Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pronoun Confusion with Unnamed Characters

I write a lot of books where the "villain" is unnamed. The threat is shown by allowing glimpses of this character's thoughts or interactions with other people. Since the villain isn't named, I must be very careful with pronouns.

Currently I'm reading a book where two unnamed characters are interacting. One paragraph at the beginning has left me stumped. I've read it three times and still I'm unclear which character is which. So, this has totally pulled me out of the story.

How does a writer deal with this situation? If you have two unknown characters of the same gender, give each of them a distinct name or voice. And keep the scene in one pov. Clearly start out with the pov character's thoughts or words. Here's an example from my wip:

When his cell phone rang, the man grabbed it from his pocket. Leaves rustled and he jerked his head sideways. A squirrel ran halfway up the tree trunk several feet away. Heart pounding, he answered. “Hello?”

“You got the kid?” The smoke damaged voice left no question as to the caller’s identity.

“Yeah, but I can’t keep her for long. It’s too dangerous.” He heard a deprecating laugh.

“For you, maybe. But, not as dangerous as if you’re lying. We need that baby.”

“I have her. Where do you want to meet?” This would be the last time. Never again would money drive the need to get involved with this scumbag. Taking a baby so close to home had been a big mistake, but he couldn’t undo it now.

“Soon. I’ll be in touch. In the meantime, make sure nothing happens to the little princess.”

His hands shook as he shoved his cell phone back into his pocket. He dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief.


Remember, although you know who each character is, your reader doesn't.

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