repeating myself repeatedly

How many times should the words “for the first time” appear in a 64,000+ word document? Or rather, how many times should they be allowed to appear?

I wanted to add a few lines of text somewhere in the middle of Finnegans Deciphered, the novel-in-progress I’m never quite finished writing. I knew it had to do with Greg Finnegan having a sudden realization about something. For the first time in the story he considered a thought (one he didn’t want to consider, but that’s beside the point here). I knew I had used those very words in the passage where I wanted to make my addition, so I sent Word on the hunt for them.

I found five instances of “for the first time” in the novel manuscript. They are in five very different parts of the novel, well spread among the 64,000 words. I don’t think the casual reader would even notice their repetition, much less find them repetitive. But I was surprised by this little discovery.

Surprised, but not motivated to change any of them. It just left me wondering.

Actually, someone who cared about such things would probably find other, more frequent repetitions in the novel. I use a river as a recurring image in the story. The words “flowing” and “current” and “drifting” and even “backwater” (especially “backwater”) appear several times. And it makes me wonder what other textual habits I have in there that I’m not aware of. I suppose I use the word “though” a lot. Perhaps “perhaps.” Maybe “maybe.” I’m not sure I have an objective-enough eye any longer with this document to be able to spot them.

My beta reader finished her reading. She spotted plenty of typos, and it seems the big revelation at the end (it is a mystery novel after all) was too obvious. So I’ve been doing some work on the story. Mostly it’s just misdirection, but each change gave me an opportunity to enhance the story beyond just fixing it. I’m still looking for ways to add sensory details and to punch up the dialogue. My husband and wife characters, married more than 40 years, ought to have some shorthand in their conversations. They ought to be able to read each others’ minds a bit in order to affect how a conversation between them should be written.

Anyway, do you pay attention to how much you repeat yourself in the stuff you write? Do you have certain words or phrases you find creeping into your work?

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2 Comments on “repeating myself repeatedly”

  1. Annam Says:

    I think there are software programs out there that will scan your document and tell you what phrases/words are repeated the most. I do pay attention if the repetition is not purposeful. I think for me, “and then” comes up a lot as a way to move the story forward in my novel.

  2. Brian Keaney Says:

    ‘He shrugged’ – my characters are always shrugging!


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