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Author Topic: Repeat Words
EVOC
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I've read a lot about avoiding repeating the same words in close proximity. Same going with the reuse of a phrase. But I wonder does a reader even notice this?

I went back through some of my favorite novels, and I found the same words repeated as much as 10 times on a page. I never noticed this when I read it and it certainly didn't make me stop reading.

I suppose a certain phrase repeated over and over I would notice as a reader. Something like "He looked over his shoulder." repeated again and again could get distracting.

But I am not sure how repeating a word could be distracting. Maybe if it was a uncommon word it would stand out. But "they" and "He" seem to be almost unseen words anyway.

Thoughts?

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Meredith
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There are some words you can't avoid repeating--like they and he.

Other words, there just aren't any good synonyms for. I once had an ms marked up by a critiquer for repeated use of the word "eyes". But there isn't a good synonym for that one. At least, none that I've found.

Otherwise, it's good to use a thesaurus and insert a little variety.

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MartinV
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I always have an argument with Ms Word when it says I duplicated a word with a sentence like this: "I told you you need to do this!"

Do the two 'you's make sense?

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mayflower988
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I always feel awkward when I put something like: "He told me that that movie was awful." Also with "do do", except there's the element of potty humor with it. I usually notice when I read or write one of these.
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MattLeo
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One of the tough things about proofreading is avoiding that hypersensitive, hypercritical state where you see stylistic bogeys everywhere. Every dialog item tagged with "said" begins to feel like a knife-stroke, and the next thing you know you are committing unspeakable atrocities with the thesaurus.

Remember, using the same word several times on a page is not a *grammatical* issue, it's a *stylistic* one. So the only question here is this: does it sound funny? The best way to figure that out is to have someone (e.g. your computer) read it back to you.

One thing you might discover is that the problem isn't repetition per se. It may be the level of tedious and unnecessary detail you're going into. It may be the rhythm of your sentences unintentionally triggering the reader's ear for rhetoric. Take President Kennedy's famous lines from his moon speech:

quote:
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Note how the liberal use of repetition gives the passage a drumbeat quality. The rhythm is what makes this passage stirring, but that's not always what you want:

quote:
He put butter on his toast. He put butter on this toast, and jam, not because they were good for him, but because he liked them; because he'd run five miles yesterday and a teaspoon of butterfat wasn't going to kill him; because he was going to die sooner or later, and had no intention of spending the time he had left eating dry toast.
This kind of thing is fine if you're doing a spoof, but it wears out its welcome quickly.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by mayflower988:
I always feel awkward when I put something like: "He told me that that movie was awful." Also with "do do", except there's the element of potty humor with it. I usually notice when I read or write one of these.

Alice, where Bob had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had a better effect on the teacher.
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MAP
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An unusual word or phrase used even just a few times on one page will definitely be noticed. The more common the word or phrase, the less it would be a problem.
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Owasm
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I agree with MAP. I certainly have become attuned to multiple uses of words in adjacent sentences and even in close paragraphs. I catch these more when I proofread and I need to come up with a very good reason why or I'll take them out. At this point it's conditioning.

I honestly don't know if a reader will notice, but a critiquer will.

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extrinsic
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Repeated terms can be either rhetorical virtue or grammatical vice. Often, which is which is a matter of a beholder's perception, Calling undue attention to a repeated term falls in the vice category. Calling artful attention to a repeated term falls in the virtue category. There's a broad spectrum between those extremes.

One especially practical use of repeated terms is echo dialogue, where speakers conversing echo what each or the other expresses but with substituted and amplified meaning. Along with non sequitur, squabble, and colloquy dialogue, echo dialogue makes for dynamic imitation conversations for writing.

The rhetorical principles that guide repetition, substitution, and amplification schemes is behind the John Kennedy example MattLeo gives. Repetition schemes create emphasis for oral presentations, or principles of orality, that equally apply for written word.

Specific categories of repetition within the rhetorical canon include (from the Silva Rhetoricae. Web):
Anaphora: Repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses, sentences, or lines.
Antithesis: Juxtaposition of contrasting words or ideas (often, although not always, in parallel structure).
Parallelism: Similarity of structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses.
Chiasmus: 1) Repetition of ideas in inverted order; 2) Repetition of grammatical structures in inverted order (not to be mistaken with antimetabole, in which identical words are repeated and inverted).

Silva Rhetoricae lists about another fifty figures of repetition schemes.

