I wanted to take some time to revisit an issue I see many fledgling writers having. It’s the problem of repetitiveness. In an earlier blog post I talked about my own issues of using the work OK constantly, as well as making my characters nod their heads. In reading people’s beta works and chapters on Book Country I’m noticing a lot of repeats in different ways.
Sometimes they are describing an action, for example:
He needed to climb the mountain by hand. Placing one hand over the other hand, he began to climb. His hands were cramping and the hand and foot holds were not easy to find. The climb would be difficult.
That’s a whole lot of times to say hand and climb in four sentences, no? It could be reworded as such:
He needed to climb the mountain by hand. Hunting for rocks he could grip or step on, he began his ascent . The holds were not easy to find and his fingers and palms were cramping from the exertion. It was going to be a difficult journey.
Better, right? While there are some repeats, he and his, it’s not excessive and I’ve kept the same general idea as the previous paragraph.
Another common repeat I notice is the use of he or she to start every sentence. Does this sound good to you?
She woke early. She walked to her closet to select what to wear for the day. She decided on jeans and a tight red sweater. It would be chilly that day. She would be warm and comfortable in a sweater.
Gah! She, she, she, she! So many times! Let’s fix that mess:
She woke early. Needing to figure out what to wear that day, she walked to her closet. Jeans and a tight red sweater would be perfect for the chilly forecast. That choice would keep her warm and comfortable.
Since we already know from the first sentence that the paragraph would be about a girl, I didn’t need to keep repeating that she was doing something. Again, the idea was kept the same as the original paragraph. In some cases you can just rearrange the words in the sentence, rather than adding new words.
I tend to think these repeats are not conscious choices of the author, but an occurrence of a common word coming to mind. When writers are on a roll, they just want to get the ideas out before they disappear. Repetitiveness is not something one normally thinks about until they are doing a re-read or edit. When you’re in edit mode, it helps to work a paragraph at a time. Read them aloud to yourself and make sure you’re not hearing the same word over and over. Another idea is to record yourself as you read so you can listen to it later. Not only will hearing it help you to pick out those repeats but it will help you see if your dialog is smooth and believable. Kill two birds with one stone!
If you find you have a problem with repeating, go back to my Don’t Repeat! post from February and try the exercise mentioned. You might be surprised to find how difficult it can be, but your writing will be better for it.