Words Not Worth Repeating: Tip #5

Be careful not to say the same thing more than once, but in slightly different words. Or to frequently repeat the same word or phrase. A good example of this is in the case of personal pronouns. We all have a tendency to overuse “you” and “I” and “she” and “he.” Cut those down to a minimum, and your writing reads better automatically. The same is true for repetition of any word or phrase. How many times in one paragraph or on a single page do you use a particular word relative to your subject matter? More often than you are aware.

Seek a new way to refer to a character. For example: “Alice went to the cupboard and found George looking for a box of cereal. George stared at Alice and wondered where she had been.” Try it this way, instead: “Alice went to the cupboard and found George looking for a box of cereal. He stared at his wife and wondered where she had been.” Now, not only does the second sentence read more smoothly, but also it reveals what the first one did not — that Alice is George’s wife.

Just as common is the repetition of thoughts from one paragraph to another. When reading the material over, you will likely find that something said in one paragraph was already stated in a previous one, but somehow differently. Pay close attention, and read for comprehension, or you could miss some of those entirely.

While the same rule holds true for writing dialogue, some writers take the opposite path — going well out of their way to avoid the “he said/she said” conundrum.  However, this is one case where sameness is considered desirable. In the spirit of originality, writers often seek substitutes for the verb “to say,” which generally seem artificial and forced. “Don’t leave me,” she wept. “I don’t love you anymore,” he reasoned. “I’ll change,” she vowed. “There’s someone else,” he confessed. “I don’t want to know,” she sniffed. You get the general idea.

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