By Sharla Rae
One of the things we discussed in our critique last week was all writers’ tendency to repeat certain words and phrases. “Echoes” is a term I’ve heard applied to frequently repeated words. Read your chapter out loud, and that’s exactly what they sound like.
Common Causes of Echoes:
- Using lame and boring “to be” verbs. When used, they often produce not only echoes but also wordy constructions.
- Many echoes are subject oriented. For example, let’s say that in one chapter a wagon plays a big part in the action. Echoing “wagon” may be your repeated offense. Subject oriented words are sneaky. At first, they seem absolutely necessary. A closer inspection proves otherwise.
Laura, one of my critique partners here at Stormwriters [see her blogs] found a website that counts repeated words. www.wordcounter.com/
The writer simply copies his/her chapter then pastes it into the provided box. The program allows a list of 25 to 200 repeated words. I chose the whole 200 because some words should never be used over once in a chapter.
Another echo finding website is www.sporkforge.com/ I like this one a lot as it lists both repeated words and phrases. (And yes, you will find repeated phrases.) This site also provides the average amount of words per sentence, number of question marks, exclamations, quotes etc. Why is that important? Editors hate multitudes of exclamation marks and long convoluted sentences.
In using these sites, I discovered my own set of echoes. Surprisingly, this same set remained consistent throughout my work. I became a maniac, checking my entire manuscript.
I made an interesting discovery.
When I reconstructed the sentences to eliminate echoes, the material read better. Even the action scenes were energized. Everything became more clear and concise without “sterilizing” my writing style.
Speaking of sterilizing your writing style — don’t. It’s possible to edit your voice right out of your writing. Sometimes words need to be repeated for affect, especially in dialogue.
Like any editing program, these sites are only a guide. Use your better judgment. The sites also make note of every she, he, the, and character names. For the most part, these can be ignored.
Should these tools be used for every chapter? This is your choice to make. My recommendation is to run your current work through the tool and study the results. Most writers, no matter how experienced, are “repeat” offenders. In time you’ll become so attuned to your personal echoes that avoiding them becomes automatic.
Below I’ve listed echoes I’ve found in my own writing and my critique partners’. You might be surprised at some of them. (We were!) I suggest you make your own list, or add to this one.
The words in bold font are the bad boys. The number one word that is most abused is “you.” “But” runs a close second. Body parts are almost always repeat offenders. Don’t leave a lot of these lying around. Sorry, I just had to say that.
I’d love to hear comments on this blog as well as great editing tips you and your critique groups have leaned.