ECHOES — REPEAT OFFENDERS

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. 

COMMON ECHOES

About
Across
Actually
Again
Against
All
Already
Always
Any
Arm/arms
Around
As
At
Back
Be
Best
Better
Big
But
Can
Chuckled
Continued
Could
Down
Even
Eyes
Face
First
For
From
Get
Glanced
Go
Good
Grabbed
Grinned
Hand/hands
Here
How
If
Just
Know
later
left
Like
Look
Made
Make
More
Much
Need
No
Nod/nodded
Now
Of
Off
On
One
Only
Out
Over
Perhaps
Place
Pull
Push
Quickly
right
Shake
Shook
Sigh/sighed
Small
Smiled
So
Some
Stared
Sure
That
The
Then
This
Time
To
Turn
Under
up
Very
Way
Well
What
When
With
Would
You

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9 Responses to ECHOES — REPEAT OFFENDERS

  1. Wow, Sharla, this is fascinating — I can’t wait to try it out.

    I remember discovering far too many smiles when reading my first, and vowing that none of my characters would ever smile again. (That vow didn’t last long.) But letting software do the discovery work sounds so much better than waiting until the book is already in print.

    “Thanks,” said Laurie, smiling.

  2. Kara Lennox says:

    Smile and grin. I cannot get away from them! I can’t wait to try out one of these sites and learn the brutal truth.

    Kara

  3. Kim says:

    These are fascinating! I’ve been playing with them all morning.

  4. Briana says:

    This is brilliant. I can’t wait to go home and try this. It is such a pet peeve of mine to read a story and find the same words/phrases over and over. I end up involuntarily counting them and hearing the word yet again makes me cringe! Of course, I’m not perfect and I find myself doing exactly what annoys me most, so it’ll be great to have these sites put it all out there for me to easily find and fix!

    • Sharla Rae says:

      Briana, Glad you found the blog helpful. I’ve also found that using these sites is a good place to start when your editor tells you the story is too long and you need to pare down the story.
      Shar

  5. Mallory Snow says:

    What’s funny is that I went through your list and thought some of them were surprising. Then I went through my manuscript and found a lot of the same ones!

    Thanks for sharing this! It’s very interesting!

  6. David Lascelles says:

    I’ve seen the effects of this from a crit partner who always points them out to me and I never realise I have done it until she points them out… (and see what I did there…🙂 )

    I was always taught that repetition was bad and so endeavour to not do it – using a thesaurus to give you some alternate words for some of the ones you commonly repeat is a good idea. It works for subject specific echoes anyway.

    My point is that I am careful about this and yet I still manage to do it – somehow my mind edits them out and it takes another person (or a technological tool) to spot them. It sometimes works if you put the manuscript away for a few days and read it again yourself, with the ‘idealised version’ your mind creates as you write deleted from your short term memory…

    Thank you for posting these tools. I may end up using them one day when that particular partner is unavailable🙂

    • David, You’re right about putting the MS aside and coming back to it. It works great for editing. For this reason, I write in 3 chapter increments, that is, I write three chapter drafts before going back to the first one to do any critiquing. That also helps me keep a good flow/pace. If something sags, you’ll see it easier. Shar

  7. Neeraj says:

    I always mix up between “there” and “their”. Mostly it gets cleaned up on my second draft on MSWORD.

    Thanks for your suggestions on two websites.

    I myself you ( http://www.paperrater.com/free_paper_grader )

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