However, battlologia: vain repetition. A vice. Vain, meaning having no real value. Calling attention to vain repetition in most cases probably is a vice. But--always a but--virtuous uses of vices trumps their vain shortcomings.

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Pyre Dynasty
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Did you know that the word "the" is something like five percent of everything ever written in English. When you think about how many words there are in the language one word having so much dominance is a little weird.

Sorry, just a fun little fact. I agree that that only applies to uncommon words, unless you are going for a repetition style.

If you're character has a hat and they are playing with that hat for a while you have to use the word hat many times.

Although sometimes you have a word that becomes your pet word and you don't realize that you are using it too much. For a while there I was psychoticly using "just." So I decided that it was tic of a particular character so if I just started using it again I'd think, "Oh no, I'm starting to sound like Jerry again."

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mayflower988
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Alice, where Bob had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had a better effect on the teacher. [/QB]

Wha...?
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EVOC
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I don't worry so much about words like "said" because they are often overlooked. I'm going to be doing some final edits and I've been "warned" by the editor that there was a lot of repeated words and phrases.

I had not noticed these when I read it, neither did my beta readers. I've not seen what he has put down so they may be valid repeat words that need to be changed.

I only asked because I feel like if I get to liberal with the Thesaurus it will only be more distracting to the reader.

It sounds to me like many of us agree, there is such a think as over complicating this repeat word thing.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by mayflower988:
quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Alice, where Bob had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had a better effect on the teacher.

Wha...?
//My dear friend Alice, where Bob, in his writing used to have "had," for example, used to have had "had had," for example; and "had had," of course, must have had a stronger effect on the teacher.//

Pluperfect past and plupluperfect past tenses.

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rcmann
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What?
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extrinsic
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For a discussion of pluperfect and plupluperfect past and contentious debates thereof, though one-sided:
http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=5939

Otherwise, I refer you to Webster's Dictionary of English Usage for U.S. dialects or maybe Fowler's for British dialects.

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Robert Nowall
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I've tried revising to make the verbs as immediate as possible---eliminating all the has-had-have sort, along with was---easy to do with the search feature of my word processing program---but sometimes it just comes out looking so odd and alien to me that I try to put some of 'em back. (I do the same with "ly" adverbs, but those I usually can find a substitute.)

(I say "revising," which isn't what I do here---this is all first-draft stream-of-consciousness insert-a-word-here-and-there writing. Except if I notice something really bad...)

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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by MartinV:
I always have an argument with Ms Word when it says I duplicated a word with a sentence like this: "I told you you need to do this!"

Do the two 'you's make sense?

Yes, the two "you"s make sense. But I'm thinking it might read better with a comma like this:
"I told you, you need to do this!"

Also, I think it's more common to repeat words in dialog than in narration. It adds character to the speaker.

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extrinsic
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Crystal Stevens raises a style recommendation for when two identical words with different uses fall next to each other. Separate them with a comma as if a speaker takes a short pause.

The facilitate reading and comprehension ease writing principle recommends recasting a sentence when two identical words fall next to each other.

Direct discourse;
"I told you," Blaise said, "you need to do this."
"I told you three times now you need to do this."

Indirect discourse;
I told him you need to do this.
I told her she needs to do this.

[ August 07, 2012, 01:22 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Rhaythe
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I occasionally dump my manuscripts into wordle.net. It never fails. The word "back" is always one of the largest words, many times larger than some of my secondary character names. Always baffles me until I start CTRL-F'ing through the document. It's something I'm aware of now, yet I'm still just as guilty.

Case in point:
http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/5547093/Atlantis

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
I've tried revising to make the verbs as immediate as possible---eliminating all the has-had-have sort, along with was---easy to do with the search feature of my word processing program---but sometimes it just comes out looking so odd and alien to me that I try to put some of 'em back. (I do the same with "ly" adverbs, but those I usually can find a substitute.)

If you have to make it look odd or alien to avoid "was" and "had," then don't do it. Those words serve a purpose in our language, and if no other words will do it better, let them do their jobs.

Same for "ly" words. Sometimes there isn't a better choice.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, for one story I wanted a certain immediate feeling in the tone-of-voice of the "I" narrator...but the habit of revising to do so stuck, though I've tried to pull back from it.

It's also a learning experience---the effort of removing these things in revision helps me avoid these things in draft writing, rather than resorting to revision to rid myself of them in the first place. So when something slips by and slips into the story, it's a more rare occurance than before, at least...

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