I DNFed two books this week because I couldn’t deal with the authors’ wild overuse of epithets. One was self-published and the other was published by a press, so this isn’t just a self-pub thing. Authors, beta readers, editors, please, for the love of all that is holy, understand that epithets are unnecessary about 99% of the time. Every single time you use one, ask yourself, “Is this necessary?” I promise that the answer is nearly always no.
I googled looking for an explanation so that I wouldn’t have to actually write up everything myself. I found one on Tumblr that I’ll share here. Yes, it’s about fan fiction, but, dudes, this applies to all writing. Published work is actually expected to be held to a higher standard than fanfic most of the time, am I right?
GO READ THE ENTIRE POST but I am going to just cut and paste in some screen caps of the most important parts.
Do you look at your mother and think, “The dark haired woman made waffles for my breakfast.” NO. You think, “Mom is making me some awesome waffles because she is awesome.” Do you look at your best friend and think, “The accountant walks toward me with purpose.” NO. You think, “Jake strides toward me purposefully.” Do you look at your wife/husband/lover and think, “The brown-eyed artist smiles and laughs at my joke.” NO. You think, “Jamie smiles and laughs at my joke.” Do you look at your friend from Iceland and say, “The Icelander chewed her food viciously.” NO. You think, “Ragna chewed her food like she was starving.” OR WHATEVER.
Yes, it’s dehumanizing. It’s also the exact opposite of intimate. If you’re writing a romance, and you’re coming up to a pivotal scene that’s supposed to show physical and emotional intimacy, nothing is as distancing as, “The blond man licked the tip of my cock and I moaned.” The blond man? Unless this is a trick and your character doesn’t know his name, those words have no business in a love scene. That is not intimate. That is not connected. That’s not romance.
Yes. All of this. It’s harder and you’ve got to work for clarity, but it’s so much better to come up with well-structured sentences that make the subjects the pronouns are referencing abundantly clear without resorting to the use of epithets between lovers or friends. Or even acquaintances who definitely know each other’s names.
Yes, but keep in mind that the use of the epithet should always have something to do with the action. So, in a love scene, for example, there’s really no reason for one lover to call the other “the sheriff” in his head. “The sheriff fondled Darren’s nipples and whispered, ‘I love you,’ in his ear.” Nope. NOPE. Not intimate. Not sexy. And not how actual human beings think. I swear to God, you have never ever ever been in bed with your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband and thought, “The department store manager licked his lips and dove down for a kiss.” Not even a single time.
So please, please, please stop doing it in your books. I want to actually enjoy and finish the books I pay for. I want to stop thinking, “Why did the press get 60% of their royalties and let this book go to print like this?” I want to stop thinking, “This self-pubber needs stronger beta readers and a friggin’ editor.” I want to be all like, “YES, I LOVED THIS BOOK! LET ME GIVE YOU MORE MONEY FOR ANOTHER ONE!”
And that’s all I’ve got to say about this today. I just had to get it off my chest. Thank you.