Monday, January 7, 2013

Grammar ABCs: R is for Repetition

Susie decided she’d had enough of his insubordination. It was time to let him go. “John,” she said, “You have been insubordinate one time too many. You’re fired.”

Many beginning writers feel they must set up the dialogue by explaining first what the character is going to say, or to emphasize a point by repeating it in dialogue, but it is not needed. Unnecessary repetition weakens sentences and adds extraneous words to your manuscript. Say it once, cut to the chase.

Another example of saying the same thing in different words: Many unskilled workers without training in a particular job are unemployed and do not have any work. (“Unskilled” and “without training” mean the same thing, as do “unemployed” and “do not have work.”)

Better: Many unskilled workers are unemployed.

Be aware of repetitive phrases:
• Circle around 
• Continue on 
• Final completion 
• Frank and honest exchange
• The future to come
• Repeat again
• Return again
• Revert back
• Square in shape 
• Red in color

Also be aware of using the same word too many times in a paragraph or on a page. Use your imagination (and the Thesaurus) to come up with alternatives.

When you are ready to rewrite your manuscript, go back through it with a highlighter and mark all these redundant, repetitive words and phrases. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll be able to trim your bloated manuscript and substitute meaningful action, reaction, and emotion to build tension, conflict and character.

What are some of your favorite repetitive words or phrases?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.


  1. Great points, Heidi. I'll have to add this to my check list while I'm revising.

  2. Yes, I agree. Repetition is unnecessary. Say what you want to say and get on with it is the best advice. Don't need to say it twice.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. I have a bad habit of using the same words over when I do my revisions. Good advice.

  4. Ah, Heidi, a post that warms an editor's heart! Repetitions and redundancies fatten up a manuscript and lean out reader interest. Clean, crisp writing devoid of those two problems makes for easy reading that moves a story forward and often wins a fan who can't wait to read your next book. Great piece!

  5. I filed this post with the Department of Redundancy Department.

  6. Great post with some good advice. How about - sit down or stand up?

  7. This is where I find reading my work aloud most helpful. It's easier to hear repetitive words than to see them.

  8. Good advice, Heidi! We should add a list of oft-repeated words. This is most useful when editing a manuscript that is too long, as Kathryn mentioned in her last post. Maybe Elle could write a short piece about how to highlight those over-used words in Word to make the job editing job easier. Does this sound like a good future blog post?

  9. Good place for it, Christopher! Love it!

    Yes, Janet, sit down or stand up are good examples as well. Thanks.

  10. One of the biggest problems of unintentional repetition is that when you want to use it purposefully—repetition is a great highlighting technique—you've already drained away its power. Oops!

    Two of my faves:
    • falling down
    • shrugging shoulders (ever see anyone shrugging knees, lol?)

  11. You missed by favorite: past history.


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