The Perplexing Pronoun Problem

Disclaimer: pronouns, in respect to trans people and gender more broadly, are having a moment right now. While that isn’t the focus of this post, I will be talking about pronouns in this way toward the end. If this bothers you, feel free to find someone who cares.

Pronouns. On their face, a pretty simple concept. A pronoun is just a generic word we use in place of a proper noun. He, she, they, it, we, you, etc. are all examples of common pronouns. We learned them in school and they feel pretty simple. What your English class perhaps didn’t teach you is when to use them.

Maybe you’re thinking: “of course I know how to use pronouns, I use them every day.” But that is exactly what I’m talking about. The parts of speech we use the most are the ones that need the most interrogation in our writing. In speech, if we construct an awkward sentence, it lasts a few seconds before we move on. In writing, that same awkward sentence can sit with the reader for much longer, especially if it’s awkward enough to pull them out of the story. With that in mind, let’s talk about avoiding awkwardness with pronouns.

When you have one character in the scene, it can be pretty intuitive where to place the pronouns. You really only need the character’s name every few paragraphs specifically to keep them in the readers mind. Any more than that and you risk redundant awkwardness. Take this paragraph for example:

Lydia woke up exhausted. Three hours wasn’t enough for anybody and her body was going to remind her of that every second of the day. It wasn’t like she didn’t want more, but the job wasn’t going to do itself and it wasn’t like there was anyone else who could do it. She had resigned herself long ago to the occasional twenty hour day. She just hoped she wasn’t in for another one. Judging from the noise already coming from down the hall, she wasn’t going to hold her breath.

In that paragraph, I reference the POV character, Lydia, in every sentence, but only once do I actually use her name. Contrast that with this paragraph:

Lydia woke up exhausted. Three hours wasn’t enough for anybody and Lydia’s body was going to remind her of that every second of the day. It wasn’t like Lydia didn’t want more, but the job wasn’t going to do itself and it wasn’t like there was anyone else who could do it. Lydia had resigned herself long ago to the occasional twenty hour day. Lydia just hoped she wasn’t in for another one. Judging from the noise already coming from down the hall, she wasn’t going to hold her breath.

Notice how that paragraph is a much clunkier read than the first one, and I didn’t even replace all the pronouns referring to Lydia in it. But I bet you still noticed all the “Lydias” there. That’s because proper nouns, or really any word that’s been Capitalized in the middle of a sentence, register to your brain as important, so you don’t glide over them like you do the other words in the sentence. That means every repetition of a proper noun in your writing forces the reader to slow down. This can be used to great effect if that is your intention, but when done unintentionally, can make the piece harder to read than necessary.

Of course, that’s great for scenes with one character, but how many single-character scenes do we really have? What about scenes with a few speaking or acting characters? As you might guess, that doesn’t have as clean-cut of an answer. In scenes where each character has different pronouns, it’s basically the same as for one character. We know which pronoun corresponds to which character and can maintain that for a few paragraphs. For scenes where two or more characters have the same pronouns, it’s a little stickier but the general rule is; when the action is being done by someone else with the same pronoun as the previously named person, use the name, any action they do after that until the next person does one can use a pronoun. That sounded confusing, let’s look at an example:

Lydia rushed down the hall with sirens blaring all around her. She burst into the control room where James and Stephani were already at their consoles.
“What’s going on?” she demanded of them.
“I don’t know,” responded Stephani. “But I’m working on it.” Her fingers flew over the keyboard, as she presumably ran diagnostics over every electrical piece on the ship. She reached up to her screen and gave it a flick. “There’s something odd on the one of the external sensors. I’ve sent it over to James to look at.”
James swiped frantically over his five screens. “I’m not seeing anything outside the ship. Are you sure that sensor isn’t just faulty?”
“I’ve double-checked,” she replied. “It’s responding just fine, but we can always check again.” She squinted at her screen. “Although, it does look like the only thing it could be.”
Lydia sighed. Another long day. “I’ll send someone to look at it,” she said. “If we’re lucky, that’s all it’ll be.”

