Editing Fundamentals II: Recurrent Words
A silly quote by Lemony Snicket always pops into my head when I am thinking about repetition in writing: “Don’t repeat yourself. It’s not only repetitive, it’s redundant, and people have heard it before.”
And today I am going to write about another thing to take out of your writing: reoccurring words. We've all read those sentences in which the same hapless adjective is employed multiple times. Here is an example of what I mean:
A dark night had settled on the city. When Thaddeus Sprig, the country's most wanted thief slipped out of the alley, he was nothing but a dark shadow skulking in the dark street. His dark coat matched the dark plans in his head. . . .
The word “dark” is starting to sound a little odd. And it is getting boring. The following paragraph is an example how one word can be replaced with several different ones.
A moonless night had settled on the city. When Thaddeus Sprig, the country's most wanted thief slipped out of the alley, he was nothing but an obscure shadow skulking in the murky street. His black coat matched the sinister plans in his head. . . .
When a word is used again and again it is tedious and insipid. It loses its impact. Every author can be guilty of this. But it is understandable; sometimes it is all you can do to get a description written, or get a point across, and never mind making it sound elegant. I find myself doing this often. However, it is not a problem if you edit later. Once the piece is finished, read it again and keep a sharp eye out for redundant words and replace them. Using a thesaurus during this step can be a big help.
This is one of the smaller chores in editing, but I find it can go a long way in making a piece more polished and readable.