Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Self-Editing Checklist: Repetition

Do you ever find yourself repeating the same things over and over? Do you ever find yourself repeating... Okay, I'll stop.

All writers have repetition in their manuscripts. They're like little tics that keep jerking our fingers to the same spots on the keyboard. In the first draft, it's okay...We're just dumping the story out of our heads. But self-editing is the time to kill those tics and toss them in the trash bin.

Point #9 in my self-editing checklist is Repetition. (To see Points 1-8, click here.) There are three main traps to watch out for.

1) Chapters or scenes that accomplish the same purpose. Each scene should advance the plot, moving it forward and heightening the stakes. If you have two scenes that take place in the same location, they'd better be unique in the plot development to give the reader a sense that something is different.

2) Stylistic effects. Do you have a metaphor or simile in every sentence? Or in two sentences close together? Even if they're the most brilliant material you've come up with in your writing career, you need to cut one of them. Otherwise, they lose their effect.

Or how about this one...Your. Characters. Speak. Each. Word. As. If. They're. About. To. Die. In. Every. Scene. This technique can be effective in short snippets, but if you use it more than once or twice in a manuscript (personal opinion...not a hard-and-fast rule), you run the risk of making your reader throw the book across the room.

3) Word repeats. We all have pet words, and the more unique they are, the more they stand out. I never realized I had an addiction to the word "tingly" until my characters got the tingles in almost every scene. It made me want to rub anti-itch cream all over my skin. Your pet word will be different. But you won't catch it until you look for it.

There are some online tools that can tell you how many times a word is used in a particular section of text. Here's a link to Agent Steve Laube's blog where he talks about one such tool. Per his comments, it's not useful for an entire manuscript, but it can be used for shorter sections.

Ultimately, though, the best way to catch all these forms of repetition is to read the manuscript yourself. Then highlight the words or effects you see repeated.

Your homework for the next two weeks, should you choose to accept it: Analyze your overall scene list and watch for scenes that accomplish the same purpose. Look for repeat words and use the Find feature in Word to hunt them down and change them.

Do you have any pet phrases or words you use in your writing? What about stylistic effects? What are some tools you use to find them?

* Trash bin photo by winnond /
** Frustration photo by Graur Razvan Ionut /


Katie Ganshert said...

I am so guilty of this in my rough drafts! Great things to watch out for, Sarah!

Anonymous said...

I'm a word-repeater. And it's SO difficult to find them! My proof readers help me. Especially when I've read the manuscript so many times I can't hear the words. They point out all the "tinglies".

Nice post. :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice. I use the highlight tool in Word for specific words and change their color to yellow or red. That way when I'm reading or looking at a page the same word jumps out at me and I know I'm not going to miss it.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Great post! I used to put my manuscript into WORDLE.COM and it would make a cloud of the most used words. It seemed like "eyes" was a huge word for me. I guess my characters were always looking longing at each other or something to that nature!

Beth K. Vogt said...

One of my nonfiction crit partners started highlighting repeated words. At first, it drove me c-r-a-z-y! But then I realized the value of what she was doing and thanked her for taking the time to "make a rainbow" of my article or chapter. Now I'm alert to words or phrases I tend to repeat.

Joanne Sher said...

I have fun using Worldle for that kind of thing - but yes, repetition is a big problem for me. Great post.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Thanks, Katie! And thanks for the RT, too, btw. :)

wdenman, I know...It's so tough to catch those things in our own writing. I didn't catch all the tingles until I printed the m/s to paper and read it. Something about getting it off my computer screen made them shout out to me. :)

Anon, Great idea to highlight! Hard to miss them that way. :)

Sherrinda, Good point about the eyes! Beyond just repetition of words, it's good to vary the physical actions, etc.

Beth, I love your rainbow comment. That's one instance when it's not good to have a pretty m/s. :)

Joanne, Glad the post was helpful! :)

Faith said...

Great tips! I'll definitely take this advice to heart.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Faye, So glad you found something useful here. Thanks for stopping by! :)