Reviews & Writing

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hammer or Stiletto?

Yes, this hammer is awesome. But it's not a good writing tool.
A Guest Post by the Ranting Griffin

Are you driving your point home with a hammer, or stiletto? Are you overindulging in the use of his, hers, and theirs? Yeah, them possessive pronoun-thingies.

I struggle daily with the over-utilization of his, hers and theirs. They choke the first draft, make it constipated, bloated with words that do nothing to further the tale.

In the end, I am left with a stinking pile I must reform, refine, pick the corn from, and make into something resembling a tale someone might wish to read (And even buy, perhaps? Please, pretty-please, God?).

Cutting the use of such words makes for leaner prose and makes me search for another, possibly better, way to say what I mean to convey. This can stimulate writing to new heights.

An Example:

He stepped into the cold, his jacket his shield against the elements.

Now, tighter:

He stepped into the cold, jacket a shield against the elements.

Now, the first use of 'his' we can do away with because the reader knows and understands we are only talking about one person. The second 'his' I slaughter simply because I can. Besides, 'a' is shorter than 'his', and shorter is often tighter!

Wolves and writing always coincide.

The wolves howled, their song unwinding along the valley floor, their warning to their enemies and their greeting to their friends.

Now, for the joyous slaughter:

The sound of wolves howling unwound along the valley floor, a warning to enemies and greeting to friends.

See, I removed all five of the 'theirs' in that original sentence. (Mind you, I was being extreme, putting all those theirs in there in the first place.) I even did away with an 'a' I might have used, just to show that meaning can be conveyed with fewer words. We already know we are talking about wolves, we don't need to be hammered in the head with the who or what.

A last, longer example of this:

Gerard was almost surprised by how well he fought, his blade flashing through the weak defense of his opponent with the ease his teachers had told him his training would provide.

The other man kept trying, though, his clumsy strikes easily parried away by Gerard's superior defense.

Eventually Gerard slipped in the bout-ending blow, his blade sliding past his guard and into the other man's belly.

This armor would have helped Broog.
Now, fixed, fast:

Gerard's blade flashed through the weak defense of his opponent, just as Broog told him it would every time they trained together.

The man was game though, and kept coming, clumsy strikes easily parried by Gerard's superior skills.

Eventually Gerard's sword slipped past the other man's guard and into his belly, ending the bout.

You may now say, "Wait a sec, he just used a his there!"

To which I reply, "Yup, sure did."

I did not, however, over-use the word. I do not use a hammer. I use a stabbing point, to penetrate, add value. The speed and flow of the narrative is preserved, without confusing things as to what belongs to whom.

You must have confidence that your writing will be understood without the crutch of identifiers and qualifiers, as such words can detract from the flow of the piece. This is especially important for action sequences and dialogue.

Stab this in the heart every time, and you'll be hammering out quality work in short order.

Stab your page with this for maximum results.
The Ranting Griffin:

Born in the seventies, lived in more than one country, more than one time. I speak more than one language. My day job with a major municipality involves guns, cuffs, writing reports, and criminals.

I have been an avid roleplayer most of my life, and it was writing for Twilight 2013, a 93 Games Studio product, that I was first published last year.  I've been writing novels for the last five years, I have an agent, and The Last Captain, my science fiction crime thriller/police procedural, is currently resting on a publisher's desk, ready to be read.  I don't claim to be a writing genius, I just know what worked for me in securing representation and those all important first publication credits.

Trust me. Griffin is awesome. Check out his equally impressive site:


  1. Great post :) I'm a HUGE fan of slashing his/her/theirs when possible!

  2. I don't like hers or his or theirs either - but sometimes getting rid of them isn't easy.

  3. No Sonia, it isn't easy, but just like anything, practice makes you proficient.

  4. I started a list of Eileen's Overused Words. These are definitely on it. Thank god for Ctrl+F