No One Likes a Copy Cat: Eliminate Word Echoes from Your Writing

B&W Two MoonsWhether a simple word like “quite” appears twice in the same sentence or a bigger word like “ubiquitous” finds its way more than once into a chapter, there’s something about these word echoes that really peeves me! (Note: sometimes there’s no replacement for a word like “word,” which I will continue to use throughout this blog post…)

I’ll apologize now since, most likely, word echoes haven’t agitated you at all, or you’ve never noticed them in your leisure books. But it’s like when you’re in the market for a red car—suddenly they’re everywhere!

Although in everyday speech we rattle off the same words multiple times without a second thought, in writing it’s different. In writing, there’s the opportunity to edit—to rethink how you say something until it’s said to the best of your ability. So why use the same word twice when the English language has so many others to choose from?

And while simple words may go undetected when echoed, bigger words flash like spotlights. Not only that, but their power is diluted. So, with the exception of writing dialogue for a character with a limited vocabulary, expand your word-choice horizons with these tips:

  1. The thesaurus is your friend. Keep one by your side while writing. It’s especially helpful when characters are grabbing things or running a lot. There are many ways to grab: are they snatching an object away from someone else, grappling for a door handle, or swiping their hand through the air to catch a rope? And how are they running? Stumbling forward, barreling into battle, or perhaps traipsing through a field? This is the fun part! Find new ways to say actions that happen over and over again.
  2. Save the micromanaging for draft two. Especially in the first draft, how you say it isn’t as important as just saying it. If your character is in the action of the climax, don’t worry about how they grab or run. Get the ideas down, and then change up the language later.
  3. Get a second opinion. Let someone read your work and see if they notice any word echoes you may have missed. Often they’ll pass right over them, but you’ll be glad if they catch a particularly egregious one! (Can you imagine if I used the word egregious twice in this blog post?!)

While word echoes aren’t a deal breaker—many traditionally published works are chock full of them—limiting them in your writing will force you to spread your creative wings as you discover fresh ways to express your ideas. So here’s your official challenge, feisty writer: say it once and then say it different!

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