Quote of the Day

more Quotes

Monday, December 23, 2013

A US Copy Editor's Perspective: Repetitions

With 80 percent visual recall, I am wired to find repetitions in manuscripts.


A rep or reps, as I will call them now, can be any duplicated word (no matter what term, other than articles, like the and a; conjunctions, as in and or but; and assorted elemental items). Note that the dialogue tag said is not considered a rep in the usual sense, as I understand our minds gloss over italthough you don't need "he said" or "she said" for every single speaker, if conversation is properly written. But that discussion is for later.

Such reps can be found within one line, sentence, paragraph, scene or novel. Remember this quote?
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
What a great line, appearing only at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice. Smart. Use it once, it's unique. Twice would be a rep, diluting its rarity, its surprise for the reader.

Reps can be a word (like just appearing fifty times in as many pages) or an overused phrase (e.g., on the other hand, etc.).

So they can take many forms, from one word to a full sentence or more, and don't necessarily need to be located side by side.

In fact reps may appear from book to book. While you may think your readers won't notice that you've replicated your car chase scene or your love scene from your previous novel into your current one, I don't advise doing that. Someone will recognize this and might even feel shortchanged because a new one wasn't written to entertain us with.

Also sentence construction counts for a rep, in my opinion. If you continually start off your sentences with "She..." or an intro phrase, you need to mix things up. I have to watch my propensity for too many stand-alone phrases which begin with And or But, as that too qualifies as a rep.

Even if you strictly follow form as to the variety of rhetorical devices available to us authors, don't incorporate four different kinds in the same paragraph. You have again stripped the power from each. Choose one, integrating the main idea/theme that fits this particular scene of yours, and cut the rest. Also, when using rhetorical devices, your choice of repeating word is critical. Don't waste it. Choose a hard-hitting term with plenty of emotional resonance. Or it will just appear to be the run-of-the-mill rep that it is.

I would go so far as to say that having a well-known line from someone else's novel/movie set forth also in your book is both a rep and a bad idea. Unless you want your reader knocked out of your story, already popping in the Pride & Prejudice DVD, all because you added that line, "A thousand times, yes," in your own tale.

How to Fix

As a copy editor, I either delete the majority of reps or find a suitable replacement word where applicable. For example, instead of walked, there is strolled, sauntered, paced. That takes time.

Cutting is faster. However, the reader will have no idea how many I've already taken out. Even though greatly reduced, those reps left within a book may still seem like too many. It's all relative, isn't it? So beware.

I especially delete instances where the same body language is consistently used: He smiled. (Maybe shows up five times on the same page. Readers will notice and be focused on the wrong thing.) She laughed. (Not good to see this in every other paragraph of a dialogue exchange. Better to use the "she said" tag instead of a repetitious action line.) He ran his hand through his hair. (Need to find more than one mannerism to give to each character. Plus this one is clichéd, and a new one is called for.)

As an Indie author, I find my own reps in my first drafts, when copyediting my work. We all have a set peculiar to each of us. Keep a list of yours and search for them within your MSWord doc and weed them out. Maybe even add your own selection of alternatives to your cheat sheet.

Vary your sentence/paragraph lengths as well as your sentence patterns.

Compare what word starts off each of your chapters and paragraphs. Add variety. Take away the same ol', same ol'.

If you didn't read the Defined part of this post, at least review the last two paragraphs on rhetorical devices and adding in famous lines right before this How to Fix section. They already contain the suggested corrections therein.

We are authors, originators. While I think all people have some imagination, surely we, as creative types, have more. And we can command an even greater word base by consulting Web11 or a thesaurus to find another noun/verb/adjective that fits, without boring our reader with a limited vocabulary.

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

No comments:

Post a Comment