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.)
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 CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2014 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.