This demonstrates what I mean by the rule. First, it mentions Lydia by name. Every action she does after that uses pronouns, until Stephani does an action where it uses her name instead. It continues with pronouns until Lydia does an action again.

Sometimes, it may feel as if you need to use character’s names more often for clarity, but readers understand more than we typically give them credit for. There needs to be a balance maintained between clarity and redundancy, which is where the rule comes in handy. Of course, the best way to ensure that your writing is clear while making sure it reads well is to have someone else read it but reducing that redundancy before you even send it to a reader will create even better writing.

Now, when to use them isn’t the only sticky thing about pronouns, what pronouns to use can be difficult at times. I’ve seen on more than one occasion someone asking how to write trans characters, especially in respect to pronouns.

And here’s my second disclaimer: I do not speak for the entire trans community, so please don’t use this as your only source of information for pronoun use in regards to trans characters.

With that out of the way, let’s say you have a trans character. What pronouns do you use? The simple answer is: whatever pronouns they use post-transition. Yes, even if you’re talking about things they did pre-transition. As an example, let’s say that Stephani from the earlier example is a trans woman and worked on another ship before her transition.

Stephani’s eyes went wide and she froze at her screen.
“What’s wrong?” asked Lydia.
“It’s just-” Stephani began without looking up. “This is like back then.”
That explained the look. Lydia knew that there had been some disaster on Stephani’s previous assignment. Some diagnostic she had gotten wrong that ended up with people getting hurt. She never offered any details and Lydia never pried.
“Are you good?” she asked.
Stephani shook herself out and nodded. “I’ve got this. I’m stronger than I was back then.”

That may not be the strongest example, but you get the idea. Use the character’s current pronouns even when describing pre-transition actions. I’d say that this rule would also apply to full-on flashbacks, as it keeps a more consistent character for readers and limits confusion. In fact, unless you’re writing a story specifically about transition, (which, if you’re cis, I’d strongly discourage) there is no reason to use a trans person’s previous pronouns.

I’d like to talk about the grammar around neopronouns but there’s too much there for me to throw in at the end of an article. I will say, however, that if you go on social media and look at the profile of people who list their pronouns, it’s usually listed the same way: she/her, he/him, they/them, etc. This gives you an excellent template to use neopronouns properly as when you run into someone with them, they’re usually listed in that same format. For example, if someone has xie/xer as xer pronouns, you’d use xie in place of she and xer in place of her. Of course, I can’t say that will map perfectly for every neopronoun out there but it’s a good start for your research on specific pronouns.

And that’s it! As always, there are no hard and fast rules in writing, just suggestions and norms. The most important thing is intentionality in your writing so your readers feel what you actually want them to feel and your words don’t get in the way of that. The more you know about the craft of writing, the better you can control how you “break” the “rules” of it.

If you like these articles, maybe consider buying my book? See the things I talk about in action.


I don’t usually stray away from the format of writing advice and short stories, but I wanted to talk about things a little more long-form than I can on either Facebook or Twitter so, here we are.

That flag up there? That’s the Pride flag. A more inclusive Pride flag. As much as I love the rainbow, we need something like this because our movement, a movement that is supposed to be about liberation for all, keeps forgetting people.

Why do I bring this up now? With all the riots and police brutality happening right now, is a flag really that important? The short answer is; yes it is important. And that’s because it’s all connected.

Does anybody remember this flag? Do you remember when it was released? I do. The absolute vitriol the (mostly white) community had for those little black and brown stripes. The idea that anyone would change the rainbow to center or even just explicitly include black and brown people enraged them. That rage reached a fever-pitch when the flag I posted first was introduced.

Because the truth of it is; that rainbow, which was supposed to represent everybody, really doesn’t. Over the years, it’s come to represent the capital-g Gay community. That is, it represents gay men, and more often than not, specifically white gay men. Sure, those of us who aren’t capital-g Gay men have our own flags but that’s not really united liberation, is it? And Black and brown communities, who spearheaded the LGBT movement for so long, are being pushed out of it. The solution? To explicitly include them, right there on our flag.

