Monday, March 18, 2013

Avoiding Repetition

Can a writer EVER avoid repetition of words and phrases? No.

Some repetition is inevitable in dialogue as characters will speak in a certain way or have a catchphrase. There are also a limited number of words in the English language which are safe to use without bamboozling the reader or sending them scurrying for a dictionary.

However, there are some things we can do to limit the repetition of certain words which can cause nervous tiks in readers, editors and agents.

And: This is a tricky one, but try replacing it with so, which, then and other variations.
That: A word which can often be eliminated completely without losing anything.
But: How often does that word REALLY need to be in the story?
Seem: A vague word which should be replaced as often as possible with something more definite, or altogether.
Sigh: If your characters are sighing too much, they may have a breathing problem. It's often difficult to convey an emotion without the use of this word, but have a go...or remove it completely.
Stood: How often have you written stood up? Well, how else are you going to stand? Unless your character is standing down, or straight etc, don't add to the word stand..
Sat: See Stood.

I have my own eccentric way of writing and use the word 'Oh' far too often for too many characters. I have to remove most of them or I'll end up leaving my characters with their lips in a permanent 'O' shape.

While I'm on this subject, three useful links for you.

Seven bogus grammar errors
Overused words
Eight words to seek and destroy

On that note, I bid you adieu, and I shall see you on Wednesday where I may show you a picture of me on stage, in my underwear. Or maybe not.


Karen S. said...

Like e e cummings, it's a writer's style! We know many an author by their special words, expressions, sayings, or mannerisms. Funny, my computer wouldn't let me leave the I in lower case like Cummings would write!

Al Diaz said...

Excellent recommendations. I learned about them during a workshop to get rid of useless words that only fattened the word count and weakened the writing. Now I am always looking for them and make sure they don't sneak in my ms and plague it again.

Caitlin said...

"That" and "but" are my two biggest obstacles when it comes to repetitions. I once did a search of the word "that" in my document and couldn't believe how many there were in there. Most of them were unnecessary.

Chloe said...

I've just begun to notice I use 'but' way too much! I'm weaning myself off 'that' though. I also have a thing about unnecessary directions - "looked UP at the sky" etc. Thanks for the reminder to look out for those sneaky words!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Your first four are what I call "dead" words. Usually you can get rid of them and you don't lose anything; the writing is tighter, in fact. Angela Ackerman has a wonderful book called The Emotional Thesaurus. It includes lots of great gestures and mannerisms to help a writer get away from "stood" and "sat" and other over-used behaviors. Your list brought her book to mind.

BTW: Thanks for following my new blog, Victorian Scribbles". I finally have my first post up, if you want to check it out.

Martin Willoughby said...

Karen: That'll be the auto-replace function. You can turn that off through the 'tools' menu.

Al: We learn as we go.

Caitlin: It's amazing how often THAT word creeps in. BUT we try and remove it.

Chloe: They're hard words to remove, which is why we need practice.

Elizabeth: I'll try and find that book, and then come over to your blog.

Dana said...

Good advice! I've been writing a lot of poetry lately, which has helped me realize even more how imporant it is to streamline. Thanks!

Emily R. King said...

Great list, Martin!

Martin Willoughby said...

Dana: I've never taken to poetry, but I do know it emphasises sleekness, which can only be beneficial.

Emily: Thank you.

Cindy Keen Reynders said...

Good advice, Martin! I have a habit of overusing certain words and repeating others. ::sigh:: That is exactly why I do several drafts of my books so I can stop the madness!

Valentina Hepburn said...

These words clutter up my manuscripts too - another is 'can'. Doing a word search shows them up in all their hideousness. You're right, often replacing them with other words tightens things up.
And why do you have photos of yourself in your undercrackers. British eccentricity, or something else?