This is the eighth in a series of micro craft essays exploring the finer points of writing. Check back each week for a new Craft Capsule.
Beware the indeterminate “it,” I often say, when fine-tuning a draft.
But that word is so convenient. “It” carries the football from the previous sentence. Whatever “it” you just defined, you’re sticking with it for another ten yards, right?
Except that you’re fumbling the play. Too often, relying on “it” dissipates your language’s energy. Circle every “it” that leads off a sentence. Revising to avoid these instances will force your verbs into action, and clarify your intent.
This is not a hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes an indeterminate “it” will remain, one that has earned its place on the field. The pronoun can be strategic—signifying not just gender neutrality but an absence of comprehension or known name, a fumbling toward meaning, the building of suspense.
In the right hands, “It” can be a potent force. Just ask Stephen King.
Sandra Beasley is the author of three poetry collections, including Count the Waves (Norton, 2015), and a memoir. Her website is SandraBeasley.com.