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June 28th, 2010

Word Repetition and Sundry

Word repetition is something I think most writers try to excise from their writing. Sometimes it's good to say something twice to clarify a point or to achieve an effect. Often it's just lazy writing. Last night when I came across these two sentences, I was reminded how important catching such infelicities can be.

Miranda ducked through a burned doorframe, between two still-standing sections of wall, and even her iron-willed composure cracked at the sight that greeted her. Gasping, she had to put her hand out and grip the doorjamb, for her knees went weak as the sight of dead children greeted her. (Shadow of a Dark Queen, Raymond E. Feist - page 127)

When I read the first sentence a little red flag went up when I came to "at the sight that greeted her." What's wrong with this phrase? It's clichéd personification, trying to attribute human qualities to an inanimate object to falsely pump up the emotion. This can be fobbed off on the casual reader from time to time, and when I encountered it in the first sentence above I decided to let it slide because I'm enjoying Feist's book. He's not a great stylist, but he can tell an interesting story and his characters come alive. But when I read "as the sight of dead children greeted her" my patience quickly ended.

Another thing I try to watch out for are pronouns like "he" or "she." Whenever I see one of my paragraphs loaded with three or more of the same pronoun I'll take a few moments to see if I can make it better. In a third person narrative one way to fix the problem is to use the POV character's name, swap the pronoun out for the proper noun when it feels right, though sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

First person narratives have their own problems. Have you ever noticed (and I'm sure you have) where the overuse of the word "I" snakes down the page like a testament to the Me Generation? Often you have to accept this as a convention of first person narrative, but as a writer it's something I try to watch out for.

Thoughts? Do you have any pet peeves on word repetition (or clichéd personification) that "greet you on the page"?

Kaleidotrope #9, July 2010

The latest issue of Kaleidotrope is now available, which contains my story "Danny's Magical Toe Jam." Though this story is rather tongue-in-cheek, it's where the protag of my latest novel, Corona, makes her first appearance. Corona is perhaps the best character I've ever created, and she just emerged by accident in this short story a couple of summers ago. It's cool when that happens!

Order info HERE

Here are the contents of the July 2010 issue!

“A Punny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tavern” by Rachel Swirsky
“So Many Years Ago” by Jay Lowrey
“Emperor of Mist” by Daniel Braum
“Like a Cannonball” by Jason Heller
“Take Four” Genevieve Valentine
“Danny’s Magical Toe Jam” by Marshall Payne
“Labyrinth” by Janet E. Sever
“Fire Eater” by Cort Ellyn
“Adam” by Jenny Blackford

Two Poems by John Grey
“If My Easy Saver Account Was a Robot Mom and I Lived in the Future” by Phil Estes
“Dates With Poetry” by Jonathan David Lim
“Siberian Geese” by Anna Sykora
“Last Call” by Alec Kowalczyk
“Star Spores” by William Doreski

“John Dickson: The Sound Behind the Most Dangerous Night on TV” by C.J. Bahnsen

Plus artwork from Inna Hansen and Grant Wilson.


Marshall Payne
Marshall Payne

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