Monday, January 3, 2011

Lindsey Learns... Not to Be Repetitive

See Lindsey learn.  Learn, Lindsey, learn!

Welcome to my new weekly feature, Lindsey Learns!  New year, time for a change.  I started this blog a year ago, in January 2010.  Thus far, I haven't had any regular blog features but now, along with my resolution to write 100 words (or more) a day (which so far has turned into multiple hundreds daily, yay!), I've decided to try to focus more on specific areas of writing in at least one post a week.

We all read.  A lot.  And we can't help but to read as writers.  We read and marvel at word choice or characterization or plot twists, or we read and wrinkle our noses (admit it, you do too) at things that make us wonder how on earth this book got published.

This feature is based on whatever I am reading at the moment (so, yes, you are at the mercy of my readerly whims) and whatever I happen to learn as I am reading.  My goal is to write about it and then open the subject up for discussion in the comments.  Please come on along for the ride!

For the record, I will use book titles in any post discussing something positive in my reading.  Whereas it is not my goal to ever bash a book or a writer, if I am writing about something that bugs me in a book, I will not use titles or author names.  Let the games begin!

Lindsey Learns... Not to Be Repetitive

Ha, so I just repeated my post title.  Pretend you don't notice.  Ok, so the idea for this new weekly blog feature came to me just before Christmas as I was trudging my way through a YA book that I really did not like.  I plowed through it, but as I was reading, I kept thinking - wow, why did the author do that?  Or why won't he explain what this made-up creature looks like, because I can't picture it in my head?  And I got to thinking that I learn as much from "bad" books as I do good ones as I do books on the craft of writing.  So why not put those thoughts into post form and begin some discussion.  Are you with me? 
The good news is that after Christmas, I read a very good quick book (Flipped, so darn cute, loved it) and began reading two other books that I am enjoying quite a bit more than that other crazy, confusing one.  One is billed as a YA "postapocalyptic romance" (Book A) and the other is a paranormal YA (Book B).  I am not using their titles here not because I dislike them - actually, they are both interesting and I am quite compelled to find out what will happen in both.  However, strangely enough, they share a trait that is bugging the heck out of me - they are both very repetetive in language.

Book A's main character and all of the other major characters are constantly crumbling.  That word is used to describe their despair over and over, they are constantly falling to their knees.  There are always tears crowding their eyes or tears burning eyes or tears springing to eyes and eyes meeting. The main character is quite often struck with some knowledge, or struck with a new understanding, or struck with disbelief.  And there is a lot of hand gripping.  Much description of hands and what they are doing (and no, it's nothing naughty, stop that!). The MC is constantly struggling with urges.  The story here is nicely original and is definitely engaging, but I find myself wondering at the same words being used over and over.  I do realize that that can be a style choice, but it's really standing out to me.

Holding Hands
Gripping, isn't it?
 What's probably not helping is that the same thing is happening in Book B.  Now, in this book, there is constant description of rain (it never stops raining!) and the MC's odd ailments.  Now, these things, I understand - they create an atmosphere necessary to the story.  No, I don't need to be told that it's still raining all the time, but I don't mind it, because the setting is like a character in this particular book.  There is also a lot of repetition of character behavior, which I also understand.  But then there is constant repetition of the MC experiencing smells so strong they get in his mouth, or smells so vivid he can taste them or smells that bring on his gag reflex.  Oh, and he also has many a dull ache.  Again - interesting and original book, and again I find the repetition of language odd (odd enough that I actually noticed it in both books and I'm only halfway through, so I flipped through each one and sure enough, several examples of those words popped right out.)

I'm sort of scratching my head here at why some of these words were not edited into synonyms or similar ideas.  I mean, "dull aches" can be described in many ways, can't they?  I mean, I can completely relate to the need to keep saying that the MC is aching, but why not change up the wording a bit? Or is this something that just bothers me?  I'm finding that I enjoy both books, but this is the one nagging thing that is bugging me.

So let's discuss your thoughts on this, and also, are there certain words or phrases that you know you repeat in your own writing that you've had to edit?  I'll be curious when I am much further into my WiP to check and see if I am doing the same thing!


