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Thread: Repeated words in a novel

  1. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Iambriannak View Post
    I write in the first person for my books, so I obviously use 'I' a lot, especially at the beginning of sentences, and I get annoyed with it even. .
    It's a good possibility that you are "filtering" too much. Filtering proliferates unnecessary usages of "I" and "he" and "she" at the beginning of sentences, and enflabbens the narrative prose in general. It's also easily fixed. Understand what it is, and watch for it in your writing.

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  2. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Toothpick View Post
    Do people mind a lot if there are lots of same words throughout the novel like "He" or "I" or any other words, maybe even combinations such as "He said" "He looked" ? I don't, but I wonder do other people notice it and do certain words which repeat through the novel turn them off at some point, and maybe if someone feels generous he or she could give an advice on how to evade this. :p
    Long ago someone told me that people of different skill levels would see methods that on the surface seems "wrong" differently:

    -The beginner would do the "wrong" thing because they dont know any better.
    -The intermediate wouldn't do the "wrong" thing because everyone told him so
    -The expert would do the "wrong" thing, but they know when and where the "wrong" thing is the correct to do.

    So to summarize, just look at your prose, and see whether it would serve it better if you shuffled the sentences with repetition into a version without it.

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  3. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by NoirSuede View Post
    Long ago someone told me that people of different skill levels would see methods that on the surface seems "wrong" differently:

    -The beginner would do the "wrong" thing because they dont know any better.
    -The intermediate wouldn't do the "wrong" thing because everyone told him so
    -The expert would do the "wrong" thing, but they know when and where the "wrong" thing is the correct to do.

    So to summarize, just look at your prose, and see whether it would serve it better if you shuffled the sentences with repetition into a version without it.
    I was reading a novel the other day and counted the number of adverbs on one page (College English professor with angry eyebrows demands "Five only!") and I found a whopping dozen or more on nearly every page! It made the narration flow, and I *gulps* kinda liked them? This probably falls into the 3rd category, and it's nice to know that some rules are only to be followed until you feel comfortable breaking them in writing!

  4. #29
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    Yes, and one of the books after that is filled with "my curls." Oy! But the story was good, so I kept reading.

  5. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kylie Chanae View Post
    I was reading a novel the other day and counted the number of adverbs on one page (College English professor with angry eyebrows demands "Five only!") and I found a whopping dozen or more on nearly every page! It made the narration flow, and I *gulps* kinda liked them? This probably falls into the 3rd category, and it's nice to know that some rules are only to be followed until you feel comfortable breaking them in writing!
    Here's the thing, though. There's no rule against using adverbs. None.

    Just understand what adverbs are and what they can do. Think of them as a neutral item that can help or harm the prose, depending on how they're used. They can can brighten up the narrative or make it turgid and flabby. They can show attitude and voice or be forced into service propping up weak, dreary verbs. They can illuminate or they can patronizingly explain the obvious.

    As with everything else in writing, it comes down to using the right words in the right place.
    Last edited by BethS; 09-17-2017 at 02:49 AM.

  6. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Devil Ledbetter View Post
    To be clear, I don't have a problem with writing a longer description of something usual as long as that description illuminates something. The corners of her mouth tugged upward into a smile is just a long winded cliche for she smiled. It adds nothing. If the reaction "he smiled" or "she smiled" is turning up so often that the reader is getting bored with it or feeling empty, throwing in lips tugging this way and that is not going to fix the problem or fulfill the reader.

    The real problem is (as I stated upthread) the misbegotten notion that every line of dialogue or bit of action requires a character to react by making a face. There are roughly a billion things you could do in a story other than have characters make faces at each other. Yes, you need to show their reactions but those reactions do not need to be limited to smiles, frowns, blushing, and eyebrow quirks or wordier variations of the same.

    Years ago, I beta read a novel that had a ton of great things going for it except that the characters constantly made faces at each other. In every scene someone would smile, someone would smirk, someone would blush, someone would scowl, someone would quirk an eyebrow, someone would roll their eyes and someone would frown. To make a point that the writer wasn't getting, I copied a scene and replaced every instance with MADE A FACE. It helped the writer see the problem. I highly suggest this exercise to anyone so tired of writing "smile" over and over that they're tempted to blather on about tugging lips.

    Seriously.
    This is absolute gold advice. I do this, and write EXPRESSION instead of MADE A FACE. Works like a charm.

  7. #32
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    Adverbs can be a crutch, or they can be a qualifier. Used at the right place, an adverb can make a prose sing, but if it is used to prop up a weak verb, then it takes away from the effect.

    In books for a younger audience, MG, for instance, adverbs are sometimes necessary to make the meaning clearer. Again, not always.

  8. #33
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    If YOU think you're using a word or phase too much, then you probably are. Do a search and see if you can change some of them.

