The energy sucking “I”

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http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/09/01/344043763/our-use-of-little-words-can-uh-reveal-hidden-interests

The relation between writing novels and this article came to mind. (link above. Click on it, you’ll be glad you did) This “literary detective” has uncovered quite a few interesting studies while analyzing language. Although this article is about speech patterns and what words we use when sending letters to people, this could also be used in writing novels. Especially once we are in the querying stage and are trying to find an agent or home for our manuscript.

Here is an excerpt from the above article by Alix Spiegel:

Some of his most interesting work has to do with power dynamics. He says that by analyzing language you can easily tell who among two people has power in a relationship, and their relative social status.

“It’s amazingly simple,” Pennebaker says, “Listen to the relative use of the word “I.”

What you find is completely different from what most people would think. The person with the higher status uses the word “I” less.

Could this also apply to being a better writer??

This reminds me of filler words and a laundry list of character description, as one of my editors put it.

If you write in first person, avoid the overuse of “I”.

If you write in third person, avoid the overuse of “he” and “she”.

Here are a couple examples:

– Over usage of “I”

I looked down and saw the little pebbles I had been using to throw into the river, shake around my feet. It wasn’t much longer until I heard the roar of a train barrel toward me. I felt adrenaline pump through my veins as I realized I could either jump off the bridge into the river below, or I could sprint as fast as I could to the safety of solid ground. As I stood suspended in the air with a decision to make, I began to climb the railing. I had always been a really good swimmer. (Lame example, but it was whipped out in a short time.)

– Getting rid of “I” – although not completely. Don’t make it sound strange.

Little pebbles, gathered to throw in the river below, shook around my feet. The roar of a train engine split the peaceful sky as it barreled toward me. Adrenaline seared through my veins as I stood suspended in the air, paralyzed with a decision to make. Jump off the bridge into the river below, or sprint as fast as possible to the safety of solid ground? Gripping my fingers around the railing, I eyeballed the river below. There was no time — jumping was the only option.

A trick I’ve found is to squint my eyes at a page I have just written. For some reason the word “I” blares out at me. Try it on your work in progress and you will see.

To get rid of a million I’s or He’s or She’s in your writing, try combining sentences. Rework the sentence. By getting rid of these personal pronouns, we are showing and not telling. We are making our work stronger by letting the reader live in the scene and not being reminded what I, he, or she should feel or saw.

Thanks for stopping by!

-Tara

2 thoughts on “The energy sucking “I”

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