Ghenet said...

Yes! I'm guilty of this and try to come up with different ways of saying the same thing. I found this site the other day that I think will help me with this issue: They do this thing called Thesaurus Thursdays, and have different emotion thesaurus entries on their site. I think I'll definitely refer to it when I need a new way to say "palms sweating" or something!

Dangerous With a Pen said...

Ooh, thanks for the link, Ghenet! I admit I am still a writing n00b for all intents and purposes, so I don't know yet what my trigger happy words are because I haven't finished a novel. But I'm getting serious now, so I can see me a year from now totally mocking myself for this post as I redline the same word 800 times. (Except, for me, it will probably be way too many commas instead, because, I am, like, way comma happy, totally. I once wrote a sentence in a WiP with EIGHT commas in it.). I need a punctuation thesaurus!

Slamdunk said...

I like your regular feature idea.

As for repetitive words and phrases, I overkill adverbs "ly" style which is an indication as to how much my writing needs to improve.

Carol Riggs said...

This is definitely good stuff here in this post! Yes, changing words around helps a lot! I bet the editors just didn't catch those repeated words, which is too bad. I find I don't catch my own sometimes--unless perhaps I read my ms ALOUD. Then it's like, oh, wait...didn't I just say that a page ago? I find that a good critique partner is essential in helping writers/me catch these things.

Another way is to go to that Word Cloud site and plug in your novel to see which words end up larger, which means you've used them a LOT.

Dangerous With a Pen said...

Slamdunk - I don't really know yet if I'm an adverb abuser. I don't think I am but I'm sure I am an abuser of many other things as yet unknown...

Carol - I love both of your suggestions, reading aloud and the word cloud. I'd seen those before but had never tried my own, so I Googled it and found it ( and plugged in my current WiP in all its 3,549 word glory. Very interesting! The word that stood out the largest was "one" (weird!) and then some of the character names. One? I can't even think offhand where I used that word in the story! Funny but helpful, and I think you are so right about reading your writing aloud. I'm a teacher so I read aloud all the time, but reading my own writing out loud, even to an audience of me, is a neat experience - you really get the sense of sentences that don't flow, etc. I will definitely come back to this suggestion when I hit revisions and editing!

Rebecca T. said...

Yup. I am SO guilty of this. Wordle made me realize that I use "just" WAY too much. oog. Also, my characters kept doing this one thing ALL the time (can't remember what it was right now) and like the fifth time I wrote it I wanted to smack myself.

one is a problem for me too - and my sister just found "two" popped up a LOT in her most recent WIP. Weird things we writers do without realizing it!

(oh, and you should find somethin somethin in your e-mail box :)

Misty Waters said...

So I just read a YA that was recommended to be GREAT, and when I read it, I thought, number one, that sucked, and number two WHERE THE HELL WAS THE EDITOR IN ALL THIS?
I was just recommended the bookshelfmuse, too! What a great site. I'm always on the lookout for a different way to say something that feels repetitive to me. I hate it, so I can't believe other writers (and then EDITORS) just let it go.
I "hear" I use the words WAS and JUST a lot. :) Well, at least I've stopped with all the "ly" words! I'm on a rollllll! LOL.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Ah, yes... echo words. I go hunting for these in my WIP's, but my betas still find sneaky ones that slipped past me.

I have read books where the same word was used over and over- smoldering is one that sticks in my mind from a rather popular one.

Rebecca T. said...

WINCED! That's it! All my characters were perpetually WINCING in my NaNo novel. *shakes head* Ridiculou. And I'm definitely have to check out that bookshelfmuse site!

LeiffyV said...

Yeah, we all are guilty of this at one point or another. I read about this in "Writing Tools" about word territory. I still have some issues with it but I am catching it more often than not. Between this and passive writing, it has been an interesting last few months of self editing.

Fantastic subject, makes me all twitchy now and want to edit this short story I just finished instead of sleep.

*shakes fist*

Donea Lee said...

