(made rebloggable upon request—s2g one day tumblr will make asks rebloggable and stop being a pain in my ass)
Merlin helped Arthur get dressed. The blond looked at him intently, trying to read the other man’s expression. It was clear that his lover was upset.The prince took his warlock’s face between his hands and looked into his eyes, trying to be as reassuring as he could, not finding the words that would make the raven-haired man stop worrying. Merlin avoided looking back at his boyfriend and focused instead on a spot over the prat’s shoulder. Nothing was said.
as opposed to:
Merlin helped Arthur get dressed. Arthur looked at him intently, trying to read Merlin’s expression. It was clear that Merlin was upset. Arthur took Merlin’s face between his hands and looked into his eyes, trying to be as reassuring as he could, not finding the words that would make him stop worrying. Merlin avoided looking back at him and focused instead on a spot over Arthur’s shoulder. Nothing was said.
imo, epithets are only useful (and meant to be used) when your characters don’t know each other’s names.
Merlin hated blind dates. He scanned the room until he saw a blond guy sitting at the bar that fit the description Gwen had given him.
If your characters know each other’s names, I think the best thing is to use names and pronouns to refer to them.
Think of it this way, if you’re writing from Merlin’s POV, how likely is it that he would refer to Arthur as “the blond”, or “the older boy” in his head? Even “the prince” is pushing it, since, while several servants might do so out of deference and rank, it’s hardly in Merlin’s character is it? Even worse, how likely is it for Merlin to refer to himself, IN HIS HEAD, as “the dark-haired boy,” or “the warlock.” Doing so is even more distracting because you’re momentarily changing Merlin’s third person POV to either another character’s POV or an omniscient POV, which can take the reader out of the story, and muddles the narrative.
I know that while I can forgive a couple epithets here and there in a story (even then it jumps at me and annoys me), I close a fic pretty fast if there’s too many of them, even if the story is interesting. It jars me out of the POV, the narrative, and the mood.
This is of course, only my opinion. I’m not a professional writer (or even a really good one for that matter), and I’ve never taken a course in creative writing, or studied literature, or anything like that. I just know that I fucking hate them.