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Avoid word repetition

Posted by Maria Murnane | January 7, 2014

A couple weeks ago, I heard from an old friend who is in the middle of writing her first novel. She asked if I’d be willing to read the first chapter and give her my thoughts. I was reluctant to say yes because I feared a potentially awkward situation if I didn’t love it, but she promised she wouldn’t be upset and wanted my honest feedback. So I agreed.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed her writing, and I found myself interested in the story. However, what jumped out at me more than anything else was the repetition of a particular word. My friend used this word over and over, once four or five times in the same paragraph, and as a result I found myself distracted and eventually annoyed.

We all have words and phrases that we like, but be careful not to overdo it. In my friend’s case, she overused the word “bag” because her protagonist likes to shop for vintage handbags. I suggested she sprinkle in direct synonyms such as “purse” as well as indirect ones such as “number” or “gem” (e.g. “I found that beaded number and the little gem next to it online”). Mixing up the terminology will keep readers focused on the story, which is what makes for a good read. (Note: repetition for emphasis is a different subject.)

There are many ways to describe this item, so mix it up!

When I mentioned the problem to my friend, she laughed and said she had no idea she’d done it. (By the way, this is why everyone needs an editor.) Her positive attitude also showed how important it is to accept constructive criticism and learn from it.


This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2014 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.



3 Responses to “Avoid word repetition”

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  • Thanks for the helpful tip Maria!

    I know I have a lot to learn about writing, so this tip will come in handy.

    I especially like the idea that the reader needs to stay focused on the story. It would seem like an obvious intent that can be thwarted inadvertently with the repetition of a word.

    Looking forward to more of your insights!

  • Hello. I wish I had read this post before self-publishing my book, Bone Girl. It’s being narrated for an audio book, and when the voice actor sent back the first 15 minutes, I realized I had used the word “bolted” three times. I did a quick search of the manuscript and found 12 uses of the word. Ugh! Twelve! I couldn’t believe it. I found your blog through SheWrites and the article on character arc. I’m hoping to improve my protagonist’s character arc with your three questions. Thank you.



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