Repeating myself, repeatedly

Here’s an unedited passage from chapter 13 of my novel:

But he was not alone. In the flow of people for the half hour that he stood there, one other person had lingered. He saw her out of the corner of his eye and might not have noticed her at all had she not lingered so long, her face as fixed on the de la Tour as was his.

How can someone who professes to be a writer, whose job it is to love the language and know how to tease the words into proper order to express thoughts, repeat the word “lingered” so closely?

I had popped open this chapter to fix one mechanical problem with the plot — assuming that a museum gift shop had an item that it very likely does not have — and began reading randomly. So I spotted this, and while the facts of the plot in this little snippet are valid, the expression of them needed work. Well, I fixed it (changing the first “lingered” to “remained”) but I had found a similar, glaring repetition in chapter 12 (when I had opened it by mistake looking to fix what was actually in chapter 13).

I fixed the mechanical problem with a change of about a dozen words, but in the process found yet another variation: “lingering.” (It became “enduring.”) This chapter is a slow seduction of one character by another, though perhaps not in the way the protagonist thinks. Doubts and reluctance do linger in one of the characters, and I suppose my intent to achieve a tone that expresses this slow but inevitable persuasion caused me to fall back on that word more than a few times. Still, there are other words in the language a creative writer might employ to do the job.

And now I’m certain that I have such egregious repetitions throughout the 107,000 words of the novel. I don’t suppose it will hurt to give the entire thing yet another read through to look for such sins, but you’d think a fellow would have resolved all of this by now!

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Explore posts in the same categories: Humble efforts, Sleep of Reason

3 Comments on “Repeating myself, repeatedly”

  1. Pete Says:

    There should be some sort of function in MS Word, Google Docs etc. that not only counts the frequency of individual words in a text but also their proximity. I shudder at the thought of how many excess “lingerings” litter my own writing.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Everyone does this, Paul. It must be some weird writers’ disease. You don’t use a word for a hundred pages and then you repeat it three times in one paragraph. There must be a neurological explanation for it.

  3. Brian Keaney Says:

    Sorry, that wasn’t meant to be anonymous. It was me.


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