Resist Repetition

Avoid overuse and repetition of words and phrases.

This is a little bit of advice I learned through one of my favorite authors. In one of her books she mentions that the protag has amber eyes. Then again and again – including more than once in a single scene. By the middle of the book I found myself grinding my teeth and grumbling, “Amber eyes. Got it.”

So here’s today’s tip. It doesn’t make an acronym that creates a word like RUE, but try to Resist Repetition.

Readers are, for the most part, savvy. Especially SF/F readers. We’re geeks. We get it. You don’t have to pound into our heads that the protag has amber eyes. Once, maybe twice in the story – but not in the same scene, please – is enough.

Related to this repetition problem is having pet phrases or words that one overuses unconsciously. A friend told me that she was irritated by a famous author who used the phrase ‘splayed fingers’ over and over in one of his novels. The trouble is, how do we avoid this if we don’t realize it? That’s where crit partners are invaluable. They’ll find those things when we skip blithely over them. Or try reading your story aloud – you’ll be surprised what will jump out at you.

And usually the offending word or phrase is a simple one. Perhaps too many people in your story grin. Or the dark hero disappears into the dark night on a dark mission. Just grab a thesaurus and find some substitutes for those overused words.

originally published in The Sword Review 2006-01-05

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