Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Writing Lessons: Word Repetition

A while back we talked about using "power words and phrases" and adding adverbs and adjectives to nouns in order to paint a picture and/or to punch up your writing.

Today we're going to talk about a common mistake beginning writers often make: word repetition. 

Read the following not very interesting passage that I just made up:
Tom got on his horse and rode the horse out of the town toward the sunset.  The horse was a strong horse and would take Tom to his next adventure in the next town where his horse would remain his faithful horse.

At this point you should be throwing things at the computer screen that passage is so poorly written.  So what's wrong with it (other than it's just dumb)?  Well, the word "horse" appears six times in forty-two words.  That's 14.2% of the words are "horse."  (Admittedly, I wrote that passage trying to put in references to the horse as often as I could.)

What you want to avoid is "word repetition" in your writing.  And that's where having a good vocabulary comes in.  So let's rewrite that passage and see if we can avoid word repetition as much as possible:

Tom got on his horse and rode the animal out of the town toward the sunset.  The horse was a strong beast and would take Tom to his next adventure in the next settlement where his pinto would remain his faithful steed.

Okay, we're down to two uses of "horse" and, in my opinion, both of them are needed.  The first one, you could say "Tom got on his pinto/steed/equine" (as long as the word referred to "horse") but I believe start from the simple "horse" and move to the more complex "steed".   But try to never have the same noun in one sentence.  (You could say "Tom got on his animal" if you were writing science fiction or fantasy and the animal was something other than a horse and you were stringing your reader along before revealing that Tom was indeed riding a thoat.)

Also, the second use of "horse" is the second sentence could be changed, perhaps to "mount" giving us only one use of the word "horse."

And, notice that "pinto" gives us more information about the horse.  Avoiding word repetition is a good chance to supply your reader with more detail.  And of course once you call it a "pinto" you can't later call it a "mustang."

One of the hardest scenes to write was in my novel Rock Killer where there was a shoot-out between the heroin and the bad guys at the same time a house was burning.  So I had the burning fire and guns firing.  It was a challenge.  I loved writing that scene.

Use your thesaurus (the one that comes with Word is fairly good) and your vocabulary to avoid word repetition.

No comments:

Post a Comment