killing-your-paragraphs

Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out, who was left?

You don’t want to answer that, unless of course you’d love listening to me repeat myself over and over again, which as a writer I try desperately to avoid.

Several years back, my son wrote an article for school, and while it was written well for the most part, we noticed quite a few places in which he repeated his words with items such as “then he…” Once we noticed and corrected this in his writing the piece was so much better, and so I began to apply that same attention to my own writing.

I look at each paragraph like a variety of colors. As I’m writing, I like to pick different hues, rather than saturating my paragraphs with one. (Note: I could have used the word “colors” twice here, but I changed the second to “hues.”)

Here’s an example of repetition:

For a time there was nothing but silence, as though nature itself was silent in the presence of God. Breaking that silence, a rumble was heard in the wind announcing a power greater than man. We waited and watched until the wind swept through to rush us inside.

And here is that same paragraph less the unnecessary repetition:

For a time there was nothing but silence, as though nature itself was hushed in the presence of God. Breaking the serenity, a rumble was heard in the distance announcing a power greater than man. We waited and watched until the wind swept through to rush us inside.

Notice how the second paragraph is more colorful?

If you don’t see repetition at first, have no fear—you can usually spot it when you read your writing out loud. I read out loud often enough at home, that my family doesn’t take notice anymore, but I still get the odd look from their friends every now and then.

Avoiding repetition forces us to spread our wings as we use different words than we usually do, such as “hushed” and “serenity.” I’m not the type of person to say “nature itself was hushed,” but seeing it typed out, I do like it much better than “nature itself was silent.” The differing words add layers to the piece, so that it’s not as flat as it was.

A word of caution here: don’t take this opportunity to find words that are bigger than you. I made the mistake a few years back (I cringe at the piece now) when I used “clandestine” in place of “secret.” It just didn’t sound right. I even used the word in the title, because I thought it was so awesome that I had learned and applied this new word. The piece will flow better if you use words like “hush-hush,” or “private,” since the reader can relate. Who says “clandestine” anymore?


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