My Bad Part Two

My Bad.  My Bad.  My Bad.  Part II.

(I wish I looked like this lovely, young school teacher!)  Anyhoo –

A few years ago, I didn’t have a clue what it meant when one of my critique partners submitted “My Bad” in her pages.  Now I hear it everywhere, and suspect it is slipping out of the too-cool-for-school status right along with cool beans and groovy, baby.  But don’t let me get sidetracked with that.  I’ve got a goal in mind with today’s blog, so let me start.

There’s an old line (probably goes back to the days of Tennessee Earnie Ford) where the funny guys asks the straight man if he’d ever met his twin cousins – Pete and Re-Pete.  Which is my clever segue to talk about:

Repetition in fiction.

Let me “re-Pete” that – repetition in fiction.   Or, as I like to call it, word ruts. Word ruts can become annoying to the reader, and no one wants to tick off the reader, right? 

I have recently been going through edits for a novel of mine that The Wild Rose Press will publish sometime later this year. (No date yet, but the title is One for the Road, and the beautiful cover is featured on my home page.)  I’ve had to read the story at least five times in the process, which can get painful.  My editor, Aly, and I worked hard to clean up my tendency toward overwriting, repetition of words, and assorted other problems.  Grammar turns out to be the least of the problems as the editor works her magic and returns the book to the author for review.  We made three passes through the book, plus two passes through, first, the mock galley, and then the galley.  At each pass we found something that needed to change, this after thinking I’d used my all-seeing writer’s eyes to catch any mistakes.  I’m so dang human it irks the heck out of me.  Anyway, around pass three my editor said, “This time we’re getting rid of all the extra ‘thats’ in the book.”  We are working on Tracking Changes so I scrolled through the manuscript to see what she was talking about, and much to my horror, there were at least fifty unnecessary “that’s” on 300 pages!  As I read, I found several more.

Tip to the wise:  Do word searches for words such as: That, just, even.  Most of the time they’re unnecessary and can become annoying, so delete them.

The thing is, we all get into word ruts, and that’s why we have critique partners to help point out our current “word of the day.” I teased my CP when in one of her wonderful love scenes she’d used the word “settled” half a dozen times, and she teased me right back with my overuse of “jolted” in general.  We all have these word ruts and we all need to clean up our acts as much as possible.

Recently I’ve been reading books for the RITA contest. For those who may not know what that it, it is a well-respected book competition for the Romance Writers of America.  One of the books I liked very much had a love scene with three “beneaths” in two short paragraphs, and another “beneath” a couple of short paragraphs later.  This threw me out of the story after the second beneath so close to the first.  By the fourth beneath, the love scene had lost some of its sex appeal.  I still loved the book.  I use it as an example of how even edited books slip by with word repetition.

And speaking of ruts, I adore a certain author – have loved every single one of her best selling books – but recently the word “rut” got overused in one of them.  Rut, as in how mammals go into heat. Whenever the heroine felt turned on toward the hero, she used a word form of rut.  Rutting.  Rutted. You get the picture.  This was cute at first, and fit the character, but after the third, fourth and I’m not sure if there was a fifth time or not, all I know is after the multiple use of it, it was no longer cute, and annoyed me.  Again, I still loved the book, but I’m just saying…

Knowing we have these word ruts is the first step.  Figure out which words you tend to overuse in your writing.  Stay on top of it and weed those babies out.  Remember, a good thesaurus is our best friend when it comes to fiction.

Recommendation:  Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.  A Writers Digest Book.

For the readers out there: Have you ever quit reading a book because of word repetition?  And for the writers: Do you know what your word ruts are?  I look forward to your comments. (This blog will be up all week)

This is your reward for reading today’s blog!  He’s the hero for my work in progress.

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26 Responses to My Bad Part Two

  1. AJ Nuest says:

    Lynne, I loved your blog, and the subject matter rings so true. My pitfall is the dreaded adverb. None of my characters ever just do something. They always do it slowly, immediately, regretfully, hesitantly, quickly…you get the picture. I don’t ever think I’ll get over the use of adverbs, but without fail, my editors nail me every time. Great post. Oh, and thanks for the stunning picture of Channing Tatum. Uh, yeah, that works…

    • AJ, thanks so much for stopping by and reading the blog. Oh, yeah, those pesky adverbs can kill a good story. At least you’re aware of that pitfall, so the next step is to catch those babies before they get on the page. I catch myself having a character look “directly” into the other character’s eyes. Well, duh, how else do you look into someone’s eyes? It’s a neverending process, right?
      Yeah, Channing does have a certain appeal, doesn’t he.
      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Janie says:

    I definitely know what you mean. “Definitely” is one of my words!

  3. Roz Lee says:

    I know JUST what you mean! It’s not THAT I don’t try to keep these FROM my work. They JUST SEEM to creep in RATHER OFTEN. I FELT you did QUITE a good job of describing the problem. I REALLY THOUGHT you NEARLY said it all!


    Roz Lee

  4. Gina B. says:

    Hi Lynne! Your blog is so true and made me smile… I’ve gotten pretty irritated with myself for using “glanced,” “looked,” and “stared” about a zillion times in a manuscript. My characters love to draw in deep breaths, too… It can definitely be a challenge (and amazingly time consuming) weeding out all the repeats and making things sound fresh! 🙂

  5. Mona Risk says:

    Hi Lynne, I have no problem with that but I have a huge one with but!! I seem to have a but on every other line. Bless be the Find and Replace feature of Word. I need to get the Flip Dictionary.

