The Repetitive Habit of Repeating Things Over and Over Again Makes Me Cringe

Repeating the same word or words over and over and over makes me cringe. I cringe when I see the same word or words again and again and again. Nothing makes me cringe more than repeated words. Okay, you get my point already, right?

There are only so many plot lines available for a writer to choose from. It’s all been done before. What the writer does different with a plot line provides renewed interest to a theme that has already been tackled by someone else. Readers expect writers to provide compelling stories that offer variety and something fresh to an old idea. Tired phrasing and repeated words create hitchy moments in narrative. Don’t give your reader any reason to toss your book aside because she’s already read another book with the same plot.

Just like sentence structure should be varied, so should word choice. I am guilty of having “go to” words and phrases. It seems the phrase an emotion that she couldn’t quite define appears in my writing quite often. Hum… Maybe that’s lazy writing. Maybe I should define that emotion for her.

Don’t get me wrong. Repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of two or three subsequent sentences connects the sentences and gives the chained thoughts emphasis. Like the word maybe in the previous paragraph. That’s not what I’m talking about.

As a writer, I try to follow the unbreakable, unbendable rules of good writing. You know, stick to one point of view per scene, stay in character, stay in person and tense, provide your character with motivation, goal, and conflict, etc. It disturbs me when I find these rules broken in published works, particularly books by New York Times best selling authors with major publishing houses. Really? Makes me believe the two main factors in landing that big contract with a major house are connections and an original twist on an old premise. Still… I believe in polishing my manuscript to a bright shine. Doing anything that gives my baby an advantage over the other ten thousand unsolicited manuscripts in the slush pile.

Here are some examples of cringers…

One NYT best selling author used the word house seven times in the first seven sentences of her book. Sometimes there is no other way to express something but to use the same word twice in the same paragraph. But seven times? I would have thrown the book at the wall, except it was on my Nook and I didn’t want to break my e-reader. Make every word count.

In another manuscript I read, the hero and heroine had sex every time they were together. I mean every single time, from the first encounter that would have been a one-night stand to the wedding night. The cringe worthy phrase was and they came to an amazing climax at the end of every sex scene. If the scene cannot be varied from instance to instance, then it is best to minimize the number of detailed occurrences to increase the impact of the scenes that are included in the plot. This thought not only applies to sex scenes but to any repeated situation in the plot line. If the scene reads just like five other similar scenes before it, the reader is either going to skim the passage or toss the book aside. Make every scene count.

In my own writing, I’ve been guilty of using the word looked repeatedly. So many verbs can be substituted. Glared. Gazed. Peered. Glanced. Glimpsed. Stared. Be careful of filter words such as heard, thought, realized, felt, wondered, smelled, and sensed. Use stronger, more precise verbs or phrases to describe feelings, sensations, or thoughts. Rather than writing I heard footsteps, describe the footsteps. Perhaps something like… The thud of hard boot heels echoed down the hall. Make every verb count.

Okay, I’m through cringing for today.

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