How to Not Annoy Your Readers: Avoiding Repetitive Language

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As a writer, you want to keep your readers happy. To do that, you need your writing to flow, taking them effortlessly from line to line and paragraph to paragraph. Plenty of top-notch writers know this. Take, for instance, the reigning prince of horror novels, Stephen King. When he was in junior high he read a book by a science fiction writer that stuck with him, and not in a good way:

Worst of all (or so it seemed to me at the time [wrote King]), Leinster had fallen in love with the word zestful. Characters watched the approach of ore-bearing asteroids with zestful smiles. Characters sat down to supper aboard their mining ship with zestful anticipation. Near the end of the book, the hero swept the large-breasted, blonde heroine into a zestful embrace. For me, it was the equivalent of a literary smallpox vaccination: I have never, so far as I know, used the word zestful in a novel or story. God willing, I never will.

Except that when Stephen grows up he gets amnesia, seemingly forgetting his aversion to repetitive language. Several of his novels are chock-full of annoying repetitive phrases (“smucking” in Lisey’s Story, “oil-spot eyes” from the Green Mile, and copious use of the word “shit” in Under the Dome where practically every character, including the narrator, uses it).

George R. R. Martin falls prey to the same foible in his blockbuster series, Game of Thrones. Hey, I was a GoT fan before GoT was a “thing”, but even I got a little sick of the phrases “much and more” and “little and less” repeated ad nauseum throughout the series.

Your readers deserve better than rote repetition. Authors, especially ones writing a series of related stories, can easily fall into the habit of re-using descriptive phrases. I stopped reading Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series after I got overwhelmed by the sheer number of allusions to Dirk Pitt’s emerald green eyes. Stephenie Meyer (whose writing, for the record, I don’t envy) uses the word “stare” 181 times in Twilight. And that’s not counting the 177 times she uses a synonym for “stare”. There was a lot of looking going on with those vampires!

make your readers happyWant Your Readers to Love You? Do This!

How do you avoid annoying your readers with smarmy catchphrases? Two simple ways:

  1. Be diligent in your editing.
  2. Have someone else edit your work.

Through editing your own work, you’ll become familiar with any tendencies you have to be overly-enamored of certain words and phrases. To be on the safe side, though, please consider hiring a professional editor (or at the very least consider letting a friend or family member give it the once-over) to uncover any hidden repetition in your prose. You’ll be glad you did — and so will your readers!

See you on the next page!

Nikki Bee

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