Juggling Names, Pronouns and Descriptors

How To Write Names, Pronouns and Descriptors

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This is going to be one of the more important writing lessons you see here. Don’t let the subject matter trick you–This stuff can make or break a reader’s willingness to continue with your story. I know because I have failed to finish so many erotic stories because the author didn’t know how to write names, pronouns and descriptors . It might seem basic, but there is an art to it that’s going to help set your writing above the rest.

As you start writing a lot of character interactions, especially when you’re writing characters of the same sex, you find yourself facing a challenge. How to use the correct pronouns so that your reader is not confused as to which character is doing what, while at the same time not repeating the characters’ names fifty times in the same paragraph. This is actually not as simple as it sounds. Believe it or not, it’s a balancing act, one if done well enough the reader doesn’t even notice.

First Person Perspective

The easiest was to remedy this is to use first person perspective. As long as it’s just two people, things are pretty damn easy even if they’re both male.

“…I pulled his hand closer to me. Joey’s expression was hesitant with just the smallest hint of anticipation, and I knew he wanted me to continue…”

Easy peasy. We know Joey/he/his/him is the other character, and I/me/mine is the main character. Straightforward.

It can get a bit more complicated if it’s first person with multiple men. Let’s make a list. Your first person character we’ll refer to as ‘I, me, mine, or Jack’ (if other characters are referring to him.) Joey, brown hair, blue eyes, tanned skin, tall, broad shouldered, oldest at let’s say 30. Bill, blond, brown eyes, golden skinned, short and slender, youngest at 25.

So why do they suddenly need these descriptors? Because we need to have ways to distinguish our characters from each other besides their name. I like using physical descriptions because it forces your reader to actually remember what your characters look like. The assumption that physically describing them once is going to be remembered 300 pages in when they show up again is pretty steep. And hey, they’re usually hot anyways so it’s worth remembering and helps your reader be in the experience.

Let’s have a poker game with our three men and start juggling descriptiors and pronouns to describe what’s happening without a million Joey’s and Bill’s.

My gaze sliding carefully to Bill’s hunched form as the blond tried to hide his cards with his body, I wondered briefly if the younger man was hoping to win or fold. Joey was clearly looking to take the prize, his blue gaze intense as he raked his eyes over the two of us. He wasn’t screwing around, and given the way Bill was biting at his lower lip, my friend could tell and wasn’t sure how to proceed.

“I raise you five,” Joey said evenly, his hand perfectly steady as he threw five thousand dollars worth of chips into the pile in the center.

Bill released a soft huff of air, his fingers fanning out over the green of the table as he placed his cards face down. I could see the blond didn’t have enough. Wasn’t even certain if Bill really wanted to bet his measly savings on some stupid game. He was there to have fun, drink himself stupid, and get away from his boring day job. Not end up broke and needing to work extra just to pay off his damn weekend vacation.

Of course, it wasn’t a big deal for me. I could afford to bet a damn company or two if I felt like it. Meeting my friend’s tentative glance, I smiled winningly, leaning back in my seat. “You want in, Bill?”

“Jack, I don’t have that kind of money,” the young blond whispered, a small flush coming to his cheeks. He was terribly cute, and I’d probably drunk too much tonight as it was. Pretty sure, especially when the next words popped out of my mouth.

“We’ll do an even exchange. Every article of clothing you have on can be one thousand dollar chip.” I shrugged, my smile feeling too cocky to be safe. “I’ll front you, and depending on who wins will depend on who gets to have your clothes at the end of the game.”

His blush growing brighter, Bill glanced over to where Joey was watching with sharp eyed interest. I’m not sure if the brunette was counting the thousands of dollars Bill’s ensemble was now worth, or if the man was just undressing my short friend with his eyes. Broad shouldered, aggressive and quiet, he was definitely Bill’s type. Not that the younger guy would ever have the nerve; he was as sweet and shy as they got.

Right, so you might look at that and go, ‘So what’s the big deal? That doesn’t look so hard.’ I’m going to copy, paste and highlight every spot where I had a choice of whether to put a name, pronoun or descriptor, and you’re going to see things a bit differently.

My gaze sliding carefully to Bill’s hunched form as the blond tried to hide his cards with his body, I wondered briefly if the younger man was hoping to win or fold. Joey was clearly looking to take the prize, his blue gaze intense as he raked his eyes over the two of us. He wasn’t screwing around, and given the way Bill was biting at his lower lip, my friend could tell and wasn’t sure how to proceed.

