Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Repetitive words and phrases

Have you ever read a book where the author repeats one or two favorite phrases? Where it's something odd that might be cute or descriptive the first time but becomes noticeable the second or third and downright annoying thereafter, enough that it jars you out of the book, even though it may be an otherwise terrific story? I'm reading a great book tonight that I'm loving. A repetitive phrase is the only flaw I find, but it just jarred me from the story - again. I hope I haven't committed this sin, but I probably have, at least in the past. My wonderful editors and critique partners are very good at pointing out echoes (repeated words) and having me change them, so much so that I try very hard to catch them first. Still, I invariably get an edit where at least a couple are caught. It seems that many of us writers have favorite phrases or at least favorite words. One book I read a year ago seemed to be in love with the word "rueful". Another one with "akimbo". Another one yet with "insinuated". Once we know we've succumbed to a favorite word or phrase we can do a search and find to eliminate them. The thesaurus is our friend. Imagination even more so. I know it's damned difficult to write a book much less critique every single word, and yet, the more we do so, the more polished our stories and the better they are. But it's time consuming. Sometimes it's also annoying - and confusing. I've reread some of my stories so often, I #1) get bored with them and worse, #2) get confused whether I'm reading in sequence and need to change something or whether it's because I've read it so many times before I'm forgetting what part of the book it should be in. Oi! (one of my words I have to watch for). The more unusual the word, the more it glares in repetition. There are so many things to watch and worry about when writing a book. It's a big job and not an easy one. Not everyone has the patience or guts to fret over each and every word, to reread ad nauseum and then take criticism from critique partners, editors, reviewers, and ultimately our readers. Not everybody wants to be so detailed. At least I don't think so. Okay, I know so. My kids can't write a short story or essay without stressing and pulling out their hair and everybody elses' in the house. They act as if they'd rather have a tummy ache than have to write something for class. But I digress. Writing is both a detailed and creative endeavor all at the same time. You have to really love it to stick with it, especially for the pay most of us receive. With as hard as we work, with as much heart and soul that we put into our stories, it seems chintzy to criticize a work for repeating the same word or phrase, and yet this is the real world. Readers notice. They care. And they'll often speak out. So we have to be careful and not fall into this trap, even one story at a time.

5 comments:

Sandra Cox said...

I really have to watch for that. If I get a word or phrase stuck in my mind its in cement and I find it reentering my story on a regular basis:)

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

with me it's different for every book. Sometimes it's Just, sometimes Still, with the last one it was Then. Thank god for editors!

KellyMarstad said...

Uh huh. Danielle Steele, a book with"Ghost" in the title... "and meant it" repeated over and over. From 1/4 to 3/5 of the way through the book I counted over 100 usages on its variation. "And he knew that she meant it" "She knew that he knew she meant it" "He looked in her eyes and knew that she meant it" AAAAACCCCKKKKK! Never picked up a book of hers again. It was my first and last.

Molly Daniels said...

Mine's 'And then...' I'm learning to watch for it.

DJ Kirkby said...

Mine is 'albeit'. Yes, I know, strange...

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