I've been accused of using too many repeat words in my writing before - quite without noticing, of course, until someone else pointed them out.

I can see authors doing this if they're really trying to get a point across or if these words are central to who the character is or something like that. I know sometimes you want to reiterate - to keep it all together, to maintain.

Still - after being called a repeat (word) offender, I try to make a concious effort to use different words for the same thing when I can. So, reading something that doesn't take care to do this - yeah, I can see how that could bug. :)

Trisha said...

Oh yes, I'm definitely repetitive ,but this is in early drafts when I haven't bothered with line edits yet. I'm still trying to get the structure of my novel right, and the line editing comes later. That's when I get to fix up my problems like repeatedly having gazes meet and the like :D

Old Kitty said...

Hello you writer you! LOL!!

Anyway - repetition. I am so guilty. Words I used to use a lot and now must remove from my edits

1) that
2) had
3) has been


I guess the only reason I think that these books are as they are is that they've not had good editors maybe?? Just my humble opinion as I know nothing really! LOL! Take care

aspiring_x said...

it has to be really repetitive for me to notice it if i'm reading for leisure... sometimes, i think the tendency to choose certain words more often is part of certain authors' voices. if it is ridiculous overusage it would bother me... but sometimes i think repeat words can work as a clue to readers that "something is up"- a subtle hint that something odd is happening again. that kind of thing really jumps out in patterns with similar wordings... i don't know... just a thought.
but i KNOW i need to watch this in my writing- the words just and that, the phrase "you know" in dialogue, and eyes and smiles do WAY too much in my writing. :)

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

this is why i use Wordle all the time - so i can stick my novel in, see what my most used word is (and it's always "back") clean it up, run it through Wordle again. And again. And again until it finally gets down to more manageable levels.

Dangerous With a Pen said...

Hmm, "just" seems to be one of those words that keeps popping up here. That's interesting to me, along with some of the other ones you all mentioned, like that, had, or even you know, because I'm not sure as a reader that I would even notice overuse of those words. Of course it's probably still a good idea to curb overuse, lol, but those are pretty common words that can fit into many different scenarios.

I think the reason I noticed the words I did in the books I'm reading being overused is that they are words that conjure up very specific mental images, like a smell filling up your mouth, or someone physically "crumbling".

So now you've given me another train of thought... repetetive words I will have to be careful of like "just" that I probably won't even notice I'm overusing, and repetitive words that make my story seem like a video loop of the same mental images.

Always learning!!!

Catherine Denton said...

YES! My repetitions are ridiculous but I do change them in revisions. My worst culprits are: furrowed brows, tears, and sighing.

Dangerous With a Pen said...

Aww, Catherine, your characters must meet a lot of frustration and despair! How are you on rending of garments and gnashing of teeth? ;) :)

Hannah Kincade said...

my hands are gripping my phone right now because my head has a dull ache from the the smell of rain that's filling my mouth. Ha! I've noticed this with a lot of recent YA. I don't know if it's the editing or the writing or maybe they're just so busy trying to get them out while YA is so hot. I know it's distracting. I love this post and the concept for your new feature. Palindrome approved. ;P

Naomi Ruth said...

Oh! I am so afraid of this. As rebecca said in my current wip I used two so much it popped up in my wordle all big and excited. What?? I have no idea.

I had one story I was working on where I used 'and suddenly' every two seconds (Ah! That word two again!) and I had to stop that.

I understand that sometimes it is an author's choice to use certain words over again, but it is easy to over use it. Like if you say: The sad clown was so sad that he sat down sadly... Not only will you creep people out because it is about a sad clown, they will be annoyed at the word sad.

Very interesting thoughts. I like this idea as a common blog happening :) I've enjoyed reading what the above others had to say as well.

Oh! Also this is why I think myself as a writer should read different genres, because my characters can only use the words that I know, so I need to know more words myself in order for my characters to use them. Sometimes it's easy to only read YA fantasy, but then I'm missing out on a contemporary or dystopian or literary vocabulary that I might need. Does that make sense?

Woo... Sorry, this was a long comment.