Writing Prompt #21 Repeating Words

Just finished incorporating edits by Richard Jenzen into my next novel, Healer’s Sword, as usual I discovered I had picked up a bad habit. In this case – the repeated word. Sometimes it’s sort of subtle as in: ” … remind him how important it was he come clean with the League of Women, so he could come back to help.” Did you notice the two uses of “come”? Sometimes it just makes you wince, as in: “He turned to her. She turned back.” (Ouch!)

Word repetitions offend my editor when they come within a line or two of each other. But repeating phrases like “under the circumstances” is a ‘no no’ even if they are a page apart.  And I agree — nineteen times out of twenty. There are rare cases where a writer purposefully repeats to produce an effect.

Here’s the challenge: haul out a piece of your own work and review it for repeating words or phrases. In each case, decide if the repetition adds or detracts from the work. While you are at it, make up your mind about what constitutes a repeating word. You will probably want to exempt some of the little, handy ones like “a” and “is”. But maybe not always.

And last but not least, count this as a “2nd pass” or copyediting exercise, not something to bog you down in a first draft.


5 thoughts on “Writing Prompt #21 Repeating Words

  1. Another repetition which can look bad is to start two or more paragraphs in a row with the same word. Or sentences. I was just cleaning up a short story last night before the final edit and discovered the dreaded repeated “But” showing up. Eek!

    The worst is when the repeated word is exactly the RIGHT word for each sentence — usually requires you to rethink or rewrite one or both sentences.

    Why bother? Because repeated words really stick out and can throw your reader out of the story — and especially when the next person to read this is the editor who is deciding whether to buy it, this is bad. (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  2. I”m so glad I found this site, every article is so timely and relevant. Thank you Linda for this simple yet practical reminder.

  3. Curious thing how we seem to fall prey to repetition while we’re churning out a draft, isn’t it? Seems to me my brain got stuck on a word now and then and overused it for a page or two, then let it go. Irritating. 😦 Thank heavens for editors.

    1. One of mine in Part 7: Healer’s Sword was “turned” and variations thereof. I don’t think I was so stuck on it the previous manuscript! And I think Richard nixed most of the abuses in his edit. Weird how words stick to you for a while and then go away again, like songs you can’t get out of your head.

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