Well, I just don’t know: repetitions

Our assignment this month is: “Do you have any character habits or favorite words that always crop up in your writing?”

Well, yes. My current one is a great tendency to start sentences with “Well…”

But when I think back a bit, I remember that the first of my repeated words was “bit,” an immensely versatile little word. Please spend a bit of time, and list all its meanings you can think of.

Now that you have chewed over the question, and drilled down to its essence, you may see a little of what I mean.

I bit the bullet and improved my writing a bit, but then a beta reader pointed out my addiction to “just.” In the book she read for me, just about every second character used the word, and she could just not help but focus in on it. And I had to agree, this was a just assessment, so I did something about it.

But well, now I just need to do something about my bit of an addiction to “well.”

My characters don’t tend to overuse other common repetitions such as “Now…” and “See…” but I have often pointed them out to editing clients, or tolerantly sighed when reading a book for pleasure.

But does it matter?

Well, it does. Just think for a bit: what if all your characters spoke the same, and a bit worse, if they all spoke like you?

There is a second problem, just as important. We want the reader to focus on the message, the content of your writing, not the language. Well, I mean, I just know that you’ve been focusing in on all the bits and justs and wells. In this case, being cheeky, that’s why I put them there. But normally, anything that distracts from the content is counterproductive. This can be author intrusions, words or concepts likely to be unfamiliar to your reader, hard-to-believe claims given the reality you’ve created —- or repetitions of any kind.

Even in a short story, if one person has the habit of agreeing with “sure,” I’ll argue with the other characters until they buckle in and use another term. When quoting dialogue, it’s fine for somebody to start every second sentence with “well,” as long as this is a unique habit within the story.

Well, I’ll just repeat it one more time. Be a bit careful, and avoid repetitions.

Well, have I just convinced you to leave a bit of a comment? Now, stop sighing at me. See, I am not alone: go and visit these fellow conspirators:
Victoria Chatham
Skye Taylor
Rhobin Courtright
Judith Kopek
Helena Fairfax
Fiona McGier
Diane Bator
Connie Vines
Beverley Bateman
Anne Stenhouse

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
This entry was posted in Rhobin's round robin, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Well, I just don’t know: repetitions

  1. fionamcgier says:

    I always over-use exclamation points–especially in conversations between characters. I know not everything is that exciting. So I’m trying to break that addiction. I used to put semi-colons everywhere they were grammatically correct–just because I could. Then an editor pointed out how intellectually posing that looked. So I stopped. I’ve also cut some of my over-use of commas, by switching to 2 dashes–like thus. Hopefully that isn’t an intrusive punctuation, because I’ve grown fond of it! LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Ooh! The bells! My rule for my editing clients is not more than one a page!
      I agree about the ;. It should be used very sparingly; after all there are other devices. It is only justified as a separator in a list that contains items with commas, and when joining two sentences adds power; BOOM!


  2. I’m a bit late on commenting as I was away from home and just couldn’t remember my WordPress password. Really. Enjoyed your post, especially your ‘drilling down’ tip.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. judyinboston says:

    You always have fun posts. “Sure” and “bit” are good once in a while, but not if everyone says them. Right now I’m writing about South Central Kansas in the 1950s/ and trying to get some of those then common expressions into the text. I had to purge “just” from ever so many manuscripts. I think you’ve hit on something that we perhaps write how we speak. Yikes!
    Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. okwriter says:

    Another thought-provoking post, Bob. I focus on repetition and word overuse but I hadn’t considered how it might affect the reader and draw them out of the story. Thanks for sharing that thought.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Bob, Good point about the focus being taken away from the message or theme of the piece. I hadn’t thought of ‘bit’ in this context but I bet I now have to eradicate it from the next thing I write. Anne

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Anne. Especially, being an editor, I can’t read anything without being pulled up by repeating words or phrases. My wife, lucky person, doesn’t even notice, but that’s no excuse, is it?


  6. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Exactly right, Rhobin. I tell my editing clients that any word not doing a task should be murdered. However, while I could write this “I tell my editing clients, any word…” it is OK with the “that” in there. It is doing a job: pointing to the task.


  7. Skye-writer says:

    Excellent post, even the tongue in cheek repetitive use of just and bit. It’s amazing how versatile some of these repetitive words are. I think your drill of taking a moment to write all the meanings of a repetitively used work is an excellent suggestion, print the list out and start using all those other meaning in its place.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I really enjoyed your post, Bob! Much more than a bit 🙂 (And ‘really’ is a word I use a lot in conversation.) This topic has made me think a lot more about how/if I differentiate between my characters in their dialogue. It’s actually quite hard to do. (‘actually’ and ‘quite’ are another couple of my favourites!)
    Thanks for the great post. Another interesting topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you Helena. I found your post to be exceptionally useful, only I couldn’t find anywhere to leave a comment. So, I took it with me, and here it is.


  9. Rhobin says:

    I point out to my students that 30 or more uses of the word ‘that’ in a 1200 word essay is way too many. Yep. We all have favorite word addictions, and I think it is alright unless there are so many repetitions the reader becomes trapped into noticing their usage than the writer’s message.

    Liked by 2 people

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