Bridge to Story

Who's On First?

Antecedences are ways of showing who you are talking about when you’ve got two pronouns in a sentence or paragraph and we aren’t sure which He or She you mean. Things can get confusing. Especially when both characters are the same sex.

Now what’s so important about these types of words? The importance is in how these words are misused in writing. The reason you use these pronouns is to cut down on the times you mention the character’s given name. You are never going to write a short story, novel or memoir where you use the main character’s name every time you mention her throughout the whole piece.

Before I can explain when, why and where pronouns and their possessives should pop up let’s do a bit of role call. First, Personal pronouns are what you’d use instead of a character’s name(s):

  • I, me, we, us, you, he, him, she, her, they, them, it.

Second, Possessive pronouns are what you use instead of your character’s name when something is possessed, owned, belongs to someone (or not):

  • mine, whose, yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs
    As in: That’s ours not yours.
    Instead of: That’s Gail’s and Fred’s, not yours, Aunt Buffy.

or

  • My, your, her, his, our.
    As in: That’s her job.
    Instead of: That’s Jeannie’s job.

Now, let’s take a look at the sample paragraph. 

Example Toggle

Example:

Using the Main Character’s name every time you mention him throughout the whole piece would look silly and read badly:

Before:

The day I moved Gordo drove me into Hollywood, twenty miles or so from my duplex in San Gabriel. Gordo drove rather sanely for a guy with a mattress set strapped to Gordo's car’s roof, a can of Coors between Gordo's legs, four more at Gordo's feet and Gordo's cousins’ truant wife next to Gordo, silent and still...

You’d use pronouns (he, him, his), replacing some of those 'Gordo moments' to substitute for that Personal Noun (his name). BUT, notice how we have to first use his name before we use a pronoun replacement, otherwise we'd get confused and think that there might be two men being spoken about, there in the same scene:

After:

The day I moved Gordo drove me into Hollywood, twenty miles or so from my duplex in San Gabriel. He drove rather sanely for a guy with a mattress set strapped to his car’s roof, a can of Coors between his legs, four more at his feet and his cousins’ truant wife next to him, silent and still...

Your goal is to replace any overly used Names with pronouns, using the Rule of Antecedence.

Or to replace all the he and she instances with a proper name occasionally to avoid confusion for your reader.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

For this exercise, try these two checks on your own work:

  • Run your work through the Edit Menu/Find option on your computer, Search for all the times you use a character’s name within each paragraph. Highlight each one.
  • If you work by hand use a highlighter and mark the finds so that you can see on the page how often the Name is used within each paragraph.

Replace any overly used Names with pronouns, using the Rule of Antecedence:

  • Use the character’s name before and close to the first time you replace it with a pronoun, paragraph by paragraph.

If your piece suffers from a pronoun muddle, (not enough name usage) run the same type of Find search, but look for pronouns - Her, He, Him or She. Of course, you will be exchanging the First occurrence of your over used pronouns for the character’s name here and there, because of the same ‘before & close to’ rule of substitution.

A good rule to follow is if you have two characters of the same gender, name them every so often before your sentences become a tangle of Her and She, as in:

She (okay, the first female) pulls her head all the way out of the window without catching my eye. She walks away. Then She (which she?) twists in the seat and shouts from out her (the first one?) window, “Essie! Get something for this one.”

She (Essie?) doesn’t turn around. She (who?) nods and waves her (whose?) shout away, her (???) hand out behind her (oh heck!) jeans pocket, waving ‘I know, I know’.

That leaves me and Her (I give up!) in the car.

Here is how it could read, edited with a mixture of names, plus using she and her. The antecedent usage of always naming first, then following with the substitute pronoun:

Esther pulls her head all the way out of the window without catching my eye. She walks away. Then Lillian twists in the seat and shouts from out her window, “Essie! Get something for this one.”

Esther doesn’t turn around. She nods and waves Lillian’s shout away, her hand out behind her jeans pocket, waving ‘I know, I know’.

That leaves me and Lillian in the car.

It’s a little change to what you might have now. But finding how often you use a character’s name (or don’t use it) will tighten up your work nicely. Take the time; make these changes for a stronger read.