Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Repeat, repeat, then do it again

When my husband first learned to preach, his mantra was, “Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you said.” Actually, he used that in business, too. As a writer with word counts to accomplish, it’s a great temptation to repeat things a lot.

I think that, if I do it right, it works. If I do it wrong, it sounds dumb!

Here’s Safire’s “rule”:

If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.

I do think that certain main points of a story bear repeating, maybe by different individuals and in different ways. And when a character comes onto the page after a 50-page absence, I need to remind the reader who this is. I try to do this by bringing up a trait that I hope I made memorable the first time he popped up.

The one thing I do NOT want to do repeat the same word 1187 times in a manuscript. I remember my first manuscript exchange with the Guppies. Jim Jackson read a very early version of what is now EINE KLEINE MURDER  and remarked about how everything was “little”—all over the place. Sometimes 2 or 3 in a sentence.  

I eventually got used to nipping certain favorites in the bud: really, very, just, stuff like that. But repeats still cropped up. As soon as I eliminated an offender, a new one would take its place. I learned to put my work through (about 35K words at a time) to catch ones that I’ve begun to repeat, that I’m not aware of yet. I’ve accepted that I’ll always have this problem, but—AHA—I do have a cure!

photos from


  1. I recently submitted the first 5,000 words of a novel to an editor and, upon its return, discovered I'd used the word "looked" 6,000 times. Fortunately, it wasn't a formal submission-to-see-if-the-editor-would-publish-it, and she liked the piece as a whole and was nice enough not to say, "Boy, are you a sloppy self-editor." But I have a lot of rewriting to do.

  2. Thanks for the tip about!