Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Him, Her, Who?

Julia sent in a question which I know many writers agonise over. She says: I think I've more or less got the knack of when to use a character's name and when to substitute for "he" or "she" within a paragraph. However, is there a grammatical rule about new paragraphs? If the story is continuing - and no other characters' names are mentioned - is it okay to continue using she/her and he/him, or should you refer to the character by name again?
There isn’t a grammatical rule. The only thing to bear in mind is clarity for the reader. If it is obvious from context that you are still referring to the same character, then there is no need to name him or her again. 
However, if there is the slightest possibility of confusion or ambiguity, then use the character’s name. Just because another character’s name hasn’t been mentioned doesn’t mean there isn’t someone else in the room. The last thing you want is to cause your readers to come out of the story while they try to work out to whom the pronoun refers.

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  1. I do wish Hilary Mantel had taken this advice. Although she's probably laughing as The Booker prize judges obviously don't consider clarity to be very important!

  2. Sound advice, unfortunately often ignored. It's a fine line - not using the name too often or not using it where it should be placed.