So why use the flag I posted first? Why single out the trans community? (trans colors are pink, blue, and white) To answer that, I’ll ask you a question. How many of you who aren’t part of the trans community had heard of trans issues before, say, 2015. For many of you, it was probably 2010 at the earliest. This gives the false impression, even to many within the LGBT+ community, that gender issues are kind of a new thing. They’re not. At the very forefront of the Stonewall riots were Black trans women and those same people have contributed so much to the cause since then. Many of the books burned by the Nazis prior to WWII contained academic transgender research. Despite all of this, they’ve been erased from the struggle, or, at best, been an extreme afterthought until they forced others to recognize them. That’s why we should use that flag. We need to recognize that the story of our struggles is the story of trans struggles, you can’t separate them.

So, I’d like a pledge. Use that flag to represent the community as a whole and designate yourself as anti-exclusionary. That means you will:

  • Explicitly include black and brown people in our struggles and center them often
  • Explicitly include trans people in our struggles and show that we will not “drop the T”
  • Recognize that nonbinary genders are real and respect everybody’s pronouns, yes even the neopronouns
  • Recognize that trans people do not owe us expensive medical procedures or hormones in order to be trans
  • Not insist that bi people prove their sexuality to you, even if they’re in a so-called “straight-passing” relationship
  • Not participate in community infighting that seeks to invalidate another sexuality/gender (ie: pansexuality doesn’t exist, neopronouns are bad, don’t do that)
  • Recognize that asexuals exist and have just as much right to this community as the rest of us

If there is anything I may have forgotten from this list, please let me know.

So, what does this all have to do with writing? As I said above, it really doesn’t have anything to do with it, I just decided to use my space to talk about something I’ve been thinking about. Except for, as writers, we are a voice. That’s our main thing, whether we like it or not. All works are inherently political, no matter how hard you work to keep “politics” out of it. With that in mind, it’s important to actually use our voice. Intentionally. To make sure that we are pushing for something that’s actually good instead of inadvertently advocating something we don’t want to. So, even if you use the flag and advocate loudly, take a look at your stories, what are you advocating? Hopefully what you want.

The Harrowing Head-Hop

Awhile ago, I said I’d do both an article and a Twitter thread on what I called pseudo-omniscient perspective, also known as; head-hopping. This is half of that promise fulfilled.

First, let’s define what pseudo-omniscient is, and is not.

Point of View

There are three main points of views, or POVs that everything, including pseudo-omniscient, fall under.

  • First Person: the narrator is a character within the story, typically the protagonist. This provides a sense of immediacy, but limits what you can show since the reader can only see what the character sees.
  • Second Person: the protagonist is you, the reader. If done well, can provide a greater sense of immersion. Great for shorter works, hard to sustain for longer ones.
  • Third Person: most common POV type. The narrator doesn’t exist in the story and the protagonist is a normal character. Can be tailored to be as close or as distant as you want it to be.

Pseudo-omniscient falls squarely within the Third Person category.

Most books written in third person fall in one of two categories: close-third and omniscient. Think of pseudo-omniscient as being between those two. At the risk of veering off-topic, I’d like to talk about both of those types so we can see what pseudo-omniscient really is.

Continue reading “The Harrowing Head-Hop”

The Road to Self Publishing- The Cover


Ah, the cover. Easily one of the most important things if you actually want to sell your book. Covers are one of those things that are far more complex than it seems on the surface, so I’m going to break this up into several sections.

  • Why the cover is important
  • Should you hire?
  • Types of covers you’ll need
  • Tools of the trade
  • Cover Designers

If you’re not ready for all that, you can check out the other Road to Self Publishing posts.

Ready? Let’s get started. Continue reading “The Road to Self Publishing- The Cover”

The Road to Self Publishing- The Hardest Writing


So, I’ve sent off copies of my work to beta-readers (in multiple formats, need to be accommodating to the people who are helping me). So, now it’s time to sit around, twiddling my thumbs (or doing my day job) and wait for them to send it back, right? Ha. Ha. No. Remember that list from the last article? If not, go back and refresh your memory. As you can see, there’s no shortage of things that need to be done, and some (many?) can be done as you’re waiting for beta-reading to be done. Today, we’re going to look at a small piece of the marketing puzzle- the back of the book blurb. Continue reading “The Road to Self Publishing- The Hardest Writing”

The Road to Self Publishing- The Afterdraft


As always, if this is the first Road to Self Publishing post you’ve read, check out the master post here. It’ll take you through the whole series.

