the driveway before shutting off completely.

As if the day couldn’t get any worse, Roland rubbed the belly of his bronze Buddha statue only to find that Spiffy—Lorrie’s cat—had also rubbed its stomach.

I can’t believe I inherited a stupid cat when she moved in!

“Having a bad day?” Lorrie—still dressed in the negligee she’d worn to bed—asked as she knelt for the cat.

“You wouldn’t believe.”

“Tea?”

“Yes, please.”

Roland, however, couldn’t relax until he heard the high-pitched scream of the kettle in the kitchen, followed by the soft burbling of hot water racing from the spout.

As you can see, we’ve transformed a few clunky sentences into a scene that gives you a bit of characterization, the right amount of backstory, shows you how Roland’s day is going, gives insight to the relationship, etc. And avoids the monotony of clustered pronouns.

However, if you don’t want to add all this information and can’t sacrifice the words, then keeping it short and sweet, fewer and neat can be an equally excellent way to go. For a great example, please visit my post on voice, or my post on how to develop voice. It’s also a great resource on how to fix voice in a piece you’ve already written.