Write Hacks 13: Fix Those Pronouns

Calligrafie,_Jan_Van_De_Velde_(1605)Brenda Clough’s Write Hacks 12 on using find and replace to change character names  brought to mind another use for that valuable piece of word processing software: checking pronouns.

In “Walking Contradiction”, found in my collection of the same name, I had characters who were both male and female – ambigender. Since I didn’t want to invent a pronoun and don’t like to use “they” in the singular when referring to a specific person, I wrote the story – a 13,000-word novelette – without using any personal pronouns to refer to the ambigendered folks. The story is told in first person, which solves the problem for the main character, but there were other ambigendered people as well.

It is very easy when writing such characters to fall into using she or he. We all make mistakes. The solution: go through the manuscript using find and replace on all gendered personal pronouns – he, she, him, her, his, hers – and make sure you do it so that you pick up things like “she’d” and “he’s” as well.

You obviously can’t do this with global find and replace, since you need to look at every use carefully. In my case, some of the characters were ambi, some male, some female. I needed to treat each differently.

It takes time, but not nearly as much time as reading the entire manuscript. And unlike your eyes, the computer won’t miss a key place.

This also works well when you change the gender of one of your characters. In The Weave, I changed a major character from male to female toward the end of my rewrite and also had some of my characters misunderstand the gender of others, which meant that I sometimes used “he” and sometimes “it” for a character, depending on who was talking. I still screwed it up at least once – which is why word processors aren’t a substitute for proofreaders – but I’d have screwed it up a lot more if I’d done it without electronic help.

I also recommend it in checking on things like “your” and “you’re,” “its” and “it’s,” or “there,” “they’re,” and “there,” since those are common errors not caught by spell check.

Find and replace, used properly, can fix a lot of problems.

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