    When I first started writing on a computer I used the VI editor on a UNIX system. There were auxiliary programs available, such as uniq (unique), wc (word count), sorting methods, sed (streaming editor), and even a creature called grep (I forget what it stood for, but was used for substitutions). As cumbersome as this sounds, I could generate a list of words used in my novel, one line per word - with the number of times used... of course sorted so the most used words were on top of the list. This was pretty handy for finding faults such as you are worrying about.

    Unfortunately I don't have this same functionality in MS Word (which I use now).
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  9. #34
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    I really needed to read this thread today. Currently 40k into a first draft written in first person present tense, and the amount of "I see, I turn, I watch" etc etc is driving me to distraction. Just read through all the replies here and I've realised that I'm doing *a lot* of filtering. I know that's not a major issue for a rough draft, but good to know now, so I can fix it later!

  10. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dona St Columb View Post
    I really needed to read this thread today. Currently 40k into a first draft written in first person present tense, and the amount of "I see, I turn, I watch" etc etc is driving me to distraction. Just read through all the replies here and I've realised that I'm doing *a lot* of filtering. I know that's not a major issue for a rough draft, but good to know now, so I can fix it later!
    Good luck. Simply deleting these and making the present object become the subject should help.
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  11. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by indianroads View Post
    If YOU think you're using a word or phase too much, then you probably are. Do a search and see if you can change some of them.

    When I first started writing on a computer I used the VI editor on a UNIX system. There were auxiliary programs available, such as uniq (unique), wc (word count), sorting methods, sed (streaming editor), and even a creature called grep (I forget what it stood for, but was used for substitutions). As cumbersome as this sounds, I could generate a list of words used in my novel, one line per word - with the number of times used... of course sorted so the most used words were on top of the list. This was pretty handy for finding faults such as you are worrying about.

    Unfortunately I don't have this same functionality in MS Word (which I use now).
    It is possible to do this with software like Prowriting and Autocrit, which I use in a pinch, when I'm on a deadline.

  12. #37
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    This is a very slight diversion from the OP, in that I'm not asking about "I", "he", "she", "said". With regular words that make up a sentence, or with expressions, such as "grinned", "sighed", "snarled", etc., how many is too many in a 90+ word novel? Wondering what people think.
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  13. #38
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ambrosia View Post
    This is a very slight diversion from the OP, in that I'm not asking about "I", "he", "she", "said". With regular words that make up a sentence, or with expressions, such as "grinned", "sighed", "snarled", etc., how many is too many in a 90+ word novel?
    I doubt anyone could point to a specific number where such words become "too many," but it's wise to err on the side of "scarce" or "every now and then" rather than "abundant" or "common." It does become noticeable when characters are always grinning and sighing. And snarling, as a dialogue tag, should be rare, and there should be a good reason for using it.

  14. #39
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    I see I left out the "k" in 90k+. My only defense is I'm packing up the contents of the house to move on Oct 1st. So, I'm distracted.

    I get that there is no exact number and no right or wrong. I'm trying to get a sense for what people would think reasonable. 3 times? 16 times? 27 times?
    ..
    "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."
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  15. #40
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ambrosia View Post
    I see I left out the "k" in 90k+. My only defense is I'm packing up the contents of the house to move on Oct 1st. So, I'm distracted.

    I get that there is no exact number and no right or wrong. I'm trying to get a sense for what people would think reasonable. 3 times? 16 times? 27 times?
    If whatever it is stands out so much you become aware of it, or it irritates a reader to the extent it detracts from his immersion in the story- that's when to rethink its use.

    Apart from that ,one doesn't think in terms of 'reasonable' or not.

    Either a chosen word or phrase does its job or it doesn't.
    Last edited by Bufty; 09-18-2017 at 11:10 PM. Reason: punctuation
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  16. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ambrosia View Post
    This is a very slight diversion from the OP, in that I'm not asking about "I", "he", "she", "said". With regular words that make up a sentence, or with expressions, such as "grinned", "sighed", "snarled", etc., how many is too many in a 90+ word novel? Wondering what people think.
    I think it's better to think in terms of distance from each other. One a chapter and space the chapters as in not one in every chapter. Jim Butcher's first book in the Dresden files had the MC snarling all the time. Though I loved the book, I began to cringe when I read "snarled". But even then, it depends on how it's handled and how the other characters react to it. Just my opinion, of course.
    Last edited by Southpaw; 09-18-2017 at 09:35 PM.
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  17. #42
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post

    So instead of writing: Jane sneaked into the room. She saw a book sitting on the dusty table by the door. She noticed that the room smelled fusty, as if it had been closed up for a long time. She heard a susurrus of voices coming from the floor above and worried that the place was haunted.

    One could write: Jane sneaked into the room. A book sat on the dusty table by the door, and the place had a fusty smell, as if it had been closed up for a long time. A susurrus of voices came from the room above. Oh God, maybe the place was haunted..
    This was such a helpful example - thank you! It makes me want to go back and edit right now

  18. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by JES0428 View Post
    This was such a helpful example - thank you! It makes me want to go back and edit right now
    Except, for the sake of the sanity of the universe, find a word other than "susurrus".

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