Writers have a unique relationship with language. Though each writer interacts with the written word differently based on past experiences, culture, and language, I’d like to think there are some aspects we all share. When a new word enters my life or I am reminded of a word I haven’t used in a while, I usually ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over it a bit. It echoes in my mind like a magical spell. (Please don’t let me lose track of this word again. Please don’t let me forget it.) Sometimes I research its definition and etymology. The word creeps into more and more of my sentences. It becomes a slight obsession, a silent love affair, and I don’t think I’m alone in this experience.
But sometimes we can get too attached to certain words.
A few months back, I was reading a science-fiction novel with an endearing set of characters. The book was well-paced and had an artful plot. Unfortunately, this book had one glaring flaw: the word ‘scuttlebutt’. When I first saw the word on the page, it was like seeing an old friend that I hadn’t thought of in a while. When the word was repeated at least five times over the next page and a half, I was ready to fling the book away in disgust. It was a classic case of overuse.
Senseless repetition will kill a word’s effectiveness.
It’s boring. It’s annoying. It’s ineffectual.
Of course there are words to which this doesn’t apply because they are functional and, essentially, invisible to the reader (‘a’, ‘the’, ‘of’, ‘to’, ‘said’, to name a few). Also, an exception can be made in dialogue with certain characters who may have a vocal tic or specific speech pattern (such as ending every sentence with the word ‘mate’).
However, presenting a word in different conjugations does not count. Note the differences between these two sentences.
Too Much Repetition:
The birds singing in the woods inspired Carol, and she sang a song of her own.
A Better Option:
The birds chirping in the woods inspired Carol, and she hummed a song of her own.
So how can you combat verbal redundancy?
- Vigilance. Awareness of the problem is a vital part of preventing it.
- Use a thesaurus. Remind yourself of alternative words. You may even find some new ones.
- Read as much fiction as possible. In addition to other benefits, it is a fantastic way to stretch your vocabulary.
Do you have additional tips or suggestions for increasing vocabulary and avoiding needless reiteration in your prose?
Do you have a favorite thesaurus site?
What’s your favorite word? Does it sneak up too much in your work?
Did you find this article helpful?
Sound off in the comments below.
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