This is not a new subject. I’ve lumped repeated words into another talk on editing. I have no ego. Even though I’ve been at this almost twenty years now, and have a tough skin, I’m known to point out my own weaknesses.
My writing continues to improve and get cleaner each time I read to my writers group. As a consequence, they’re able to dig deeper and find more unique things than I can keep up with. Repeated words, even though I’m quite aware of them (and try to filter them out), are the bane of my existence lately. They aren’t my only foible, but run a close second (or third) to telling instead of showing, similar sounding tags, obscure clichés, etc.
SOMETIMES THEY’RE OBVIOUS
Every writer will be humming right along, spelling out a narrative, think they’re doing just fine. They’ll edit it several times then let someone else or a group read it.
Mary gave it her all. She wanted the bouquet to stand out in the crowd. The only way to make her bouquet do that would be to use a special orchid Roger grew in his secret room at the back of the greenhouse. His bouquets never featured that orchid because she knew he’d stolen the first bulbs from that Chinese man who mysteriously vanished. She had to wonder about Roger.
Okay, how many times are we going to say bouquet in one paragraph?
You, as the author probably won’t notice anything, but another reader will.
This, of course, is just an obvious example, or is it? You may not believe how often simple repeated words like this show up in your prose that you’re blind to. Trust me, they’re there!
WATCH OUT FOR THE SNEAKY ONES
In the next case, I’m not going to show an example, because there’s not enough room in this article. My second example is a repeated phrase or word within a chapter. Yes, a chapter. It’s like the gist of your scene, but you keep pounding it in, over and over again. In my case, the other day it was fake religion. I said it one too many times in regard to part of a plot line in my fantasy novel sequel, Meleena’s Adventures – Gods Of The Blue Mountains. Within one chapter, I repeated that exact phrase three times without realizing it.
The fix was simple. In these situations, it can be for you also.
One of the difficulties with repeated words is noticing them in the first place. Since you’re so close to the story, you often can’t. You often aren’t aware of them right off, which means you need that second set of eyes. The solution is a beta reader, a friend, or a writer’s group. It needs to be someone different from you to notice.
Often, authors can be accused of using pet words. If that’s the case, a simple word search will bring them out. I often use nodded and arched a brow in my tags. I use a word search to find them. The problem is that if someone else hadn’t pointed that out to me, I might never have known.
When the repeated words are a one-off incidence, the only way to find them is dogged editing and that’s where that second set of eyes is most essential, to see the forest through the trees. When you are reading it, your mind tends to fill in blanks because you know what you wrote and what you meant. Guess what? You also see what you meant, not what you wrote! Trust me on this!
However… with practice and skill, you can get better at noticing these things, especially when you’re aware of them.
Print the chapter or scene and read it. You’d be surprised what you’ll see on paper that’s invisible on the computer screen.
My best solution is to have that second set of eyes, in whatever form they take.
Until next time, happy writing!