Word repetition, and what to do about it

There are lots of ordinary words that we have to repeat as we write. They're building blocks, if you like, creating vehicles that carry along the more interesting words and phrases.

But repeating unique words, phrases or descriptions several times in a paragraph, or a page, or even a chapter, makes your writing seem stale.

Sometimes it happens because a word pops into our head and stays there for a while. We forget what we've already written, and use the word again, a page or two pages later.

Sometimes it happens because we've come up with super clever, adorable ways of phrasing something, and we're so proud of ourselves as we put it down on the page the first time that we think it would be wasted not to use it a second time. Or even a third time. 

Writer, don't do it. Restrain thyself.

Once is lovely. Twice makes a reader think, 'oh, I've read that already'. Three times and they know you've only got one idea.

As you read through your work, keep your radar on for words you've already used and swap them out when you find them. 

Of course, repetition can be a strong device when used well. It can emphasise, make clear, reinforce and add to a mood or a theme. Deliberate word repetition keeps the repeating words or phrases close together, often in a pattern of threes, with slight variations.

He was angry with his wife, angry with the world, angry with himself.

If you choose to repeat a word, make sure it really works for you. If you find repetitions that you didn't put there consciously, get rid of them.


Word repetition and what to do about it.

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