Gender Pronouns and Overwriting

Blogging the Editing: Day #2

3rd January, 2018

I’ve been dreading revisiting Chapter Three because it was told from a non-human character’s perspective and was about a sudden and unwanted change. I had so much trouble with it when I tinkered with it two years ago, I was convinced I would now have to rewrite the whole damn thing. But it turned out to have good bones [phew], but was horrendously OVERWRITTEN.

Its other problem was due to the character being genderless. It therefore needed to be written without using gender pronouns. I also wanted to avoid using ‘it’,  a word that comes with a long history of objectification. If the character were human, it wouldn’t be so hard, because the SF megatext already has a good selection of genderless pronouns. But for me, even established conventions wouldn’t work because my character was not only genderless, but also completely alien (at least in the opening paragraphs of the chapter). However, as it turned out, my problems weren’t caused by the need for non-human pronouns, but were mostly because I was writing my character the wrong way.

With this in mind, I tightened up the prose by killing 500 words without changing any of the text’s meaning. Yep, definitely overwritten! Then I realised that the chapter was suffering from repetitions of certain words, a common writer’s tic that is usually eliminated before the final proofread. With those sorted, I had a much cleaner palette, and was then able to restructure sentences, choose better words and pay closer attention to one of the novel’s most important elements: characterisation. This not only eliminated the repetitions but also greatly reduced the need for pronouns.

Having said that, I ended up relying on the word ‘it’ a couple of times in the early stages, but as the chapter progresses and the reader begins to understand the true nature of the my non-human character, the need for ‘it’ disappears.


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