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  1. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    Repetitiveness in Writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by jwatson, Jul 17, 2009.

    After reading select books throughout my life I find, as I am sure you will too, that authors all have a different style. I know I have one to, but I am a bit afraid because I tend to use the same words when it comes to describing actions. I notice that even the most famous authors do the same though, so I am not sure if I should avoid this or not. For example, JKR uses the words, "revulsion" "bewildered" and stuff like that a lot and even if you've read some of Raymond E Feist's stuff he does similar things.

    I tend to use words like "He CLAMBERED/ STUMBLED/NEARLY TUMBLED up/down the stairs"

    or even the words "hallway/corridor" nearly always when describing my character moving through a structure like an Inn or a dungeon.

    Is it these words that define my style as a writer, or does the excessive use of them weaken my writing?
    My worst fear is that I finish this novel, review and edit it until I am super duper happy with it, and have it sent to published only to learn that my description of actions is too repetitive.
    Any thoughts on this? Thanks :)
     
  2. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Yes, I would say if it worries you, it's certainly worth making the effort to write more creatively, especially when you know you've repeated the same noun or adjective to the point where it's noticeable to you. Because we think in particular ways, we do sometimes describe a point or two using the same kind of unique word and don't even realize it till we reread and realize that it's getting too much notice for its significance.

    I comb through my own manuscripts looking for that very kind of thing. But it's easier to get in the habit of being aware of it as you go and using one instance or another as an opportunity to present something in a more interesting way. In the story you describe, I doubt very much that you'll need to beat the reader over the head with his terror and fright. Let the story do that for you. Remember, your reader has an imagination, too, and he or she will be grateful for the chance to use it in reading your story.

    You don't have to say he stumbled up the stairs. You don't even HAVE to say he went up the stairs at all (to make the same point). You COULD say, instead, "when he finally got to the top of the stairs ... " and let your reader do a little intuiting.

    Don't go by published examples of "famous authors" on points like this. Not every incidence of description or storytelling in a popular bestseller is an exemplary lesson in writing. What you're describing is not "style" either. There will very likely be some laxness, if not worse, due to cutting corners to meet deadlines and the lack or absence of good editing. Don't aspire to mediocrity (even if "famous authors" can be discovered to do something similar).

    That's my opinion, and I'm stikin' to-it.
     
  3. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    What defines your style of writing is simply what think works best. If you are worried that this is a problem, you might be on to something.

    Put like this: I seriously doubt you're going to end up making the story worse by adding variation to your descriptions. :p

    In my case, repetitiveness is one of my major pet peeves. I really have no tolerance for it, and I keep changing out words whenever I notice it in my own writing. I think it's a habit you develop, really. Once you get used to it, it's no big deal.
     
  4. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    I use Also all the time, and I also use other phrases a lot.

    And I start sentences with And.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...the latter, imo... i find myself sneering, whenever i come across this practice in my reading... to me, it's the sign of a lazy writer who doesn't take the time and trouble to make sure it doesn't happen...

    if it is too repetitive and if i were the agent/publisher you send it to, the rest would have to be exceedingly brilliant, for me to not toss it...

    i see this a lot in work sent to me for feedback and when i highlight all the repetitions, the writers are invariably shocked to find they've done that... which proves my point that they've been lazy in both writing and proofreading their work...
     
  6. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    Now, now. We can't get everything right in the first draft, after all. This kind of thing slips under everyone's radar on occasion; no need to beat ourselves up over it.

    Now, when you find it in actual published works, that's when you can start sneering. ;)

    Though, if that was the only issue, I'd rather expect them to send it back with a note going: "This needs fixing. Hint, hint."
     
  7. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    lol
    thanks for the comments and clarification, some funny things haha

    And thanks again ;)
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    One author I read seems to refer to bougainvillea once in every novel. I haven't noticed her using it twice in any of her novels, nor do I think she has missed using it. I suspect it's her own personal Easter Egg for her readers.

    Repetition or recurring words and phrases can be a sylistic choice, but most often it's an unconscious habit. If it becomes intrusive, you may want to break the habit.

    However, tere are some variations you should NOT try to fix. The word said in dialogue tags is generally a better choice than jumping through hoops to use alternate verbs/
     
  9. OrdinaryJoe
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    OrdinaryJoe Member

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    I have noticed repetitive use of words by well known published authors. Such as David Eddings use of the word Sardonically. I think for some it might just be the love of a particular word. To that person it describes what they are trying to say perfectly.

