kais

Let's talk about pronouns!

41 posts in this topic

Awesome, thank you @kais. I'm rolling with a particular option for this draft and will see how it plays out. I'd love to think that you guys will get a read as far into TCC sometime to see how it plays.

(Edit: Bah, sorry. Weird double post due to internet shenanigans.)

Edited by Robinski
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It's the Oxford English Dictionary this time, with a blog post tracing the history of the singular 'they.'  Singular 'they' traces all the way back to 1375, and was probably in spoken use much earlier than that. 

Oxford English Dictonary - A brief history of singular 'they'

 

Merriam-Webster notes the use of singular 'they' as a nonbinary pronoun is a new permutation -- but not that new. They have evidence it was in use in the nonbinary pronoun sense 60 years ago in 1950 (and again, use-in-text usually comes after many years of use-in-speech).

Merriam-Webster Words at Play: Singular 'They'

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I think this thread has been dormant for a while, but just in case anyone's still checking:

I've run into a grammatical pronoun issue and I'm hoping for some advice. In my book, most of the main characters are members of an alien species that are colony life forms (ie several thousand individuals joined to make one, a bit like coral). Since each colony is composed of multiple genders but addressed from the outside as one person, my thought was to use they/them and we/us for self identification. 

The problem comes in when telepathy gets added to the mix. Because in addition to each colony being internally linked, the colonies are more loosely linked to each other into a sort of bio-internet. 

So I'm running into a lot of Thems and Theys and getting confused. Initially I thought I could solve this by adding the specific name, but then I've got aliens who all speak like Tarzan (ie We Sarah, They Bob). 

I've got a ton of world building going on, so I am hoping to work out something that is somewhat self explanatory. My writer sense says I am very near my exposition level breaking point already. 

Any tips or ideas? Am I comming at this from the wrong direction?

Advise appreciated. 

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3 hours ago, Sarah B said:

wrong direction?

Is the issue you are having a hard time with singular they? Or there are just too many they pronouns? I’m a bit confused what the issue is


you could always just not use pronouns and have the people just always use names. 

Edited by kais
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5 hours ago, kais said:


you could always just not use pronouns and have the people just always use names. 

That's a really good idea, thank you! 

I think I was getting turned around with the combination of plural and singular they, where both are applicable for the same person. Or I was just over thinking it. Probably the second one :-)

Thanks again

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13 minutes ago, Sarah B said:

That's a really good idea, thank you! 

I think I was getting turned around with the combination of plural and singular they, where both are applicable for the same person. Or I was just over thinking it. Probably the second one :-)

Thanks again

I'm losing the thread  a bit here even though I'm somewhat decent at grammar sometimes, but how about invent a new he/she/it/they? It's probably horribly impractical and jar the readers out of the novel but it'll be so cool!

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42 minutes ago, Turin Turambar said:

invent a new he/she/it/they? It's probably horribly impractical and jar the readers out of the novel but it'll be so cool!

There are hundreds of neopronouns already in existence to pick from, too!

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Potentially, you could also have the individual colonies use they/them/we/us and have a different pronoun the entities when they're telepathically linked? Then you could do as @Turin Turambar and @kais  have suggested - either invent a new one or  take your pick of existing ones.

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9 hours ago, kais said:

There are hundreds of neopronouns already in existence to pick from, too!

Yeah, I thought of neopronouns*, but I thought that might be a misuse. I thought of those neopronouns as kind of reserved for non-binary genders, rather than collectives. But maybe I overthought that.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_neutrality_in_languages_with_gendered_third-person_pronouns

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@Turin Turambar

@kais

@Silk

@Robinski

All good points! I think I'll try out solutions by redrafting a scene that was particularly confusing with each option and see which comes out the clearest. 

Thank you for all the advice and feed back. I think I was a bit paralyzed but I can start digging into edits now. 

Thanks again!

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23 minutes ago, Sarah B said:

@Turin Turambar

@kais

@Silk

@Robinski

All good points! I think I'll try out solutions by redrafting a scene that was particularly confusing with each option and see which comes out the clearest. 

