Thursday, June 24, 2010

I Prefer Pronouns


I picked up an oldie from my keeper shelf the other day, ready to settle down with an old friend, but I just couldn’t get into the book. The problem? The author kept using the character’s names multiple times in one paragraph, even when those characters are the only two people in the room.

I know this is a writing style. I also know it didn’t bother me one bit before I started writing. Unfortunately, knowing these things didn’t allow me to get into the book. It distracts me from the story by distancing me from the characters.

Here’s what I mean. I’ll use one of my sex scenes from Stray Lovers that actually shows how sexy and personal saying and hearing names during sex can be. You be the judge of which version is sexier.

Here’s the original:


He couldn’t help saying her name again, groaning it as he covered her, aligning his cock for entrance into that warm wet haven. Then he kissed her and pressed between her legs, pushing deep with no barrier between them.

They both cried out at the exquisite moment of penetration. He framed her face with his hands and looked directly into those blue eyes so heavy with desire. “This is the moment I’ll remember most, Janie. I’m never going to forget how it feels to be inside you and I’m never going to stop wanting it, no matter how far away we are from each other.”

It was risky but it was the truth and it needed to be said. He was leaving but he was not going to leave behind any impression that this wasn’t making love. So he’d said it but—aah god—he couldn’t give her any time to respond. He already felt the tingle at the base of his spine, the hot rush as he pushed deeper, retreated, then pushed deeper still. He had zero control, crashing into her again and again, feeling his chest vibrate with animalistic sounds he barely heard.

Any hope of holding off was over the second she raised her palm to his cheek and whispered his name. The hot rush roared to an explosion as he came, barely slowing in time to register it when she tightened around him and cried out with her own orgasm.

Now came the reckoning for his earlier words. The minute he felt able to, he began to lift his weight off her.

“Wait,” Jane said, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Don’t leave yet.”

“I’m here.”

He buried his face in the crook of her neck and stayed right where he was. For a second he let himself believe she didn’t just mean staying inside her, that she wanted him to stay in her life too. Hope filled him, made his cock twitch to life again, which proved the wrong brain was at work. He was the one leaving.

Now here’s the version in the constant name style:

Marcus couldn’t help saying her name again, groaning it as he covered her, aligning his cock for entrance into that warm wet haven. Then Marcus kissed her and pressed between Jane’s legs, pushing deep with no barrier between them.

They both cried out at the exquisite moment of penetration. Marcus framed Jane’s face with his hands and looked directly into those blue eyes so heavy with desire. “This is the moment I’ll remember most, Janie. I’m never going to forget how it feels to be inside you and I’m never going to stop wanting it, no matter how far away we are from each other.”

It was risky but it was the truth and it needed to be said. Marcus was leaving but he was not going to leave behind any impression that this wasn’t making love. So he’d said it but—aah god—he couldn’t give Jane any time to respond. Marcus already felt the tingle at the base of his spine, the hot rush as he pushed deeper, retreated, then pushed deeper still. He had zero control, crashing into Jane again and again, feeling his chest vibrate with animalistic sounds he barely heard.

Any hope of holding off was over the second Jane raised her palm to his cheek and whispered Marcus’s name. The hot rush roared to an explosion as Marcus came, barely slowing in time to register it when Jane tightened around him and cried out with her own orgasm.

Now came the reckoning for his earlier words. The minute he felt able to, Marcus began to lift his weight off her.

“Wait,” Jane said, wrapping her arms around Marcus’s neck. “Don’t leave yet.”

“I’m here.”

Marcus buried his face in the crook of Jane’s neck and stayed right where he was. For a second he let himself believe Jane didn’t just mean staying inside her, that she wanted him to stay in her life too. Hope filled him, made his cock twitch to life again, which proved the wrong brain was at work. Marcus was the one leaving.

Which version do you like better? Let the comments begin.

18 comments:

Cara McKenna said...

Usually in a sex scene, I prefer the name dropping to be kept to a minimum (outside of dialogue)—it feels more intimate. I think it's that sense that I'm there with them, part of what's happening, and seeing their names spelled out reminds me I'm not the heroine.

Does anyone else find it irksome how often you have to write/read character names when you write/read menage or same-sex love stories? Tough when "he" just isn't enough to differentiate in dialogue tags, tougher in sex scenes where you don't know who "his hand" belongs to.

