Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Writer Tip #5 -- Repetitive Words

With the richness of our heritage and culture, not to mention the richness that comes from the words we have adopted from other languages and made our own, we have a rich assortment of words from which to choose. We have words that start with every letter of the alphabet, every length, shape, size, and color, just about. And yet for some reason, there is a tendency to ignore the rich bounty all around us and to use the same tired words over and over.

Grimace. Quip. Suddenly. Sighed. These are just a few of the many, many words that are overused and done to death. But even worse than this is when an author uses the same word over and over again throughout the course of the same book. It is detracting from the story, bores the reader, and gives the impression that the author simply isn't trying hard enough, if they have to keep relying on the same expressions time and time again.

When you're using a word that's unusual, like idyllic or ambience, you especially want to make sure that you only use it once per book. Any more often than that and it will stick out like a beehive hairdo at the mall. Words that are more common can be used with greater frequency, but be careful -- some of your readers may be as persnickety as I am and remember that you used the same word on page 4, 99, and 203.

It gets particularly bad if you use the same word twice in a sentence, or three times on the same page, or four times in a chapter. Live a little! Find new ways to express yourself! Pull out your thesarus or better yet, depend on your own mind to find ways to put your ideas across.

I have a hard time with the word "was," and I didn't even know I had a problem until recently. I gave the manuscript to a friend for editing, and she went through and marked all the "was"s. Oh, my goodness. It went beyond my mortal comprehension. See, to me, it's an invisible word. I never see it. Yet to have it circled, and to see it five, six, ten times on a page -- I shudder to remember it. And yet how easy it was to fix. Instead of "She was sitting on her porch," it's now "She sat on her front porch." Of course, I still use it, and sometimes it needs to be there. But my usage has really dropped since then.

In summary, as you read your work, make note of how frequently you use the same words. If you can, change them. Tap into that source of creativity that bubbles in your brain and make your work original. Oh, and by the way, how many of you noticed the repetitive word use in the first paragraph of this essay? Be honest, now!


Janette said...

So true. It seems that every book I over use some word and don't realize it until the book is in print. I wish they'd make a computer program for that. You know, your computer flashes a warning: Your characters are sighing too much.


Tristi Pinkston said...

You should invent that program, Janette -- you'd make a lot of money!

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