Asta’s Annotations: Epithets (Editing Tip for Authors)

Today I am wearing my editor hat and talking to the QSF authors out there (although readers may also find the discussion of interest). The topic I would like to discuss is the issue of epithets. This is something I see from authors across genres; however, it tends to be prevalent in LGBT fiction, no doubt because authors are trying to accommodate for the fact that they often have two leads of the same gender, between whom they need to differentiate.

Perhaps some of you are thinking, “What’s an epithet?”

Basically, it is an adjective or phrase that describes a person or thing by their/its key characteristics. Examples often seen in MM fiction would include ‘the young man’, ‘the blond’, or ‘the taller man’.

I see people using them in stories all the time, but you should instead avoid them like the plague. The only exceptions are when you introduce a new character whose name we don’t yet know (then ‘the old man’ or ‘the stranger’ is fine), or when the attribute noted is of importance to the action taking place. Otherwise, stick to the character’s name or relevant pronoun.

Why? Because using epithets makes no sense, especially when you are in a deep POV. Imagine yourself in bed with your partner. Things are getting heated. You look into each other’s eyes. Do you then think of that person as ‘the blond’ (e.g. The blond caressed my cheek)? I doubt it. You’d think of them by their name or a nickname/endearment.

Even in a more removed POV, epithets only serve to create further distance, limiting the reader’s connection to a character, and there really is no need for them. Most authors who use them do so because they’re worried that too many ‘he’s and ‘she’s will be confusing. But, honestly, if you write clear and concise prose, readers should have no difficulty keeping track of to whom each ‘he’ refers.

Seeing a constant stream of epithets in stories makes me cringe, and it is likely to have an adverse effect on my feelings towards the book, and the review I subsequently write. What do other Queer Sci-Fiers think? Is this something you notice/care about, either as a reader or a writer?

Author Pic 2015Asta’s Annotations is a monthly column in which author and editor Asta Idonea (aka Nicki J. Markus) discusses the world of publishing, offering tips and tricks to help budding authors submit the best possible manuscript.

Asta Idonea was born in England but now lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She has loved both reading and writing from a young age and is also a keen linguist, having studied several foreign languages.

Asta launched her writing career in 2011 and divides her efforts not only between MM and mainstream works but also between traditional and indie publishing. Her works span the genres, from paranormal to historical and from contemporary to fantasy. It just depends what story and which characters spring into her mind!

As a day job, Asta works as a freelance editor and proofreader, and in her spare time she enjoys music, theater, cinema, photography, and sketching. She also loves history, folklore and mythology, pen-palling, and travel, all of which have provided plenty of inspiration for her writing. She is never found too far from her much-loved library/music room.

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2 Replies to “Asta’s Annotations: Epithets (Editing Tip for Authors)”

  1. Morwen Navarre

    I’ve had editors insist I use epithets to avoid more than one “he” in a paragraph. Honestly, I agree about the distance created by epithets, and I’d prefer using names or just pronouns myself. I’m currently tweaking some works which reverted back to me, and I’m glad to have inclinations reinforced!

    Reply
    1. astaidonea Post author

      Hmm. I’m interested to hear that, Morwen. Usually, as editors, we’d be trying to remove unnecessary epithets, not put in more! With good prose, the number of pronouns shouldn’t be a problem, because it should be clear to whom each refers. Glad to hear I’ve helped reinforce your own inclinations on the matter. Best wishes with your re-releases!

      Reply

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