“The brunet”, “the blond”, and “the younger man” are ruining your books! And here’s why! #epithets #makeitstop

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


In the midst of a hectic day preparing for Thanksgiving with friends and family, I want to pause and express my love and gratitude to:

1) READERS: I almost wrote “my readers”, and while I do love y’all especially, in reality I’m just grateful for all readers, every last person out there who enjoys picking up a book and immersing themselves in a tale spun by one of us wacky writers. Thank you for going on the journeys with our characters, for falling in love alongside them, for crying with them, for helping them live outside of the writer’s mind. Thank you, also, for trusting us with your hard-earned money, for trusting that the trip will be worth it, so that we can afford to write more stories for you. Thank you, readers! You make our hearts sing and make our work worthwhile.

2) Beta-readers: These special first readers get extra buckets of gratitude for making sure we don’t embarrass ourselves too badly, for telling us the ugly truths about our babies (books) and forcing us to reevaluate them with new eyes. Thank you for taking precious time away from your family, friends, work, job, and life to read our books (sometimes more than once) with a critical eye and then writing out (sometimes long) emails about how they can be better. Thank you for fighting for our books. You’re our heroes.

3) Editors: Thank you for trying to fix every last wrong thing in our books and for making our books your own babies, too. Thank you for forcing us into the harder edits that we might otherwise resist. We’d be a mess without you!

4) Reviewers: Thank you for loving books so much you tell the world about them! Thank you for doing your best to spread the word about the books you love and for being honest about the books you don’t. Thank you for spending time away from your family, friends, and life to run blogs, promote our books, post on Goodreads/FB/Twitter with so much enthusiasm. Where would we be with you guys? You do so much for all of us authors! Thank you forever!

5) Family and Friends: Thank you for listening to us talk endlessly about made up people. Thank you for giving us the time to write the books, for not making us feel guilty about how often we spend our free hours in a fantasy land, and thank you for understanding piled up dishes, and laundry, and missed appointments. Thank you for holding our hands when books bomb, and for jumping up and down with us when books do well, and for reading books that you might otherwise not just because we wrote them. Thank you for your love, your support, your cheerleading, and your tether to reality.

Thank you! You make our world go ’round!