    • Hi Mona,

      It’s easy to use “but” a lot, especially with expository scenes. At least you’re aware of it, and that’s half of the fix right there.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. Hi Lynne — Oh, I try to be so careful with repeating words. But sometimes, I read an author I really like and see the word used a few, maybe 2 or 3 times, and think it’s okay, because the scene really worked. And if you’re in deep POV, it’s how the hero/heroine thinks, perhaps it’s okay. But I find if I’m not the deep into the story, repeating words is annoying. I think it all depends. I TRY very hard to be fresh, but love scenes especially are difficult to be inventive. There are only so many ways to say “certain” things!!

    • Hi Charlene!

      Your love scenes are great! I agree, when in a person’s deep POV, it is how they think and react, so I too cut some slack on word repetition. But when a word crops up over and over, it gets to me!

  7. Maria says:

    First as a reader: I can’t think of any book that I’ve quit reading because of the dreaded word rut although your example of “rut,” “rutting” and “rutted” might have done it for me as all that word makes me think of is a pig rooting for truffles… I don’t know why.

    As a writer, Find is my best friend. I use “look” and “see” and “watch” and “stare” and… over and over until it nauseates me, too. I cannot tell you how happy I am that writing no longer involves a typewriter!

    Here’s to a Thesaurus and “Find” function which allows me to highlight all of my repeating words over and over and over again.

    • Hi Maria!
      Pushing that Find button is always a scary task!

      I’m glad to know you’ve never given up on a book because of overuse of a word or two. In the end, it all boils down to an engaging story, right?
      LOL, the pig analogy is exactly how I felt about the “rutting” bit.

  8. Hi Lynne,

    Great blog! I’ve gone rounds with ‘that’ too! Now I’ve become so used to not using it, I have to put it in occasionally. ; ) Word repetitions are one of those things I think every writer struggles with!

    • Hello to another Lynne!
      Thanks for reading and commenting, and I look forward to the day when I’ll have over-corrected and will need to add a few “thats” back in like you!

  9. Lynne! What a great post. You have a wonderful voice, and I so enjoyed reading this. My mss too had a lot of unnecessary “thats”. But thankfully my release date is out–June 24, 2011 (yay!). The best part (or at least a really good part) I don’t have to read the book again! Ever! 🙂

    • Hi Amie!

      First off, congratulations on your upcoming release date. What is the name of your book and what genre of romance is it in? I look forward to that “best part” of not having to read the book again, but, of course, I’ll hope lots of other people will read it, as I’m sure you do as well for your June 24th release!
      Thank you for the kind words about my blog. I’m here every Monday, folks! (couldn’t help myself) ; )

  10. Tom Attwood says:

    I agree about having favorite words – a contest judge pointed out the ‘thats’ to me and I was horrified when I did a searh. At least those are easy to find. What I find myself doing is repeating the same word (often used in a different way) several times in quick succession. I’m working on a tool to look through a MS and flag these, but time is at a premium at the moment. At a review in a small writers group I belong to, one of the women pointed out the word Jacqueline appeard 4 times in one paragraph 🙂 In fairness to me, I had zero time to edit the story, and it was two women talking, so ‘she’ often had an unclear antecedent, but still… I look for that stuff every editing pass I make.

    • Hi Tom!
      thanks for stopping by and reading the blog. You know, all we can do is make an effort to watch for those pesky repetitious words. I can understand the trouble with keeping two women in conversation identified. We don’t want to confuse the reader with unclear pronouns. Who said that? etc. But often in a give and take conversation, the reader can keep track who is talking and who is replying without saying “she said” every single time. Try wiping out some of the tags altogether, but don’t go more than say 4 back and forths without making sure the reader knows who is talking.

      Thanks for commenting!

  11. Hi Lynne,

    I’m so glad I stopped by to check out your blog : ) Like Amie said above – you do have a great voice and I too enjoyed this post. I’ll be checking in every Monday!

    When I got my first edits back, my manuscript had highlighted colours throughout. And I mean at LEAST five a sentence more often than not. Being my first, it was a good lesson. Hopefully the next won’t be so painful : )

    I can identify with adverbs, that, watch, glance (I struggle with this!), the list goes on!
    Look forward to hearing from you next week.

  12. Hi La Verne!
    I’m so happy you’ve found this blog and that you plan to return. That makes my day!
    Isn’t it scary getting line edits? Oh my gosh, makes my knees tremble just thinking about them.
    I agree about watching out for those distancing words such as: she thought; he wondered; she felt; he realized; she considered; he hoped.
    This writing gig is tough, isn’t it?
    So glad you plan to pop by again!

  13. Summer says:

    As an aspiring writer, I catch myself using That and But too often, and as a reader, overuse of exclamation points bothers me more than anything.

    Thank you again for the book I won here, it arrived on my birthday.

  14. Hi Summer!

    I’m so happy the book you won arrived on your birthday. I hope you enjoy it.

    Oh, exclamation points!! ha ha. I find the British editors allow more of those than I would leave in, so I really try not to use them. (I was going to put an exclamation point, but thought it would be too smart alecky. ) ; )

    Thanks for reading the blog, and keep coming back for more.

  15. Nas says:

    Hi Lynne,

    So true!
    I find myself using “So” to start a next sentence… “Then” is the next. LOL, not using but overusing!

    • admin says:

      Hi Nas!
      Yup, so, then, next, Although, they all seem to be a waste of letters.

      Thanks for commenting, again.