I’m both lucky and unlucky enough to sleep with my work out partner. Lucky because he motivates me when I would otherwise stay in bed–it’s damn hard to roll over and put the pillow over your head when your hubby is strapping on his tennies. And unlucky because it’s damn hard to roll over when he’s strapping on his tennies.
Hopefully, his 5:20am habit will help keep writer’s spread from over-taking my chair (especially since I usually write from the couch, and not one of those little love-seats either). But what about the other kind of spread?
The bloated, chubby kind of writing that gets in the way of good storytelling?
Sadly, that’s something I have to do on my own. Well, on my own with the help of crit partners and Word’s Find button.
What makes chubby writing? Obviously words that are very over-used and so very often unnecessary. Yeah, the adverbs and adjectives. The dreaded “that”, “just”, “but” and “so”–to name a few.
Those go without saying. You can read blog post after blog post after book after article on those no-no’s.
What I’m talking about today are echoes. Word echoes and idea echoes. Beating your reader to death with redundant writing.
These things will give a reader gas any day. They bog down a story quicker than a Thanksgiving meal and have readers settling into the couch for a quick snooze.
While some echoes are purposeful and written to pack a punch, the majority of them I see (even in my own writing) are simply overlooked or unnoticed by the writer.
- Try really hard not to use the same word twice in one sentence.
- Try really hard not to use the same word or phrase twice in one paragraph.
- Heck, try really hard not to do the above in one page.
This can be a daunting task–like sleeping with your work out partner–and exhaustive when replacing common words with alternatives. But trust me, it is well worth the effort.
Common problems areas:
- body part descriptions–hands, fingers, necks, etc…. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what a couple is doing and forget how boring it is to read of hands clasping hands touching hands.
- room descriptions–doors, doorknobs, floors, steps, etc… “The front door was yellow. I walked up the steps to the door and knocked on it. The doorknob felt cool to the touch. The door swung open unexpectedly.” Kill me with a door knocker to the noggin already!
- pet names. I know one Real Life Dude who calls everyone Dear. Every stinking time he starts a new sentence. I want to stab him with a spork. BEWARE the pet name trap. Make it mean something. Make sure only one person uses the same pet name. Make sure there are no sporks in your manuscript or your character will die an untimely death. I promise.
Now, for the far more difficult part of echoes: ideas.
What the heck is an idea echo, you might ask. It’s the repetition of information. It’s the consistent badgering or nagging. It’s beating your sleeping work out partner with your tennis shoe while shouting at her to get up because *hello* it’s time to work out.
Readers are smarter than we give them credit for and most of them are on a diet of slim books. They have an uncanny knack of understanding the idea the first time around and not needing us to shove a turkey leg down their throats before they get it.
When do writers get caught up in idea echoes?
- romance novels: the internal debate of should I or shouldn’t I? The cure: show this debate through action.
- mysteries: cutesy phrases that “cue” the reader to something important, that not-so-subtle foreshadowing of “I didn’t know when I picked it up how important it would be.” Ugh. Just let it be important and let your reader discover it along with the MC.
- When don’t we?
Any idea that seems important to us as writers can become an echo idea for our readers. We want so badly to impart our information or make our readers see what we see and feel what we feel that we are compelled to TELL them about it. Over and over again.
Instead, we need to allow our readers to experience the events of the novel in their own way and trust that we’ve left a logical trail for them to reach their own conclusions.
So, if your manuscript feels bloated in terms of content or word count, strap on your editing shoes and check out your echoes. You’ll be surprised at how quickly careful cultivation of these words, phrases and ideas will slim down your writing and make for a better read.
Are you a chubby writer? If so, how do you check for echoes in your work, and how do you eliminate them? How do you recognize your idea echoes and what tips do you have for changing them?
Curious minds want to know.