14 November, 2015

Repetition in Writing: It All Depends

Reading a novel requires effort. Enough effort to prove in scientific research that the act of reading works to help slow the onset of Alzheimer's.

And what a reader wants when reading is to be sucked in; swept away from her own reality and left to hover over each scene like a wraith -- unseen yet completely engaged.

The other day, a Facebook feed comment mentioned the disappointment felt at finding, in her own body of yet-unpublished work, a lot of repetitive words within a single sentence, paragraph, or chapter.

It's a noble issue to consider when writing and wanting to publish and then hoping for great reviews and tons of sales. I've already posted a few articles that prove (regardless of what you see and read online these days) that grammar, punctuation, and spelling matter to readers!

Revision and Editing matter, too.

In the last few months, I noticed the repetition issue in a lot of the novels that I've read. Reading 'said' a few dozen times in the space of three paragraphs is bad, but other than the standard prepositions, having to re-read the same word over and over again is distracting.

Words like gun, weapon, kiss, hand, and eyes come to mind.

And, according to a free-trial AutoCrit report on the first chapter of my latest WIP, they are the words feel and felt.

I've since learned that felt  is a tell word and feel  is a show word.

(example NOT found in my WIP): "She felt all icky inside after stepping on that ant mound." versus "She could feel herself getting icky after stepping on that ant mound."

I prefer to read (and write) the first sentence to the second.

An example of repetition: "She received a lovely bouquet of red roses from her current lover. The red roses smelled divine. She found a vase for the red roses and set the red roses inside the vase, pausing to smell their divine fragrance. The lovely red roses in the crystal vase she chose to put them in complimented the pink and lacy accents of her boudoir, and their beautiful fragrance scented the boudoir nicely.

She just adores receiving red roses from men."

(I just made that up, by the way)

And, yes, I'll concede that it is a bit of an exaggeration, but not by a whole lot. I'm sure some of you out there have read slightly similar prose and find it just as distracting.

I'm nowhere near finished with this third novel to be worrying about the editing/revision process just yet, but the issue will loom overhead for the duration regardless of where I am in the writing process.

So, I sent the first chapter of my WIP through a word-count machine found online and free to use. Here is the word cloud the chapter generated -- which is based on word count and nothing more.

and another one using another generator

and a third

In all three images, the larger the word, the more often it was found in the body of work.

Two of the three generators did not offer the option to ignore prepositions, names, or pronouns, so of course the character names will show largest in these examples.

Which brings me to another writing dilemma and reader annoyance: the use and abuse of names versus pronouns in a paragraph or chapter.

I prefer to start out with an introduction and then lean on the pronouns:

"Here stands Inigo Br√©zlyn, a former Rugby player now retired after another ankle injury meant keep playing and never walk again or walk away now while you still can.

"He's a big guy at six foot three and weighing nearly two-hundred pounds, but ladies, be assured it is solid muscle, with a BMI index of about 1.

"Inigo likes sports and has played rugby for the past seven years, so now what's he supposed to do with his life? He'd like to go home after being away for ten years, but memories of the awful way in which he'd left that home keep cropping up to haunt and annoy him."

(again, more made-up fa-shizzle and not the real thing)

By replacing each highlighted word above with Inigo, you will see where the redundancy issue starts to rear its ugly head.

AND YET it, too, is a writer's conundrum to decide on the use of pronouns to replace a name or just keep repeating that name again and again throughout the first chapter or the entire book.

I don't like having to read names again and again. Especially when I'm well aware of who they are in a scene.

"Carrie and David continued to argue about what to do on their first date. He wanted to go to the movies, and she wanted to walk along the pier at the edge of town. She said she felt that it was the perfect night to do so before winter set in and months would pass before either could be that in-tune with nature again. He insisted that while the pier wasn't going anywhere, the movie was a blockbuster worth standing in a long line to see. He also felt that being able to brag about the event to their mutual friends via Instagram was cool.

"'Once a year isn't nearly as exciting as once in a lifetime,' he said to try and encourage her to agree with his line of thinking.

"'Yes,' she replied, 'but it's supposed to snow tomorrow and then get really cold. And besides, I don't like big crowds. I'm a bit of a germ-a-phobe, too, by the way.'"

"While continuing to argue, they heard a knock on Carrie's car window. She turned her head and saw Mary smiling and waving at her. David looked out the passenger window and saw Tom and Jim doing the same thing."

(overkill, sure, and not at all what 'honest' writing should look like in print, but hopefully it still manages to prove a point).

And finally, there is the confusing Chapter 1 intro and then pronoun usage throughout the rest of the book.

It never fails that I will have to keep going back to Chapter 1 in order to get reacquainted with the people I'm supposed to care about. What was this guys name again?

This is a huge problem when using an electronic device to read as opposed to a paperback, in which case you can simply flip the book over and re-read the blurb for a refresher course in who's who.

(I could just develop the habit of writing them down and save myself the trouble of having to go back each time I forget a character's name, but why?)

So, once I'm finished with this rough-draft WIP, I intend to pay closer attention to repetition as well as the other, more obvious issues -- and continue to attempt recognizing show versus tell.

If anyone has a sure-fire answer to the show vs. tell dilemma, I'd appreciate hearing from you!

Your comments, thoughts, suggestions, issues, and insight are always welcome. Please feel free to reply to any of my posts.

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