Avoiding Excess Repetition in Your Writing

 

by Doug Lewars

 

“We can’t have far to go,” he said.

“It might be farther then you think,” she said. “After all, we did have to detour.”

“True, but we’ve come a long way, detour or no detour,” he said, “And I’m pretty certain that it’s just beyond the next hill.”

“Well,” she said with a shrug, “There’s only one way to find out.”

Four sentences of dialogue that might appear in a story. Four sentences and every one of them contains the verb ‘said’. Yuck.

I mention this because I came across a post somewhere that indicated that ‘said’ should be your go-to verb in dialogue. The writer argued that it was so ubiquitous that readers would just jump over it and keep going. That might be true to some extent, but I find the repetition can be painful at times. Yes, over the course of a novel – particularly one packed with dialog – it will appear a lot. Still, there are a number of things that can be done to reduce its usage.

One alternative is to combine the dialog with some action.

He studied the horizon. “We can’t have far to go.”

Turning, she glanced at Mark, “It might be farther than you think. After all, we did have to detour.”

“True, but we’ve come a long way, detour or no detour, and I’m pretty certain that it’s just beyond the next hill.”

She looked around at trees, bushes and long grass that might never have seen another person and shrugged. “There’s only one way to find out.”

By making reference to what the characters are doing or thinking they are identified. Technically all four sentences could have been written like the third above – without a ‘he said’ or ‘she said’; however, too much unattributed dialogue will confuse the reader and it becomes particularly difficult if there are more than two people in the scene.

I’ll concede that sometimes ‘said’ will simply vanish into the background; but if you find yourself becoming uncomfortable with the repetition, these are a couple of suggestions for solving the problem.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published ten books on Smashwords.com .

 

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