By Sharla Rae
One of the things we’ve discussed in our critique meetings is the tendency all writers have 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.
Helpful Echo-Zapping Sites
Laura Drake 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 more than once in a chapter.
Another echo finding website is SporkForge.
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.
In this process, 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 down in the comments.
The words in bold font below 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.)
Do you have echoes in your manuscript? What tools do you use to get rid of them? Which word (or words) above do you struggle with? Do you have any great editing tips to share?
All of us here at WITS are answering today, as Sharla is traveling. Let’s build up a ton of comments for her to see when she returns!
Well this is going in my newsletter on the 1st. Excellent tools, and important for every writer. Even good for blog posts.
I’m looking forward to finding a good substitute for “looking forward” because I use it in almost every email I write and I’m really tired of it.
Thanks, Joel! I was thinking about subs for “looking forward” on the way to work today and it’s a great phrase for the the fact that it’s just a few words. “In the future” just doesn’t have the same proactive ring to it.
I am in the process of editing echoes out of my current work. I use autocrit.com. One of my own personal echoes is characters “making their way” somewhere. I use many of the common echo words, but it drives me crazy how many times I find that phrase!
Oooooh…a new tool. I need to gather these up the way Laura does. (Hey, Laura!! Can you add some of these in the comments to you Writers’ Toolbox doc?)
Thanks, Sharla … I use many of the ones you site … then I also add: maybe, felt, feel and those extremes like never and ever. I did a word count on felt for one WIP and had it over 120 times. Guess I felt sure I was really feeling. I went back and took out all but a half dozen. It took me over two hours, but the results were worth the effort. Thanks, thanks and that’s a good echo 🙂
LOL, Florence! “Felt” is such a tough one because we’re usually doing it as a placeholder (at least I am). It’s a great indicator though to go back and use a more active, specific verb.
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Great post, Sharla. I just blogged on this topic, calling these my “crutch” words. A group of readers pointed out “that” in my writing. Then I found “just” to be an even worse problem. I wasn’t aware of the websites to help find the offending words. I’m going to re-blog your post.
Carol, “crutch” words is such a great description. We all have these go-to comfort words that say exactly what we want them too. Enjoy the tools, and I hope they make your editing process easier. 🙂
Great post. I have the program Natural Reader downloaded on my computer, and I listen to my chapters being read out loud. It’s a great way to find echo words and stilted writing.
I haven’t ever heard of Natural Reader, but I’m going to try it out when I go through this draft of my WIP. It sounds wonderful. And Laura said below that Dragon does it too! I had no idea. 🙂
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I use Dragon software for the same thing, Lisa. Love it. For echos though, I use a free Word add on, called Forewords. Just Google it. You copy and paste a chapter of your book into it, and it kicks out the most used words and phrases in it. I really have to steel myself before I do it, though – UGH! There are TONS of them!
I’m always searching for repeats in my writing – didn’t know it was called “echoes”! Learn something new everyday. Happy to know there are sites to help with the searching. Thanks for the blog.
You’re welcome, Temple! Sharla is amazing with tools like these. I bless her for her knowledge WEEKLY. 🙂
Another great and helpful post! I try and catch myself while I’m writing, but those pesky words always find a way to insert themselves, like elves!
They ALWAYS find their way in, Nancy. Always. There’s just less of them once we’re aware of it. 🙂
Super helpful. Thank you!
Thanks for this …. I’ve been in edit mode on my final draft for while, and this makes my task so much easier!
We’re so glad, Mary. Hopefully, this will help your editing go faster. 🙂
Reblogged this on A.D.Trosper and commented:
I am notorious for echoing words. Thankfully, my absolutely wonderful editor is great at ferreting them out.
Thanks so much for the re-blog!!
You said it so well and it was such good advice for any writer, I had to reblog it so more would see it. 🙂
Cool! I’m going to have to play with these. I sometimes use a WordCloud from wordle.net to accomplish something similar.
Fun! I’ve used Wordle before, but I didn’t think of it to catch my echoes.
Great tools. I’m trying out a bunch of these with my revisions. 🙂
In addition to crutch words and phrases, I do multiple readings for echoing “ticks” that repeat over and over. One character, for example, had a coffee problem and was sipping in almost every chapter. Another was constantly putting her hair up in a ponytail.
Terrific blog,Sharla. I’m taking notes like crazy!
WOOT! WITS gives me another post to move to my Nifty News folder.
