Writing Tips: Repetition


CC Photo by Irina Slutsky

Most writers have favorite words that we tend to use often in our speech and in our writing. Yet repetition can creep into our writing and create a sense of sameness in our work. We don’t want readers to feel as if we were just too lazy to come up with a different word to describe what we wrote about in a previous paragraph. Here are a few examples of repetition that can be easily fixed:

At eleven, we walked the twenty blocks north to the Palladium. The club had a cavernous ballroom on the main floor and an upstairs VIP lounge for private parties. The line to get in snaked around the block. Vicky walked right up front, ignoring glares from some overdressed women and their dates.

An easy fix would be: Vicky went right up front …

Here’s another example of repeated word(s): “scowling/scowled”. Even though the word is used on different pages, to the reader it feels repetitious.

I took a spot at the table next to my friend Meredith, our managing editor. She always supported my attempts to pursue a book, although in the past I’d gotten shot down every time. We were joined by Edgar, who handled arts and crafts. Kate and Charlie took the seats opposite. Harvey bustled in, scowling.

“What’s on the bestseller list? What’s hot?” He fired his opening salvo.

“Diet, sex, and woo-woo,” Charlie said, running a hand through his thinning hair. In his late twenties, he’d risen through the ranks by specializing in pop culture.

“We need more of the first two categories and less New Age. At Esiness we usually had several blockbusters in the works.” Harvey always managed to bring up his glory days at the more commercial house, where he’d been fired for grabbing one too many young assistants. “Kate, what’s up?”

“I have in a debut novel; it’s sex-and-shopping, but not badly written. Maybe Julia could give it a read,” Kate said. The stylish editor had been hired away from Hawtey Press, supposedly to bring in bestsellers.

Harvey scowled. “What we need is another brand name. The only one in our lineup right now is Freeman Fyfe.

(Instead of “scowled”,  use “Harvey frowned.”)

One way to catch word repetitions is to use the “tools” bar in your doc. You can click on “find” and search the manuscript for the word, to see how often you use it. You may already have an idea of what some of your favorite words are; you’ll probably be surprised how often you use them. When I was writing my novel, I was amazed how often I used “momentarily” and “taken aback”!

Have a question about writing? Comment or email me at leslie@lesliewellsbooks.com

Leslie Wells has edited forty-nine New York Times bestsellers in her thirty-year publishing career. She is the author of Come Dancing, a novel about book publishing and rock and roll, set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at www.lesliewellsbooks.com

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