A friend of mine is currently reading the first draft of my soft sci-fi YA novel. We were discussing it the other day and she surprised me.
Her: I’ve noticed you use the word gingerly, all the time.
Me: Really?! I never use it in real life. Why would I even think to write it repeatedly?
Her: I don’t know, but I promise you, it’s everywhere.
Sure enough I used the ‘find’ option in Word and see that it really is all over the manuscript. How weird. My other repetition horror? The word OK, which isn’t even a word but an abbreviation. My characters are constantly asking if someone is OK or saying they’re OK or it’s OK to do something. It tends to be followed by head nodding. I went through and deleted tons of them, changed them to alright or fine and they still seem overly abundant in my stories.
I know I’m not alone in this writing phenomenon. So how do you correct this faux pas? Firstly, become good friends with the ‘find’ option for your word processing program. When you’re doing a read through or editing and start to notice a trend, jot the word or phrase down and then ‘find’ it later and replace it with something else or take it out all together if you can. Another option is to consciously work at using new words and terms. While I don’t think you should sit with the Thesaurus and look up crazy replacements for common words, it doesn’t hurt to purposely practice not repeating words and phrases while you write.
During my student teaching days, I taught my 4th graders a lesson called don’t repeat. The students had to come up with ten sentences about a classmate. The kick? They could not repeat a single word. No ‘is’. No ‘a’. No ‘the’. Nothing. It was hard! With a little prompting, they started to change their thinking. Instead of using the student’s name they would say “Mrs. X’s daughter” or “my classmate”, etc. They really got into it and came up with some very creative sentences.
Therefore, if my 4th graders could do it, so can you guys! I will give you a couple of topics to choose from and your challenge is to come up with ten sentences about that topic without repeating a single word. Bonus points if you can make a coherent paragraph or two with those sentences.
The topics are as follows (choose only one): writing, music, winter, movies, holidays
Completing the challenge and improving your writing is the real prize, but I’ll use a random number generator to pick a winner from those who enter and I will interview you about the blog or project of your choice for another blog post. If you can make your sentences into more of a story/paragraph, I’ll assign you two numbers to increase your chances of winning. You’ll have until the end of the month, which is next Monday the 28th at 9pm EST to get your entry in. Good luck and I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with!