I was perusing a magazine this weekend and came across this funny Old Spice ad:
Oh dear. Funny, yes, but the copy? You can click the image to enlarge, but here's what it says: "Somewhere in there there's a man in there." Woah! Who forgot to edit that ? And if it was edited, then oh God why? Sounds like whoever wrote that (and, um, edited it, too) forgot the rule of writing that says it sucks to have the same words repeated. Nay, not only sucks--but makes for some crappy, eye-stumbling wordage.
Repeating words too close together (in the same paragraph or sentence) is something I've been called on many times--even recently, so this ad really caught my eye--sadly, for all the wrong reasons. Repeating words is one of those editing things that happens when your eye starts glazing over from reading the same bit of prose repeatedly. Here are some tricks for remedying the problem:
1. Read your story aloud.
This is time-consuming and noisy, but definitely affords you a way of looking at your prose by listening to it. Maybe your ears will tell you what your eyes can't: your words are repetitive.
2. Rest your manuscript.
Perhaps the most annoying thing to do of all is make yourself set your manuscript down for weeks before looking at it again. But truly, how else will you see that you repeated "mangled dog-chum" four times on a page without the refreshed eyes of a six-week vacation?
3. Be careful with the fancy words.
Basically a variation on killing your darlings, you know damn well when you're using words that aren't alll that common--even when they're common. I shall explain. I'm currently reading The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill (a freaking fantastic read, by the way) and he has this paragraph where something is described as "grisly." Grisly is a great word, and not uncommon, but you want to use it with care--you want to use it to show something poarticularly gross, like a decapitated body, especially one your character might have been involved with. Hill used grisly to describe just that, but on the next page at the start of a new chapter, used the word again in a different, lighter context. Say what you want for clever connections, but it didn't work for me. Grisly is one of those words that carries particular emphasis and you want to be careful with ones like that.
I've given three ways to remedy these things. For a great list on all the ways we repeat words in stories, see this post from the Self Editing blog.
Can you think of any more ways to catch these little buggars? Does this problem plague you? I want to hear about it.