And to answer a question you didn't actually ask, Dalton, I've found reading much harder since becoming a writer (and a beta reader and contest judge). I've got Strunk orating on a loop in my skull, and it's tough to pick up a book and not find myself mentally highlighting everything I'd change if I were the author or editor. It's like when you're driving with someone whose skills you don't entirely trust and you keep pressing your foot to the imaginary brake on the passenger side floor mat. Then again, I know I'm reading a really engaging book when I can sit back and enjoy the ride, just be the reader. Ah, bliss.

Michelle Polaris said...

Yup, have to agree with you Dalton. The names draw you out. And as a writer of m/m and menage, I'll also agree with Cara that it's damn difficult to balance that feeling of being deep in the characters' POV's and having to add more names to differentiate between multiples of the same gender. It can be done well, but its more of a challenge and there has to be compromise along the way. Sigh. Good topic Dalton.

KC Burn said...

I agree with you, Dalton, and Cara! I write m/m and it's quite difficult to keep the boys... er... straight, if I'm just using pronouns. I usually try to use names that can be shortened, or give my characters nicknames as well, just to break up the monotony of "John this" and "John's that" ;)

And I also read everything with a much more critical eye than I did before I seriously started writing. Bit like when you discovered Santa wasn't real. At first, the magic seems gone, but there's a different sort of magic in maintaining the fiction for those who still believe, you know?

Wynter Daniels said...

It drives me nuts when names are overused. I had an editor years ago who pointed out in my prose how I'd overused them. She opened my mind to the wonderful world of pronouns and I have been a loyal convert ever since. I use names for clarity and for emphasis now and as a reader, that's how I like it too.

Dalton Diaz said...

Cara and KC, yes! It can be very difficult when writing menage (or more!) and/or m/m. I tend to use distinguishing features or name variations, but I also feel that if the reader gets yanked out of the story by a few pronouns, I haven't done my job.

Dalton Diaz said...

Michelle, as one of my crit partners, you've certainly seen me grapple with this. Deep POV is really the only answer.

Dalton Diaz said...

Wynter, that's exactly what I'm talking about. Overuse of names creates distance, but having the characters say them at just the right moment is one of my favorite things to both read and write.

To all, I apologize for the formatting. I keep trying to fix it, but it just doesn't want to delete extra spaces. I'll try one more time.

Mary Ann said...

Hi Dalton, I prefer the use of pronouns when I read rather than continual repeating of names. The time I prefer names is the few times I read m/m cause then I want to know who's doing what to whom!!!

Nicole Morgan said...

I prefer to keep using the names to a minimum. I've found (in my opinion anyway) that when reading a story/scene and the name is used too much it sounds...oh what's the word...I guess it just sounds a bit MUCH, like the author didn't bother to re read his/her work and on one occassion I can remember reading one where it seemed robotic. Like Robot A was constantly identifying Robot B. It seemed WEIRD?? Anyway, like I said it's just my opinion, but I think excessive use of real names annoys the reader.

Okay, I'll go crawl back in my whole now. :)

Dalton Diaz said...

I agree, Mary Ann, tho there are times in m/m when it's unnecessary, too. If using deep POV correctly, the reader knows they're in that character's head and it can be ok to use "he" without confusion. If we've done our job right!

Dalton Diaz said...

I know what you mean, Nicole. It would be weird because if you did that in real life, it would be....well, weird. So why should conversations on the page be any different?

Desiree Holt said...

OMG! I got so distracted I forgot they were having sex! And yes, in a menage tou have to make sure to identify the right people, but there are lots of different ways to do it. I write menage a lot and I guess I've just never had a problem knowing who was doing what to who. (Or is it whom? LOL!)The ultimate goal, of course, is not to write i such a way that it distracts the reader and Jane and marcus sure distracted me! Good post, Dalton.

Ashlyn Chase said...

Holy Moly! I never realized how distant names made a story sound. Of course, I've never made that particular mistake. Every other mistake there is, but not that one. LOL

Ash

Dalton Diaz said...

The ultimate compliment! Thanks, Desiree.

Dalton Diaz said...

Ah, but done @ certain times, it's hot as hell. I've read your stuff, Ash, & it's hot as hell!

Savannah Stuart said...

I'm just mirroring everyone else but I prefer the original. During sex scenes (especially) I find it unnecessary and usually intrusive to use names too much.

Naima Simone said...

The original, definitely!
Geez, I didn't realize how irritating that can be. Especially if it's m/f. Sheesh! I think I can remember who the "she" and the "he" is without constant reminders! LOL! Now I have to go back to my own manuscript to make sure I don't get on my own nerves...

Dalton Diaz said...

LOL! I hope I didn't ruin some keepers for any of you by pointing this out.