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Characters w/multiple pronouns

ChaseJxyz

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I think you're over-thinking it, Chris lol. Singular they is singular in that it refers to one person, but you still conjugate(?) verbs as you would as if you were using the plural they.

Hannah went to the store, where they are an employee.

Jack and Jill went to the store, where they are employees.

So even tho Hannah is one person, "where they is an employee" just SOUNDS wrong lol. Which is why you conjugate stuff as if it were plural, even though you aren't referring to more than one person. People use singular they all the time, because we all know "his or her" and "she or he" is stupid and clunky and we naturally use "they" instead, even if using both pronouns like that is "more correct."

If you have a nonbinary person who actually thinks of themselves as multiple people (such as someone who is plural), then they're going to be using "we" or "I" to refer to themselves collectively (because not everyone is cool with multiplicity, so they just go with "I" to not have to justify their existence to others). But this would also be the case of someone who uses binary gender pronouns, too.
 

writer316

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Like Yzjdriel, a 20-something cishet. My thoughts, in particular to the point you raised:
Like if I have multiple people referring to the same character but using different pronouns in the same conversation, would people GET that?
This, and any action sequences (I'm assuming there are action sequences, since you're writing fantasy) you may have involving multiple characters, seems to me to be the major areas that could present confusion. I see less reason to be concerned during any third-person introspective passages (e.g., the characters' internal monologues), since by construction, during those sequences, there will only be ONE character on-scene -- or in any one-on-one tete-a-tete conversation scenes.

I do think, though, that it would help if you could ease the reader into becoming familiar with each character's set of pronouns. I'm not personally a fan of books in which there's a huge character dump in the first twenty pages or so, mostly because it's tough to keep track of all the personages without the help of some map or spreadsheet. Things tend to read more smoothly when the characters are introduced gradually, with each new addition coming after the reader has had some time to become familiar with the previous ones. I suppose the same would be true of characters with multiple pronouns.

I read a fic a few months ago in which one of the characters was revealed halfway through to be gender fluid, using the pronouns he/she/they when appropriate. Before the reveal, the character was referred to exclusively as "she" because that's all the protagonist knew. The reveal happened while introducing the character as "he," and another chapter later introduced the character as "they." From there on out, the piece transitioned between the character's pronouns, but the context and reader's preceding familiarity made the actions clear.

I have not, however, encountered work in which a character's pronouns change mid-scene, or in which different people use different pronouns to refer to the same person in the same event sequence. In the example that you gave with A, B, C, D, I'd have no problem following if the context made it sufficiently clear that only one person left the room. However, I did want to ask you if the rationale behind the A, B, C, D example is that each of the other characters see the character who left differently, if it's because Bobby is comfortable with people using any of those pronouns, or some other reason? I'm still learning about these topics.
 

J.W.

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If the narrator is referring to the same character using different pronouns, I'm going to get lost without context.

Can you provide an excerpt? The example you gave involved four different speakers. How the speakers address the subject might reveal more about themselves than the person they're referring to. Meaning, the subject might be cis-het but the four speakers are deaf-blind asexual aliens communicating psychically with each other and don't see or understand gender.
 

st_brighid

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I am kind of the camp that folks can figure it out. Which, I know is probably not very helpful, but there's making your storytelling clear and dumbing stuff down just because some folks won't make the effort. (And we, in general, as readers figure out a lot of stuff besides pronoun conventions.)

And, yes, I am queer so maybe I am not the right person to be responding to your question, but... in the past I have found that the folks that would need me as an author to jump through a lot of hoops to try and spell out certain things for them tend to not be folks who will appreciate what I write anyway. Obviously, try and be consistent and clear, but I would not tie myself in knots over this because the folks who are going to give up on the book because of pronoun usage are probably going to do that anyway. Just my NSHO.
 

laurabuzz

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any action sequences [...] you may have involving multiple characters, seems to me to be the major areas that could present confusion.
this is already an issue in writing characters with pronouns which do not alternate. try writing gay smut. if you aren't very careful you'll end up with ambiguous sentences all the time: 'he put his hand on his thigh' could mean that one boy put his own hand on the other's thigh, that he grabbed the other boy's hand and placed it on his own thigh, or, indeed, that one boy places his own hand on his own thigh. i've had to sit down and think about how to avoid this, and i feel like i'm pretty good at it by now. in describing actions i prefer short sentences, and i make liberal use of names and noun phrases to replace the pronouns ('the oarsman put his hand on the other boy's thigh'), and sometimes i'll even specify which boy i'm referring to ('the oarsman put his hand on his own thigh'). these are seldom the most beautiful sentences i've used(1) but no one's ever complained about them and furthermore they never confuse. so i can finally write about two boys without bewildering the reader, but that was something i had to learn, by coming on the same problem again and again and wishing i knew how to do it already until i figured it out. i cannot, off the top of my head, think of a great way to write a character for whom alternating pronouns are appropriate, but i bet if i spent ten or twenty thousand words doing it i'd figure it out eventually.

something i would ask is this: WHY does the character use alternating pronouns? your reader is not learning about this character by reading their twitter bio, they're encountering them in the context of their life, role in the adventure, or something similar. presumably this person takes the alternating pronouns for some reason, and if you introduce that reason to the reader, they will accept it, and, in fact, by then nothing could be more natural. neandermagnon touched on that when talking about drag queens (where the feminine persona naturally deserves the feminine pronoun). i've never met someone who used alternating pronouns, so i don't know why someone would take them, so i'm not sure how i would approach it myself, but if you want to write such a character i'm sure you'll know the reason and can let the reader in on it as well. that's what i think!

(1) a more beautiful solution is to structure the scene asymmetrically. if one boy is wearing a skirt, a garter belt or a long sock, now the other boy can 'reach under his skirt', 'tug on his garter', or 'finger the hem of his sock' and all of these get us to the thigh without any ambiguity. and they are more memorable descriptions, but they will not always be available.
 

Brigid Barry

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So: would just organically using multiple/different pronouns for the same character come off as too confusing for people? Has anybody encountered such an issue in the wild and liked/disliked how it was handled? What do non-Queers actually KNOW about this topic??? I have only 2 cishet friends and none of them are writers so they're of no help lol.
As a cis person, I would be horribly confused by multiple pronouns for one character, but I try not to be an epic asshat so I would reread until I figured it out without admitting this horrible character flaw to anyone. I am vaguely aware that some individuals have and use different pronouns for themselves based on things that are none of my business, but this is not something I have come across personally.

I am going to answer your question with a question, and feel free to not answer if I'm inadvertently being a douche:

When someone has multiple pronouns, how do they handle a switch? The individual is the only one who knows their pronoun at any given time so when their pronoun changes what is the indicator for others to know what pronoun to use?

ETA: If there is an organic way to go about it that doesn't involve flags and pins (or ribbons or mustaches) in real life could it be used in the novel (sorry, I ended mid-thought).
 
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DorianFrost

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Thank you for making this thread. I (as a genderfluid person) asked a similar question on a different writers' forum and only got a response of 'don't do it, it's confusing.' Which was super unhelpful. A lot of the responses on here have been quite helpful.

In an attempt to add my own two cents:
Something I've been trying is having a clear identifying word in close vicinity to at least the earlier shifts in pronouns for the character; whether that be their name, her role, his relationship to the POV character, a physical descriptor unique to zir, etc. Given most of those I can get feedback from are also queer, as sounds like has been your experience, I can't give a definitive answer on how clear this is for cis people though.
Other than that, like st_brighid, I've landed at the mind set that the reader can figure it out.