    I would have to say that if you look hard enough in any type of manuscript, you will find certain words or phrases that an author prefers to use.

    But if you think you are using a word too many times, you probably are.


    R.I.P. David Eddings :(
     
  10. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    The repetition of the words, is one of the things that bug me about some books. Sometimes it is necessary to repeat a word if it is a place, person, or thing that appears in the story frequently, but repeating words that end in "ly" usually tend to annoy me a little.

    I remember in Star Wars Thrawn trilogy, that the word "sardonically" was used just way too many times. I know "incredulously" was annoying me throughout the first Twilight book, among a great many other things.

    I can't think of any other examples at the moment. But I found that if I read a piece of writing and the repeating words stand out, then it was a problem. There can be repetition of words throughout a piece, but they don't pull the readers attention, so they aren't a problem.

    In my own writing, I tend to crack out the thesaurus during the first edit of the first draft, to see if there is anything I could replace with more creative words. But I don't get too crazy, like the word should be figured out through the context of the sentence (if it is an uncommon word with uncommon sounding.)

    If you think it's a problem, fix it. If you don't, wait till someone tells you it is a problem, then fix it. If neither happen, then you're good to go.
     
  11. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Everyone of you have repeated words in your post, so :p

    What if you need to refer to trees often? What if you need to refer to walnut trees often? Will you resort to saying the wooden towers with many branches?
     
  12. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    I will say that while I use a few words often, what I really don't like, and CAN NOT STAND, is using the same or similar sounding words in the same sentence, no, PARAGRAPH, without some linguistic reason.

    So if someone said something was great, then I notice it if great is used in the same paragraph, and it bothers me, and my mind may even run through things that could have been better. And this happens even for small, common phrases. Like if I was to use the word common right here again, or if I were to say that I get a small voice in my head. Too close to use those words again.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Some words are just habitual though. I know I tend to use "actually" a lot in discussions (verbal and written). I don't think that one bleeds into my fiction, though.

    There are simple programs that can generate histograms of the word frequency in a document. I've written tem at need, so don't ask me for download recommendations. Such programs, afer you eliminate obvious utility words (articles, conjunctions, common nouns and verbs), you can probably spot words you overuse heavily.
     
  14. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I'm sure those programs can be put to good use. I've seen the outcome sometimes, and I think you an even get a good feel for the writing and story by just glancing at the word usage breakdown.

    Words like "actually," which you mention, has a sound that will demand attention. It's all about significance, really. Overusing a word will dilute the significance of a single usage where its effect is required and begin to annoy the reader. I think it's a mistake, though, to believe that avoiding word repetition is simply a matter of replacing words with something else that means the same thing. It's more about seeing the overuse of certain words as an opportunity to write more creatively. There're tons of ways to make the same point; and probably the most uninteresting way is to simply use a thesaurus to find a word to replace another one. I'd rewrite one or another of those sentences or paragraphs in order to avoid the need to use either the word or its synonym.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not a fan of running to a thesaurus for overused words. Instead, consider whether you need the word at all. It may mean rethinking a sentence completely, but that's better than using a second choice word for an overused thoughtlet.

    The problem isn't a deeply rutted word. It's a deeply rutted brain trail.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i WAS referring to published works... 'my reading' meant the reading i do for pleasure, not what i have to do to help writers...

    agents and publishers don't have time and money to waste on teaching submitting writers how to improve their skills, so as i said, unless the rest of the work was totally brilliant and they wanted it anyway, it wouldn't be sent back with a note... most don't bother to send personalized notes with rejections, due to the huge numbers of mss that pour in daily...
     
  17. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    The only software that I know of that highlight repeated words, repeated phrases, and more is Autocrit. But you can't buy the software. You have to pay yearly to use it, which is stupid.
     
  18. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    Most of my repeated words do include actions, like stabbed, thrust, lunge, etc. But to be honest, I could be a tad of a worry-wart. The "he said" and "he replied" stuff is also very repetitive I tend to throw in, "he inquired" or "asked curiously" every now and again, but it's still the same flow. Maybe I notice it because I'm writing it, I D K, but thanks I'll probably crack open the thesaurus on my editing phase which I'm very far from doing.
    Good points.
     

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