>Repetition

What I call mini-repetition refers to words that are repeated too often. It will happen to you, so don't despair. But, you'll have to work hard to fix the repetitions without sounding clunky.

What is it and why is it bad?

It's boring to read the same thing over and over. Reading the same thing again and again is dull

Repetition on the mini-level.

Mini-repetition occurs when a word or phrase gets used too often too close together. This happens a lot to writers and it happens subconsciously. It's not (usually) that the writer has a seriously limited vocabulary. Just accept that it will happen to you and that it's one of the reasons you keep reviewing and rewriting.

Fire up your word processor and do a search for a word you suspect you use too much. Don't deny it. We all have one or two of them.

He found it difficult to concentrate when he could not find his wallet.

Some mediocre solutions

He discovered it was difficult to concentrate when he could not find his wallet.

This doesn't really work because changing found to discovered introduces the dreaded verb To Be. The sentence also takes too long to get to the point and does not allow the reader to participate, in violation of Carolyn's Third Rule of Writing (Allow your reader to figure things out.) So, how about this:

He found it difficult to concentrate when he could not locate his wallet.

This isn't very good because locate as a replacement for find is just too obvious. We can hear the writer at work, a clear violation of Carolyn's Fourth Rule of Writing. (Never remind readers they're reading.)

A Better Solution

His hands shook until he found his wallet.

This is active. It's brief. A reader's subconscious says, "Ah, he's nervous because he can't find his wallet!" and best of all, perhaps she feels a little nervous herself because she recalls how she felt the time she misplaced her wallet.

Here's an example which I have cribbed from someone who shall remain namless. I've changed the words. Only the structure remains. This MS was on its way to an agent.

Rarely before had he had such an efficient tax audit, and one so rapid. Most of his tax auditors used this time to fill out forms. Ms. Gibbons wasn't like any of his previous tax auditors.
Many of his previous tax auditors had remarked....

The phrase tax auditor is used 4 times in two paragraphs. Consider this: There are 34 words from the first use of the phrase to the last use in this passage and 16 of them are involved in the repetition. Was the writer totally clueless? No. The writer was just too excited about finishing the MS to keep in mind Carolyn's Fifth Rule of Writing: You will never be published unless you re-write. Here's my first stab at a re-write. Naturally, if I were actually writing, this would be reworked several times and probably until it wasn't anything like this.

Ms. Gibbons proved herself an efficient tax auditor. No forms to fill out, no pencils to sharpen. She just totaled the receipts, and she totaled them quickly.

Note that my re-write uses the Advanced Technique of Repetition for a Known Effect. See? Repetition isn't always bad. Just misunderstood.

Your assignment

Read Chapter 2 of your WIP. You're on a search and destoy mission for words and word forms you've used more than once in adjoining paragraphs. Remove all but one of the repetitions. It hurts, but you'll be glad you did it.

Extra Credit

Fire up your word processor and do a search for a word you suspect you use too much. Don't deny it. We all have one or two of them. I'll bet money you said, Yikes! Now get rid of most of them. If you're having trouble, think of three adjectives that describe your hero. There. See how easy that was?

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