I plan to run all of my chapters through one or both of these sites. Personally, I prefer SporkForge. Why? Because it’s a wonky-name-site and those snap my glee garter.
The first time I ran a chapter through a similar site (wordle.net) the largest — hence, most frequently used — word in the resultant cloud was “back.” And, it wasn’t even a sex scene. No back scratching, no back rubs, no rolling onto or off of a back.
Seemed everyone had to look back, turn back, walk back, bite back….[Yeah. I know. Yaaaaawn.]
I’m going to experiment with the alternating POV chapters in my manuscript. It might reveal whether I have distinct voices for the Heroine and Alpha-Hubba-Hubba-Male.
Thanks for the great resources, Sharla.
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My echo is the word “suddenly”. It pops up EVERYWHERE in my sloppy first drafts. Thanks so much for the tips on using wordcounter and sporkforge. I’m off to weed out all my suddenlys.
Wow, I didn’t know there were all these programs out there. Thanks, Sharla, for an informative post. Wits is just about my most fave blog of all the ones I follow. It’s always worth a read. So far (until now, that is), I’ve attempted to catch all my echoes myself. I found that I’d used the word “actually” ad nauseum. I got so annoyed with myself I took out every single one!
I just finished reading a book the other day, and the author had used one particular word repeatedly. But the worst part, to my mind, was that it appeared on the very last page of the book. Instead of being immersed in this wonderful scene, I ‘noticed’ the repeat offender, and it took me completely out of the moment.
p.s. I know I’ll sound like a complete idiot, but could you please elucidate on your first point, ‘the lame and boring ‘to be’ verbs’? I was hoping for some examples to help me wrap my brain around it and there weren’t any. So I didn’t entirely get that point. Thanks!
Yvette, Sharla sent me some links that might help on the “to be” verbs:
Click to access Reducing%20the%20to%20BE%20verb.pdf
Alternatives for “to be” verbs: http://spraguehs.com/staff/nickel_philip/Writing/ToBeAlternatives.html
Thanks Jenny, and thanks Sharla. That was really kind, and helpful. You guys rock!
Great post. Cliche cleaner (http://www.cliches.biz/clichecleaner/) is a good program I use that was free to download. It notices cliches (well, you wouldn’t have guessed that, would you?) and repetition of phrases. I’ve found it really helpful and a surprise to find just how often I repeat myself!
We all do, Ken…we all do. 🙂
I have set several macros , one for verbs, one for adjectives, one for … that I run through my texts. They highlight the “bad” words in different colors. You could also put sentences in macros.
I don’t look for everey repetition as those mentioned sites do, but only for those I want to avoid. I think, there’s always a certain amount of repetitions, because tehre are only so much words you can use. We are not supposed to become insane over seeking for repetions or other non-elegant phrasings. Readers don’t care much, as long as it’s a compelling story.
Thanks for an end to my thinking I’m the only writer who combs her paragraphs for repeated words. What a helpful post. I’ll reblog this for sure.
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I just used wordcounter on a part of my novel that I recently wrote that felt redundant in some parts. I know that I’m a constant offender of over-using certain words. For this reason, I actively try to avoid writing certain words in the first place (like “But” and “just”), because if I allow myself to even use them, they always end up sprinkled all over the page. This has made finding those words even easier though, and now maybe I’ll just write what comes to mind and go back afterward with wordcounter and determine what is overused, and then rework those sentences. I’ve bookmarked both sites and I’ll have to try Sporkforge with something else.
Thanks for sharing by the way!
I’m pretty sure you can search for repetitive words in Scrivener…but I can’t remember where to find that feature. It’s very helpful, though!
I didn’t realize that, Laurie! That’s wonderful to know. 🙂
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I’ve used Wordle to identify over-used words. It visually enlarges the words that are used most often. I’m going to try the tools you suggested too since they will highlight other issues as well. Thanks for another great tip!
Reblogged this on Melissa Janda – the Buzz on Writing and commented:
Useful writing tools to identify repeated words and phrases.
Thanks for the great post. You’ve given me several good resources to use, and the comments are excellent as well. I usually find a lot of “echoes” just by re-reading. I also use the search feature for words I know I use too often (and color code as I find them). My characters seem to “turn” and “step” a lot.
Oh yes, Cate, mine turn a lot, too!
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Reblogged this on Darswords.
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Reblogged this on Roxy Wilson and commented:
This was a very informative article.
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