So, you’ve written and re-written your book several times now. You’ve gone over it with a fine-toothed comb. It’s as close to perfect as you can make it. The works over, right? No. Like every other blogger who’s gone through the self-publishing gauntlet, I’ve discovered that there is so much to do after I’ve hit my final draft. The things I have left, in no particular order are:

  • Have my final draft beta-read
  • Have at least one copy edit done
  • Get my cover up to par (more on that in a later post)
  • Choose publishing packages/vendors
  • Figure out how to market this thing

Continue reading “The Road to Self Publishing- The Afterdraft”

The Road to Self Publishing- What’s a Revision Anyway?


I haven’t done one of these in awhile, (WordPress says two years? Yikes.) but it’s time for the next installment of The Road to Self Publishing, the series where I pretend to know what I’m talking about while going on my own journey to being a (hopefully selling) self-published author. If you haven’t read the previous entry, First Draft Done, Now What?, you can find it here, or you can find the master post here. As I said before, the master post will contain links to all other Road to Self Publishing posts, so if you’re not reading this one close to the post date, I’d check out that one.

Continue reading “The Road to Self Publishing- What’s a Revision Anyway?”

The Road to Self Publishing- First Draft Done, Now What?

article1Well, that’s an incredibly lengthy title. Welcome to the first post in The Road to Self Publishing series. As the title suggests, this post will concentrate on what happens after you’re done with the first draft of your work; the revision process. I realize that this isn’t strictly related to self-publishing, but it is still part of the same process that eventually leads to a published work. Plus, I want to help dispel the idea that self-published books are less good, that they don’t have the amount of work put into them that traditionally published books have. So, I’m going to show you every step of the process, not just the publishing steps. Continue reading “The Road to Self Publishing- First Draft Done, Now What?”

The Road to Self Publishing


Welcome to The Road to Self Publishing! This isn’t really the first official post for it, that should come in a week or two. This is more of a meta-post to, sort of, explain what The Road to Self Publishing is and isn’t.

The main thing this series is going to be covering is my experience (good or bad) with attempting to self-publish my NaNoWriMo novel The Forgotten. These will be posted more-or-less alongside my actual experiences. This means it will not only be a very long series, but it will be inconsistent as well. There may be multiple posts very close to each other one month and then multiple months without a post as I go through the process. There will, of course be other posts interspersed with The Road to Self Publishing posts, the blog won’t become all about them.

The second thing it will be about is comparing options available to writers looking to self-publish. There are so many ways to do things at pretty much every step of the process, figuring out what options work best for you can be overwhelming. Hopefully, this series can help tame that by giving an in-depth comparison of the many options I find during my experience and research.

The combination of these two things means posts in this series will probably be a little longer than you might be used to from me. I personally think this is a good thing as I will endeavor to give you as much about my experience and the choices someone might face when self-publishing as possible.

Every post in this series will be tagged with The Road to Self Publishing and titled with it as well. In addition, this post will be continually updated with each post added to the list below. This post will serve as a permanent explanation of the series as well as a convenient way to access any single post in order. I’ll link to this post at the end of each new post. I will add posts below as I begin working on them, and links will be added once they’re posted.

The Road to Self Publishing

First Draft Done, Now What?– Explains techniques for going from first draft to second draft. Gives the basics for creating readable ebooks and PDFs for revision.

What’s a Revision Anyway?– Talks about the process of revisions from prep to the actual writing.

The Afterdraft– Talks about what needs to be done after you’ve hit your “final” draft and can’t make it any better on your own. Mostly about beta-reading.

The Hardest Writing– Discusses one of the hardest bits of writing for most authors; the back of the book blurb. Not too many tips/tricks, mostly discussion. Feel free to post in the comments even if it’s been awhile since it was published.