Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Frequency, Frequency, Frequency

Last week, for our “E” entries, Paula talked about editing. One of the things to look for in your manuscript when editing is the frequency with which you use, or overuse words. My critique partner is great at noticing when I use the same word several times in the same series of paragraphs or within the same scene. For a creative person, I really should remember to use my thesaurus more! Overusing words is boring, both for the reader and the writer. The more varied your vocabulary, the more interesting and specific is your writing, and the better able the reader is to disappear into your story.

But using a thesaurus is not the only thing you need to vary your vocabulary. Several years ago, I submitted my manuscript to an editor who was extremely helpful in her response. She rejected my manuscript, but not before providing me a long email with suggestions of how to improve my writing and examples of words to avoid, types of writing to change and resources that I might find helpful. While her opinion is subjective, her advice was so helpful, and so appreciated, that I use it as a “final check” before sending my work off to editors now.

Frequent use of the words “then,” “that,” “nearly.” “seem” and “which” makes writing sound passive. After I finish writing and editing, I do a search for those words and try to get rid of them to make the writing active. The use of adverbs or adjectives ending in “-ly” or “-ing” is also a passive way of writing. Again, I do a search and try to switch them to “-ed.”

Using the same type of phrase too often slows down the pacing of your story. I often do this in dialogue. For example:

"The kids seem to be having fun together. It’s always so awkward when the parents like each other and the kids can’t stand to be in the same room together."

Lily laughed. "Yeah, play dates can be tough. They’re almost as bad as dating. It’s embarrassing when you have to ask some strange mom if their kid wants to play with yours." She watched as Ally paused in her running to wait for Adam to catch up. "Ally loves having a little boy to take care of. She’s in love with babies and little kids."

"I noticed. Usually when Emily has a play date, I have to keep Adam entertained and out of her hair, but the three of them seem to really be having fun together." Kim looked at Lily, deciding whether or not to ask her something. Her blue eyes narrowed and taking a deep breath, she resolutely plunged ahead. "So, you mentioned dating. Are you?"

Try to vary how people speak. Although in real life we may say similar types of things, we shouldn’t do it in writing—be creative!

Ultimately, that manuscript was published, by a different publishing house. But A Heart of Little Faith and Skin Deep, and any other manuscripts that I write are, and will be, stronger due to the advice that this very nice and helpful editor provided. 


  1. You are so right, Jen.
    What's hard is that my repetitions "sound" normal to my eye. It's only when someone points them out that I see them. There are tools to highlight repetitions. Paula has used one. A crit loop member has another, but the useful level has to be purchased.
    I'm getting better at catching my repetitions, and I always appreciate any critiquing friend who finds them.

  2. Jen,
    So true, variance of words is the key to taking our manuscript to another level. Each book tends to create a new 'favorite' work. My critique partner's are wonderful about pointing them out.
    Take care, enjoy your day and may you have a fabulous Christmas!

  3. A lot of good points here, Jen. I'm getting to know the words I over-use, so I try to avoid them even in my first draft, but I know I'll still have to double-check and then check again!
    Another aspect of frequency is giving the reader the same information too many times e.g. how many times do they need reminding about the hero's blue eyes, or the heroine's dark hair? I've been guilty of that fault too!

  4. I think the tool is called AutoCrit

  5. AutoCrit is GREAT! I decided to pay for the basic version, think it was $40 (£28 to me!) for a year, but worth every penny. It really does highlight a lot of style pointers to consider.
    I also think the Word 'find' editing too is good for when you know what your usual repeat words are.

  6. Ana, I agree. I think when we write what we speak, it doesn't sound repetitious and we benefit from the critiques of others.

    Diana, I love my critique partner for the same reason.

    Paula, yes, I know some of the words I overuse, but I usually forget some of them. And great point about what the characters look like!

    Ana & Paula, never heard of AutoCrit; I'll have to check it out.

  7. The right editor's advice can be a Godsend for a writer's career. I had a great one for my first three books!

    I do an entire edit pass-through focusing on removing the extraneous "that's" from my writing!