Sunday, October 28, 2012

Writing Tips - Self-Editing and Repetition by Stephanie Burkhart

Learning to self-edit is never easy. There's so many different angles and elements to keep in mind. Repetition is one of them.

I'll be honest – after I finish my first draft and I start to tackle my editing, I discover a bunch of repetition. It ranges from using a certain word 3 times in a paragraph. (for example, door) to using a phrase several times in the span of 2-3 pages. (for example: she nodded) to using brand name like "Rolex," and "Mercedes" over and over.

It's time to find another word.

When a writer is writing, it's easy to become repetitive because you're so close to the material. Instead of intensifying the effect you want, you usually come off as condescending to the reader.

What can you do to be on guard? One idea is put the manuscript down for a little bit and don't think about it. Some writers wait 48 hours, some a week, some a month. The goal is to have a fresh set of eyes when you pick the story back up. Usually the repetitive word/phrase/brand sticks out. It tends to be easier to find and fix.

We all have our "catch phrases" and quirks so being mindful of them helps to catch the repetition and fix it.

There's another repetition that's good, if used appropriately, involving character traits. For example, when your character is worried, they might rub their temple. When they are upset, their stomach might tighten with knots.

I'd love to hear your questions, comments, thoughts, and suggestions. What works for you?

Reference for this blog: Self-editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King, Harper Collins Publishers, ISBN: 0-06-54569-0, 2004, 280 pages.




Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart was born and raised in Manchester, New Hampshire. In 1986 she joined the U.S. Army and served 7 years overseas in Germany. In 1997, she left the service and settled in Castaic, CA. She now works for LAPD as a 911 Dispatcher. Her current titles with 4RV Publishing are The Giving Meadow and First Flag of New Hampshire. She married with two sons, ten and six. Her website is: http://www.stephanieburkhart.com

23 comments:

  1. Dear Stephanie,
    Thanks for writing this post. Isn't it interesting how we put our pet words into our manusript over and over again. Your suggestion to let our manusripts sit for awhile before revising isw a good one.
    Celebrate you today.
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

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  2. Thanks for stopping by, Joan. I agree - I think letting the manuscript rest for a bit is very helpful and helps to catch other mistakes as well.

    Smiles
    Steph

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  3. Delores Goodrick BeggsOctober 29, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    I have learned the hard way to finish a manuscript early so it can rest a bit and then reread before sending it to the editor;I can't believe how many times I used a couple of words once!

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    1. Delores,
      I'm the same way.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  4. I have no catch phrases at all. I do not repeat words. HAHAHA. Yeah I believe that too. I've been trying to watch that in myself, but... I don't always catch. Although, there are times I want the same word said that many times for the sake of the rhythm.

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    1. Tina, you make me chuckle. I think the better self-editor you become, the better writer you become, too.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  5. Even with character traits, we have to be careful, but having a trait given to one character, and not to multiple characters, is good.

    I live with a thesaurus close by. When I realize I'm over using a word or phrase, I grab the thesaurus and research.

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    1. Yes, Vivian, I agree, you have to be careful not to overuse the trait or give it to other characters. Finding balance is important.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  6. Sometimes vanity trips me up as I'm editing. I'll think "I don't need to search for those words I always mess up on. I've learned to edit that out on the first go around." HA! Just like water seeks the lowest level, a writer in a hurry will revert to bad habits, and face it, rare's the day I'm not in a rush to get my word count done and move on to the next thing.

    Great post, Steph. I love that reference book, btw.

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    1. Maggie, you make a good point. When a writr is in a hurry, it's easy to make mistakes. I have a couple of "go to" editing/writing books and the book by Browne and King is one of my favorites. I highly recommend it.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  7. Good post, Steph. I've just finished a first draft and will have an enforced 3 week break on our trip to England. I've put it on my Kindle so I read and make notes while I'm there so I'll be ready to dig back in when I return.

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    1. Angela, great tip. A lot of people use the Kindle or ereader to look at the manuscript and find mistakes. I think 3 weeks is a good amount of time, too to be away from the manuscript. I find that 48/72 hours isn't enough. Anywhere between 1-3 weeks is optim for me.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  8. Steph--I was taught self-editing by my very first editor. She gave me a download to follow. Now, I try to do as many of these as I can. Highlight these words: was, heard, saw, felt. All of these indicate weak writing, plus useless phrases. I also highlight "that", and sentences that begin with Why, But, Well. Just these few things clean up a ms very nicely.
    Then I change the font and re-read. Errors of useless items jump right out using this method.
    Recently, I began emailing me ms to my Kindle. Voila! It looks like pages in a book instead of a document. That's when I catch even more errors.
    One thing I see once in a while that I wish authors could find a trick to avoid: that is, one line of dialogue after the other, several, if not many, with no taglines, no action to indicate who is talking, etc. After about six sentences like this I become lost.
    I also dread seeing the same actions by characters--one book I recently tried to read had her heroine "flip her hair over her shoulder" about 20 times. If she's asked for the help of a friend or an editor, someone would have pointed that out.
    Whew! You have a great topic here, and I got carried away. Good job.

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    1. Celia, great tips - I definately know I need to watch out for the "was, heard, saw, felt" gang. I never thought of changing the font, but I'm going to try that next time out.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  9. I find it helps to work intensely on my manuscript, then look back at it a few days later and tackle it again. Surprising how I find things to change!

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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    1. Morgan, I agree - a little time will reveal a lot!
      Smiles
      Steph

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  10. I'm definitely someone who has to walk away--usually for a few weeks. Then I can truly come back to it with fresh eyes.

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    1. Cheryl, fresh eyes really do bring a new perspective to the writing.

      smiles
      Steph

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  11. Yep, putting a manuscript aside helps as does highlighting words. I've just had a story edited where hands, fingers, lips, mouths and a few more - were all highlighted. Some could be changed but you try and find another word for fingers when you've just used hands! I do think you have to be careful not to get too bothered by it. Reading your story aloud alerts you to repetitions that grate. That's my best tip.

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    1. Barbara, I love the idea of reading the story outloud. I think that helps to identify those repetition problems as well.

      Smiles
      Steph

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  12. I have a critique group and in my last critique one of my partners noticed I used to and that way too often. It helps to have another set of eyes on our work.

    Janice~

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  13. I do the find & replace on Word when I realize I'm seeing a word too often. I read the mss out loud & delete words that mess with the rhythm. Sometimes, I find redundancy & delete whole sentences.

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  14. I use the 'find' on Word to look for the words I know I use too much, and I also have a subscription to Autocrit Wizard which I find is invaluable for highlighting overuse of words and phrases I didn't realise I overused!

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