Saturday, December 31, 2011

THE SAMPLER - January 2012 - Pronoun Reference Error: "It"

My American Heritage Dictionary defines a pronoun as: "One of a class of words that function as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and designate persons or things asked for, previously specified, or understood from the context."  When writing fiction, that translates to the pronoun taking the place of the last noun, thing, or name used.  Why?  Because CLARITY ensures the reader doesn't stop reading to puzzle out what the pronoun refers to.  After all, nothing should ever stop a reader from reading.  Here is a correct example of pronoun usage: "Marsha loved ice cream.  It was her comfort food."  ("It" refers to the ice cream.)   Now consider my dictionary's definition of "it":

Noun. 1. Used to refer to that one previously mentioned. Used of a nonhuman entity; an animate being whose sex is unspecified, unknown, or irrelevant; a group of objects or individuals; or an abstraction. 
2. Used as the subject of an impersonal verb. 
3.a. Used as an anticipatory subject or object. b. Used as an anticipatory subject to emphasize a term that is not itself a subject. 
4. Used to refer to a general condition or state of affairs. 
5. Informal. Used to refer to something that is the best, the most desirable, or without equal. 
--it noun. 1. Games. A player, as in tag, who attempts to find or catch the other players. 2. An animal that has been neutered.

As you can see, using "it" can be mind-boggling.  An example of what can go wrong is:

He dropped the thermometer, securing it to the side of the boat so it dangled in the water.  The temperature held at forty-eight degrees.  It was cold enough to make him shudder.  

Now let's examine that passage for what it actually says:

He dropped the thermometer, securing the thermometer to the side of the boat so the boat dangled in the water.  The temperature held at forty-eight degrees.  Degrees was cold enough to make him shudder.  

The humorous image of the boat dangling is one a reader should not conjure in their mind.  And the last sentence makes no sense because "Degrees" is the subject.  This passage also has what's called a crop of "its."  Crops of are unnecessary repetitions and should be ruthlessly weeded out.  So, let's look at this passage for what was actually meant: 

Using string he'd attached to the top of the thermometer, John lowered the digital device over the side of the dingy.  When the thermometer was half submerged in the water, he secured the line to an oar mount.  Then he leaned over, watching, waiting.  The digits winked and held at 48. 
        Forty-eight degrees.  Would his wet suit keep him warm enough long enough? 

In your mind, you saw what happened as it happened.  You didn't stop and go back to puzzle anything out.  This re-edited passage shows (instead of tells).  Which brings me to: "it" often peppers a page because "it" is one of those "shorthand words" grabbed in the heat of drafting.  In revision, a writer needs to check every "it" and make sure what the last noun, thing, or name used was.

Many writers can discover an "it" problem by using their computer's Find feature.  Why not test your writing right now on five or ten pages?  All you have to do is use the Find feature and type in it, but be sure to put a space before and after the word so the computer doesn't find words with "it" as part of the word.  Each time the machine shows you an "it," highlight the word (or bold the word).  Once you're done, print a hard copy.  What do you see?  Did you pepper a page?  Do you have "crops of?"  Nothing beats a visual to actually see what's what.  Then consider this: if you have a problem in those few pages, it's likely there are hundreds more in the rest of the manuscript to weed out.

For those who don't seem to have a problem with "it," be sure to add a "pronoun reference error check" on your Revision To Do List when you get to the polishing stage for your story.  You want the best possible manuscript to present, so one "it" check may be all you need.

You do have such a checklist, a "cheat sheet" for revising, right?  If not, I urge you to start one now.  Your "cheat sheet" can be a master document created on your computer and then printed to check off as you revise.  Or, your list could be a notebook with a page that you photocopy and line out the items checked.
Why hard copy?  Because hard copy insures accuracy and allows your eyes and mind to focus on specifics.

Knowledge is power.  Always strive to write well and tell a story well--and keep "it" to a minimum.  

Catherine McLean
"Most people don't recognize opportunity because it comes disguised as hard work." -Salada Tea Tag Line

Stop back on February 1 for The Sampler's: "Was is a Wuss."
***Go to my redesigned website for my workshop --or join me on Face Book or at Linked-In.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Sampler - December

 Which writing technique should be mastered first when tackling fiction?  Over the years of editing and evaluating manuscripts, I'd have to say that Point of View (POV) and Viewpoint, which, by the way, are two separate entities are paramount.  Why?  Because 90% of the errors made with show-don't-tell, cause-effect sequences, dialogue (internal and spoken), and more stem from errors made in the choice and scope of POV and Viewpoint employed in storytelling. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Website Changing

Push has come to shove.  Actually, things have stopped working on my original Website so I'm in the process of putting a new one together.  What that means is that "The Sampler" will become part of my blog.