“I raise you five,” Joey said evenly, his hand perfectly steady as he threw five thousand dollars worth of chips into the pile in the center.

Bill released a soft huff of air, his fingers fanning out over the green of the table as he placed his cards face down. I could see the blond didn’t have enough. I wasn’t even certain if Bill really wanted to bet his measly savings on some stupid game. He was there to have fun, drink himself stupid, and get away from his boring day job. Not end up broke and needing to work extra just to pay off his damn weekend vacation.

Of course, it wasn’t a big deal for me. I could afford to bet a damn company or two if I felt like it. Meeting my friend’s tentative glance, I smiled winningly, leaning back in my seat. “You want in, Bill?”

Jack, I don’t have that kind of money,” the young blond whispered, a small flush coming to his cheeks. He was terribly cute, and I’d probably drunk too much tonight as it was. Pretty sure, especially when the next words popped out of my mouth.

We’ll do an even exchange. Every article of clothing you have on can be a one thousand dollar chip.” I shrugged, my smile feeling too cocky to be safe. “I’ll front you, and depending on who wins will depend on who gets to have your clothes at the end of the game.”

His blush growing brighter, Bill glanced over to where Joey was watching with sharp eyed interest. I’m not sure if the brunette was counting the thousands of dollars Bill’s ensemble was now worth, or if the man was just undressing my short friend with his eyes. Broad shouldered, aggressive and quiet, he was definitely Bill’s type. Not that the younger guy would ever have the nerve; he was as sweet and shy as they got.

Because of the first person narrative, some of these are definitely fixed points, especially when it comes to dialogue, others not even close. Every time you come across a he/him/his you need to make certain it’s clear which character it’s referring back to. If you can’t find that it’s clear enough, then you need to substitute it for a descriptor or name.

So what makes good descriptors? Well besides physical characteristics, occupations work like accountant, janitor, secretary. You can go into nationality like Italian, or religion—if these things are actually of import to the character. Referring to a character as Catholic when he’s not practicing and it has nothing to do with the story doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if your guy drives cars for a living or is in a band, sometimes calling him the rockstar will work.

Once you establish something about the character you can refer to them in a casual way. Joey’s a ‘risk taker, big spender, shrewd.’ Jack’s ‘rich, careless when drinking, generous but pervy.’ Bill’s ‘sweet, shy, broke.’ Suddenly that card shark is checking out our cute friend and money bags might be feeling too tipsy to try to win. Yeah, you knew who I was talking about and you didn’t need a name. If anything, I bet from the previous writing you remember their personality traits more than their names anyways. Starting out in a story, that’s usually the way, which is why character descriptors are important. The name will eventually encompass all that information about the character in a reader’s mind, but that’s only if enough pages are given. With short stories, you only have so much to work with to get your reader to remember your characters.

Differences are great too. Older, younger, shorter, taller, larger, more muscular, slender and sweet. Just the simplicity of having an older man with a young man you can refer to as ‘boy’ can make things easy to distinguish. There’s a reason I tend to pair blonds with brunettes—to distinguish them in a scene. Lol, I shudder at what I’d have to change to write a twinfic. But I’d probably focus on their small differences, likely in personality.

Third Person Perspective

 

I’m going to pull a quick example from a story with multiple guys and do another highlight to show in the third person narrative just how tricky this can get. The example is pretty much SFW, but you’ll find when writing a sex scene suddenly there are a lot of hands doing this, mouths that and you really need some defining descriptors to know who is attached to what action, otherwise you get a million names. I’m currently reading a m/m with two characters that just went through a million repeated names and I’m not sure I’m going to finish it. It’s a nice premise of plot, sort of, but my god, say he/him once in a while at the very least. I’m not an idiot, I can figure it out and there are only two damn characters to guess from.