Thank you for all the advice and feed back. I think I was a bit paralyzed but I can start digging into edits now. 

Thanks again!

No problem - have fun!

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Hey, I'm completely new to Reading Excuses. This was very interesting to read. I guess I'll be the first to say that I don't generally like reading they/them characters because I usually find these characters don't get a lot of physical description, and I like to have an clear image in my head of every character. (And I don't like reading super-activist stuff where an author makes their brilliant non-conforming character have one-sided arguments with unintelligent cis-gendered characters defending the validity of their gender/sexuality as a way of expressing the author's personal views.) But done right, it can certainly be an interesting read.

My book has a couple of gender-neutral main characters, and by that I mean physically-gender-neutral-alien-species-characters. My main character can take any form, and he (he?) may at any time be in a woman's, man's, or animal's body. Because he's from a species that doesn't place any emphasis on gender or sexuality, I'm wondering what the best pronoun would be for him when his body changes. I don't want to draw attention to gender to preserve the alien feel of it. Reading this especially makes debate over pronouns feel too human and out of character for him. So what do you think would be best? Stick with male? Switch depending on the body he's in? Or go with they the whole time?

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Posted (edited)

Well, if a book doesn't do a good job describing character's physical traits, or has cardboard villains, that can certainly be a failure of craft (though a lot of books seem to be tending away from lengthy physical descriptions in general), but that's true regardless of the gender identity of the characters being portrayed.

On 4/5/2022 at 3:12 PM, CameronUluvara said:

by that I mean physically-gender-neutral-alien-species-characters.

 

On 4/5/2022 at 3:12 PM, CameronUluvara said:

Because he's from a species that doesn't place any emphasis on gender or sexuality,

 

On 4/5/2022 at 3:12 PM, CameronUluvara said:

So what do you think would be best? Stick with male? Switch depending on the body he's in? Or go with they the whole time?

I think one of the key things you'll need to tease out in your worldbuilding is that the ability to change physical characteristics doesn't itself have anything to do with gender identity. The latter is about how the character thinks of themselves within a social context, and is not necessarily likely to change based on the physical form that a character takes, especially since your characters seem to be straight-up shapeshifters rather than beings who change a limited set of physical characteristics. So the first step is to divorce the physical forms that the character is able to take from whatever gender identity they have, which is going to be informed by their social norms etc - in other words down to your worldbuilding. It sounds like you may be intending them to be completely gender-neutral or have no gender identities at all in addition to them having changeable physical forms, but I'm not entirely certain from your description, so that's probably the first thing to establish in your worldbuilding if you haven't already.

As far as changing pronouns when characters change form: It sounds like your character/species have the ability to shift forms more broadly than just changing sexual characteristics, but I do want to caution that while it is certainly possible for a character to be both gender fluid and have the ability to change sex, it's harmful to conflate the two (suggest that one is the same as or dependent on the other), so if this is something you're thinking of, you will need to put a fair bit of thought and time into avoiding this. And just generally, shifting pronouns is one more thing for you and readers to keep track of. I'm all for trusting readers to be able to keep track of this type of thing, but you as the writer will need to be able to set them up for success.

As for sticking with "he" - if you want truly gender-neutral characters then using a male pronoun might not be the best way to establish this. Ursula Leguin used "he" as a gender-neutral stand-in for aliens who changed sex in Left Hand of Darkness, and I for one definitely found that it made it way easier to think of the characters as male, whether or not that was true for any particular character at any given time. I think Leguin's actually talked about this - may be worth looking up.

tl;dr: A ton of this depends on your worldbuilding and, to some extent, your current skill level, but it does sound like "they" may be a good solution for you. Good luck!

Edited by Silk
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I agree with everything @Silk said, and I want to emphasize that you should use the pronoun in line with your character's gender. Their physical form has nothing to do with that. Being agender, if that is what you are going for, is in fact, a gender, and one that would then use they/them/theirs or some form of neopronoun. But gender isn't tied to what your body looks like, so it's important to keep those distinct.

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