Repetitive Words

We all have a tendency to use the same words to begin back-to-back sentences. As a rough draft, that’s fine. When it’s in the final editing stage, it gets tedious to correct.

Last week, I mentioned my easy trick to clean up my manuscript by deleting “that” where necessary. Another trick, or rather a habit I do, is making sure I begin sentences with a new word. So if I begin a sentence with “the,” I won’t begin the next sentence with “the.”

By doing this, my sentences automatically start to become more concise. Concise is good. Writing is clearer, less wordy.  Less to edit.

Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed that I’ve started to use the same collection of words to start my sentences. The, Though, They, That, Then, It, He, She, Although, However, A, When – These words are fine, but to me, they were becoming a bit too repetitive, and repetitive get’s boring fast. I want to have a voice, but I don’t want the reader to guess what I’m going to say next.

I’ve gotten better at using nouns and such to get my sentences rolling, but if you’re having trouble, a good way to do this is by rearranging the sentence you currently have and putting the most striking imagery at the beginning.

Here’s an example from the prologue:

Vagabonds and thieves were placed under surveillance for every kind of election, but for one of this prominence, they were rounded up and arrested for the smallest infraction. All eyes would be on the capital from now until the election. The government wanted to keep the streets clean and the city safe until the scrutiny eased. A waste of resources.

The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, Prologue

Back to back sentences beginning with the same word works sometimes, but it should be done sparingly. Here’s an example of that:

“That was all the money I had saved,” came Rosemary’s watery retort. “Everyone around here already knows what happened to us. They heard me screaming when Stig broke down the door. They heard me, but they didn’t come en’ help. Mr. Alvyn wants us to leave by weeks end. Where are we going to go? Can’t he see we’re victims?”

The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, Prologue

I used “they” twice in a row. A few paragraphs down, I did it again.

The whites of Rosemary’s eyes were bloodshot. “They fired me, Jimmy. They fired me for having skinny fingers, but then they went en’ hired two foreigners. Split the salary they were giving me between them, I bet. It’s not fair. I was good at washing. The steam never bothered me.”

The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, Prologue

Why did I decide to do that (or rather, keep it that way)? Simple answer: it’s dialogue. More than that, it’s dialogue from the same character. It keeps in line with Rosemary’s unique voice.

Self-editing is frustrating and time-consuming. I recently had a literary critique/non-professional editor friend look at my manuscript. Thinking I had done well with my final edit, I was surprised (and frustrated) to see that I had made this repetitive mistake a few times. It’s true that a writer never fully thinks their work is done editing, but when you believe you’ve done it well enough to publish and find out you haven’t, well, that’s why everyone needs an extra pair of eyes before releasing it out into the world.

As a quick reminder, Wednesdays are going to be all about self-editing. Do you have any tips and tricks for self-editing that you find works really well for you?

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ERICA SWENSON

Manuscript Editor

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