Linda’s blog May 18th
Apologies – two days late.
Following on from last week’s foray into editing, I thought I’d address another aspect this week – that of repetition.
When it’s intentional and well-written, repetition can add enormously to your writing voice and style. But used accidentally, it can be annoying to the reader, stop the flow of the piece and, basically, shows that the author hasn’t taken the time and trouble to check through their writing. Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve often read stories where the characters are well-drawn and the plot keeps me reading but I am put off when the same word – noun, verb, adjective – is used not just twice but repeatedly so.
There are several ways around this problem and the one I recommend is:
- READ IT OUT ALOUD
I don’t mean mumble it as you read it through. I mean sit or stand up and read it as though you had an audience, as a performance. This way, not only will you pick up repetitions, but it’s more than likely you will hear badly-constructed sentences, see typographical errors, spot grammar and spelling mistakes and, hopefully, pick up on plot holes.
- A SECOND OPINION
A different pair of eyes is always a good idea when you reach the editing stage. It’s all too easy for the author to read what they thought they had written, what they had intended to write, not seeing what is actually there. If another person is happy to read your work out loud, then you’ll have a double-check.
- A SOFTWARE PROGRAMME
There are computer programmes available that will analyse your writing and produce a report that tells you how often you’ve used certain words. I’ve found one free programme that is easy to install and use: textfixer.com. Once installed, go to Text Tools, then Word Frequency Counter. Copy and paste your story into the box, press the button and you’ll get a list of your most commonly used words.
If you already know which words you use too often and need to find them, then Microsoft Word has a facility to do this. Remember my editor who discovered my too-frequent use of ‘but’? I could then use MS Word’s Find facility to go through deleting or altering.
Those are my suggestions for the accidental use of repetition. The deliberate use of repetition is to be encouraged, in the right place, and in the right way. Repetition of words or phrases can be used to
- create emphasis,
- direct the reader’s attention to a particular sentence,
- aid in persuading the reader to take particular note of something,
- create a rhythm and mood to your writing.
There are quite a number of figures of speech relating to repetition. Here are a few of the most common:
The same letter or sound at the beginning of successive or nearby words. Two of the best-known examples are Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers and Veni, vidi, vici. And Shakespeare was fond of alliteration: From forth the fatal loins of these two foes; A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.
The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. Charles Dickens’ opening to A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity …
Winston Churchill’s speech: … we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields …
Where words from the first half of a sentence are repeated, in reverse, at the end of the sentence. Socrates: East to live, not live to eat. John F.Kennedy: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Two or more words, close together, with the repetition of their vowel sounds. Pink Floyd: Hear the lark and harken to the barking of the dark fox gone to ground.
Repetition of a word at the end of successive clauses or sentences. Lyndon B Johnson: There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no northern problem. There is only an American problem. 1 Corinthians 13: When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
Repetition of conjunctions in a list for emphasis eg For breakfast he ate bacon and egg and sausages and beans and black pudding and mushrooms and beans and toast!
At the risk of repeating myself, always check your writing for unintentional repetitions but also have a go at using repetition to enhance your writing style.
Have a good week.