Repetition

It can be a good thing, definitely, but repetition is also one of my biggest pet peeves when reading. By repetition, I mean using the same word or phrase repeatedly, until it begins to stick out like a blinking light on the page, distracting the reader. Let me give you an example:

Last month I read a YA novel I really enjoyed. It was extremely well plotted, its characters were three dimensional, and the writing was spot on. BUT the author used the word stark (or starkly) like, three billion times. The first time I came across it I thought, Ooh, perfect word choice there. That’s exactly the way I pictured his expression: sort of bleak and barren. Then I encountered it again. And again. And again.  So many times that I was completely pulled out of the novel and ended up wondering why no one (the author, CPs, betas, editors) caught it, instead of focusing on the story itself. 

In another book I recently read, a supporting character asked the protagonist “Are you okay?” or “Are you all right?” in almost every scene. Literally. And again, every time I came across one of those phrases, I kind of rolled my eyes, distracted, and then begrudgingly moved on.  In another contemporary YA I loved, the characters seemed to “shrug happily” a heck of a lot. In yet another, an author used the same sentence structure over and over, a lot like, Typing furiously, she wrote the blog post.

Here’s the thing: I am so guilty of repetition in early drafts. I’ve been reading over bits of my WIP, Where Poppies Bloom, and have found the word gentle more times than I care to admit. I’m leaning on the phrase “His/her voice was…” too. The thing is, I’m aware of the problem and intend to tackle it in revisions. While revising, I’ll probably find dozens more words that need to be changed or cut or improved upon. And I know the fabulous people who will eventually critique my manuscript will do their best to point out any repetition they find too.  

 I know it sounds sort of nit-picky (and I’m nothing if not nit-picky :)), but I think it’s SO important for an author to be invisible. I don’t want to think about his or her writing and editing processes while I’m trying to enjoy the book. I want to lose myself in their world, be completely immersed, not distracted by echoes that travel the pages of the novel. It’s easy to fall back on a few comfortable words or phrases, especially early in the process. I think it’s fine to go with whatever comes while you’re drafting , but I also think it’s important to carefully consider your words later in the game.

So, please tell me I’m not the only person this bugs. Do you notice repetition? Do you have any examples that make you want to pull your hair out?

Sadly, our vacation is over, but here's one last picture of my Cutie Pie and me in Arizona.

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3 responses to “Repetition

  1. Adorable kid, BTW! I wish all the writer moms were geographically anywhere-near-each-other; we could have some great play dates!!

    I completely agree with the oft-repeated descriptions/vocab. I wonder how things that distracting are still in by the publishing stage. I have my own long list of words I over-use, then remove.

    I read a book recently where the main characters’ actions were described as a lot of heavy trudging, so much so that it was annoying.

  2. Let me start by saying I love your blog, I love that you are pursuing writing, and I’m disappointed I was totally out of the loop on this! Secondly, I’m shocked by the similarities we share that I had never realized before, from an obsession over the exact same country music artists to a deep affection for the sun, to parents who can’t quite relate to your passion, to a reluctance to call yourself whatever you already “are” (you, writer; me, photographer.) And finally, the point of my comment – I can’t tell you how many of my own blog posts I’ve written and deleted because I keep repeating a word and can’t seem to replace it, even after consulting both the online thesaurus and the hard copy version!! I annoy myself with the anal retentiveness that dictates that things like that stick out like a sore thumb to me! LOL.

    • You know, Carla, I never realized how much we have in common either. Funny what you learn about people (even those you know!) online. So, I’m thinking someday we need to combine our mutual loves and meet in a sunny place to see some amazing country music act and then indulge in our creative passions. Thanks for your note… totally made my night!