Friday, February 17, 2006

Copyediting Follow-up

Happy Friday, BGs. There was one question from the copyedit post (on Wednesday) that I wanted to follow up on.

Dineen: How many times is a word considered overused? Sometimes you can't help but repeat a word in a paragraph if you’re describing an action within a time, like searching through multiple drawers in a desk.

I echo Dineen's question. I usually try to only use a word once every 100 pages, and if I remember using it in the past 200 pages, I'll still take it out. Is that too extreme? There are only so many words for walking, or crying, or singing, or whatever.

There’s no set number for when a word is overused. It depends on the word. You’ll remember the copyeditor noticed I’d used the phrase “fetal position” twice, and he thought that was too much. I agreed, because of the power of the phrase (referring to someone being very emotional). But other verbs may be used five times, or ten or more depending on how common they are.

I do try not to use the same verbs and adjectives close to each other. Two “wafted” verbs three pages apart is too much for me. (Another copyeditor catch.) Using a word only once every 100 pages isn’t a bad rule—good way to catch yourself. Again, that is if we’re not talking about an everyday verb like said or looked or sat. Of course, those can be overused, too, because they are so common. And they’re boring. I’m always trying to use the more exciting verbs, particularly in action sequences or to create tone, but then I end up using those too much. Sigh. This is why I love to have a good copyeditor. I just can’t catch everything.

And now a quick update on Coral Moon. It’s due four weeks from today. Agh. I have too many pages to go, and I’m just dragging through the thing. As usual, I think the book’s lousy and boring. But—type on, type on.

Have a great long weekend, y’all. I will be taking Monday, President’s Day, off. Meet ya back here Tuesday.


Dineen A. Miller said...

Have a great weekend, Brandilyn. I'll be praying for you about Coral Moon. I'm sure it's great stuff!

Illuminating Fiction said...

Overusing a word is easy to do when caught up in a writing frenzy. I often have clients send me manuscripts which contain a word used three or four times in the same paragraph.

I also agree that strong phrases have to be used sparingly.

Another thing I have noticed recently is what I call "repeated scenes." This is where an action scene is played out, most often with the same characters, twice in a manuscript. Adding a different character or changing the setting doesn't make the scene fresh. The story needs to flow forward, not repeat a past event which will ultimately jolt the reader.

Mary DeMuth said...

I read one book once where the editor didn't catch the author's affection for "conspiratorial." You can really only use that word once in a book, if at all. So for those truly unique words, slay them so just one remains standing (and by all means, don't keep introducing the word in the next book!)

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Drat, Mary, you mean I can't use my fave words book to book? But there are some words I just LOVE . . .

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I have a thing about repetition, even with some of the more pedestrian words, such as more or like. The only sure way to catch them, for me, is to read the manuscript out loud.

Maybe I let repetition go with this method, but it's easier for me to hear the repeated word than to worry about how many pages ago I used it.


D. Gudger said...

My overused words are "began to" which makes my verbs passive. Bad Darcie. I had no idea I used those words in nearly every scene!

About my POV post - I'm thinking it's a problem w/ my MSN. My post on the discussion board loads half way and freezes. Same thing happens when I try to reply. May I have things set up wrong? I'll let you all know if and when I get it figured out.

Domino said...

I don't catch the repeats when I read my ms - maybe because I thought each one needed to be there when I put it there. So I let the computer find them for me.

But the problem with that is the computer only finds words I tell it to look for. I might not ask it to find those accidentally repeated power words.

The computer helps me to a point, then I need professional help. Okay, maybe I should say that a little differently. ;)

Camy Tang said...

Yeah! I would love a computer program that actually catches the more unusual words that I write more than once. I'll just hit "run" and it lists all the words used more than once and where in the manuscript they are.

Have a good weekend, y'all!

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Brandilyn, you'll do fine on coral always do...and it will be as exciting as all the always is! LOL

Camy...I saw writer'e software that does just that...finds and catalogues unusual words...but I don't remember where I saw it. If i come across it again, I alert you to where it is!

Illuminating Fiction said...

AutoCrit allows you to find unusual and common words.

This service is free for a limited amount of words, or you can pay a subscription of $25 per year for no word limit.