Secrets of micro-revision: #2 Rub out repetitions

There’s repetition, and then there’s repetition.  Good repetition adds rhythm to your writing – it can provide emphasis, and a sense of completion in an image or emotion. An example of this (in a crime novel) is:

I stared down at the body by the fireplace – the blood on the bricks, the blood soaking into the Persian rug and the blood dripping from the sooty poker.

We get the image – blood everywhere! Repetition of an image can also be used successfully in both short stories and novels. Cate Kennedy, short story supremo, often uses mirror images at the beginning and end of her stories, so that they act like an echo.

Ps and Qs

Mind your Ps and Qs and repetitions too!

But accidental repetitions are a killer to your prose. These are some of the ones you need to look out for when you’re revising:

  • Using the same word two or three times within a few sentences or paragraphs
  • Using a favorite word several times in the story – favorite words tend to be a bit odd or over-descriptive (like coruscating or glimmering or cacophony), so when you use them over and over, they really stick out
  • Dialogue tags other than said, e.g. replied, answered, responded (and you should know to avoid adverb tags if at all possible)
  • Redundancies and tautologies, e.g. a free complimentary ticket, very unique, she thought to herself, etc

What can be harder to pick up yourself is when you are saying the same thing twice, but in slightly different words. E.g. We’d been visiting the same hotel for many years, mainly out of habit. We’d been there time and time again, and couldn’t seem to stop ourselves. In this case, those two sentences need to be one clear statement.

The other trap is to show a character’s emotions effectively through action/reaction, but then follow it up unnecessarily with a “tell”. E.g. John clenched his hands until his knuckles ached, and a dark red flush crept up his neck and into his face. He was so angry he could spit. If the showing isn’t effective enough, then work on it rather than add a telling sentence.

An easy way to pick up accidental repetitions is to use the Find function in your word processing program, especially if you suspect they are there. The larger repetitions will only come to light if you go through your manuscript and consciously try to weed them out. But the good news is that you will get better with practice!

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