Many writers, young and old, often allow their style to suffer from the pitfalls of overly repeated words. That’s one reason WriteShop I teaches students to avoid unnecessary repetition. Today, let’s talk about ways to make sure proper names don’t become dreaded repeated words in stories and essays.
Using the same pronouns over and over again, such as he, she, he, she, can be just as boring as repeating a proper name. One of my favorite examples of an overused pronoun is found in Kate Douglas Wiggin’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903). Young Rebecca attempts to add “a refined and elegant touch” to her essay on “Solitude,” and the result is this entertaining writing mishap:
It would be false to say that one could ever be alone when one has one’s lovely thoughts to comfort one. One sits by one’s self, it is true, but one thinks; one opens one’s favorite book and reads one’s favorite story; one speaks to one’s aunt or one’s brother, fondles one’s cat, or looks at one’s photograph album. There is one’s work also: what a joy it is to one, if one happens to like work….
You can help your children avoid this kind of redundancy. Teach them these three strategies for writing with proper names, and watch boring reports become compelling narratives!
Noun and Pronoun Variation
Imagine you are writing a paragraph about your dad for Father’s Day. You wouldn’t want to start the first three sentences with “My dad,” and refer to him in last three sentences as “he.” Use pronouns with intention, and be mindful of noun and pronoun variation. Try using “Dad” in the first sentence, “my father” in the second sentence, “he” in the third sentence, and so on.
Remember: if you need to use a name multiple times, mix it up with pronouns so your readers never even notice when repeated words are there.
Proper Name Variations
If you are writing a paragraph about President Lincoln, try using different variations of his name.
- President Abraham Lincoln is appropriate for the introduction and conclusion.
- His title alone (the President) will fit well in a sentence about his political duties.
- You might use his first and last name only (Abraham Lincoln) in a sentence about his personal life or religious convictions.
- When other options are exhausted, his last name alone (Lincoln) can be used effectively to break up sentences with longer versions of his name.
Again, bear in mind that using a person’s name in every single sentence is also a form of repetition, so you would want to include the pronoun he several times as well.
The Sky’s the Limit with Descriptive Names
What if you are writing an essay about your siblings? Suppose that one paragraph describes your little sister Katie. Instead of just repeating “Katie,” “my sister,” and “she,” think of other ways to describe this special person in your life.
- Is she the kind of girl who never sits still? Use a nickname like “our busy monkey” in a sentence about her personality.
- Does she love clothes? Call her “our fashion queen” in a sentence about her appearance.
- Is she the person who brightens your life? Try a term of endearment like “my little sunshine” or “Daddy’s princess” instead of a simple pronoun.
Repeated words are for lazy writing. When it comes time to write about other people, don’t use proper names over and over again! Try different versions of a person’s name, include noun and pronoun variation, and be creative with descriptive names and terms of endearment. I guarantee your writing will become more engaging and enjoyable.
Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.wordpress.com.
Photo: DVIDSHUB, courtesy of Creative Commons.
Sign up for the WriteShop list to get your free 240 printable writing prompt cards.