This is an excerpt from Demon Bonded 3. With fantasy you get a different list of descriptors depending on your characters. Also, as you’ll notice, once you set a character in the scene, you tend to automatically know they’re the ones doing the following action.

how to write erotica How To Write Names, Pronouns and Descriptors

Lovely, I can’t.” Ky turned his face, biting his lower lip. “He likes you… And I’m pretty sure you like him too. That’s probably why he was tearing up all my clothes. I’m sure he’s very nice when it’s just the two of you…”

Trailing off, he pushed himself up to his knees, pulling away from Lovely’s hand when the boy reached for him again. He would shower, patch up what the other boy hadn’t managed to heal, and make sure his face wasn’t scarred. Hopefully by then the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach would feel more bearable. Right now he felt nearly close to tears. It was stupid; he really didn’t know Lovely, didn’t know his language, his real name, what he even was. But Ky felt so much, had put few barriers on his heart, and Lovely had very easily purred his way in during the middle of the night.

He was just stumbling to his feet, his legs still wobbling and unsteady when a strong arm wrapped around his waist, pulling him down forcefully. Ky blinked down into Feral’s fierce face, wariness tingling through him as the boy glared at him. “Sorry, Feral… Er, well, whatever your name is. I can… um, put my stuff in the bureau or something. I didn’t mean to crowd you in there; I just didn’t think anyone would be living in a closet.”

The tanned boy didn’t say anything, and Ky wasn’t fully sure he could even understand him. Sighing, he tried to twist his way out of the grip on his waist, just wanting to leave and think on his own for a while. Feral grabbed his wrists when it seemed he was actually going to break free, his intense gold eyes still burning into him as Ky gave a small growl and failed to pull his hands free.

“What? Just let me go already—Oomph!” Silver eyes wide in surprise, Ky found himself face up on the floor, Feral holding his arms tight above his head where he sat peering down with an unreadable expression. Lovely grinned down wickedly from the other side of him, fingers gently tracing over Ky’s jaw and down his throat.

My beautiful. Stay” Leaning down, Lovely’s hair fanned cool over Ky’s skin, his breath in contrast hot and damp as he placed a soft kiss to the boy’s collarbone. “You are mine. Stay.”

Heat rushing to his face, Ky swallowed hard, his breath coming out in a weak sigh as Lovely’s tongue teased up his throat. “But… But your friend…”

Tilting his head up and meeting his eyes, Lovely traced over Ky’s parted lips with soft fingertips. “Behave.”

Shivering hotly from the command, Ky‘s body relaxed, his arms pulled higher up as Feral pinned them in place. The boy’s hands were hot, felt strong even for such a simple grip. He glanced hesitantly up at the tanned boy but Feral was staring at Lovely, his gaze burning over the cat like creature in a way that spoke of much more than friendship. Again Ky felt like an intruder, not sure where he fit in with this strange duo. Then all thoughts flew from his mind when Lovely lapped over a stinging cut, climbing up his body to reach as he began to heal him with his tongue.

So suddenly he/hair color/ eye color/ body description can also include pet names (my beautiful) and fantasy descriptors (cat like creature) etc. Every time a description of the character is being mentioned, be it the hair color or the body type or personality ‘gruff man, sweet boy, cheeky S.O.B,’ you’re reconfirming that mental image and who is being spoken about, even if they’re not doing the action. The pronouns that follow after you have defined the character tend to reveal that they’re either referring to that character or someone else. You don’t need a million names to go “…Then all thoughts flew from Ky’s mind when Lovely lapped over a stinging cut, climbing up Ky’s body to reach as Lovely began to heal Ky with Lovely’s tongue…” Give yourself and your reader some credit in being able to figure out what pronouns refers to who.

I make a point to fix my pronouns when I’m doing my first edit. I don’t give them too much thought as I’m laying down the majority of my writing—although I have sort of gotten used to it now that I’ve been doing it so much—but come back later to make sure my pronouns make sense and I’m not repeating a million words. This is also good in general. Repeating words can stop a reader flat, things rhyming, redundant. Repeated words are great for poignant moments, accenting with your writing style. Don’t waste it on the mundane and confuse/annoy at the same time. An online thesaurus is your friend.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, it can be extremely frustrating as a reader to read a book where you’re just staring at a paragraph trying to figure out which character is doing what. If you’re confused, you’re not into the book. As the author you have a responsibility to not annoy the fuck out of your reader. Simple stuff, I know, but it happens. I like descriptors because it serves two purposes; keeping my characters’ actions organized and creating a visual for the reader. Pronouns can sometimes do the job alone, but why half-ass it? Every word in your story should be used to build a scene or emotion, especially when writing short. Make every word count.

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