Monday, July 11, 2011

Word-word-word! The same word over and over... by Linda Glaz

Does this annoy anyone else?
Here I am reading a book that’s been recommended by oodles of people and the same word continues to pop up line after line until the author finds another favorite word a few lines or chapters later and beats that dead horse with a rod.

The handsome cowboy walked her to the door. His hand caressed her hand before her hand reached for the door. But his hand got to the door handle first. She stepped back and allowed his hand to open the door. Inside the door, he took her face in his hands and said good night, handing her safely into the comfort of her home. His hand closed the door.

Someone. Let me scream.

And I read similar scenarios all the time. Why isn’t the author catching that in a full read through? Why aren’t her crit partners? Why isn’t the preliminary reader, the editor, the final reader noticing? Does anyone else even care or is my OCD showing? I do care! It is annoying, unprofessional, and just plain ridiculous to think anyone wants to read the same word over and over. No doubt one of the first things, other than really poor grammar (the grammar has to be really poor, because I am definitely NOT the comma police) and punctuation that I notice.Now, I’m not talking about an occasional repeat, but the sentence above isn’t that out of place in a lot of books I’ve read recently. Not chapters in a proposal, not chapters for critique, but published books. And how about extraneous words like—mmmm, this one:
It doesn’t matter if it isn’t the exact right word as long as it means the same thing that it should. It isn’t the word, but how it’s used. It can be used many ways as long as it’s correct. It, it, it, it, it.

And even when the little two-letter darling isn’t needed, it’s used. And before you laugh, yes, I’ve seen it used that many times in one sentence. I’ve no doubt been guilty of the same thing before editing (hopefully not after). But why does an author allow, and yes, I say allow, his or her work to be seen by a professional before the work has had a strong read through? Any author reading her work out loud will catch most of these glitches.

What are your pet peeves when you read a book? You plunk down your hard earned cash and find you can’t really connect because the read is bogged down with small idiosyncrasies that draw you out of the story and make you crazy. Again, speaking for my eccentric self, but I don’t think I’m alone here, right?

There’s one golden opportunity to connect with an agent, editor, and especially with a reader. Make the most of that chance!
Anyone care to share?


Anonymous said...

You're absolutely not alone!
I've read bestselling authors where a character is referred to, or a line of dialogue is attributed to them and I have to stop because I know that's not who she's talking to...she was talking to (him).
Did no one notice this? How well was this book edited anyway?
I love my crit group girls! They catch my mistakes, but so often just reading it aloud to them shows the mistakes to me.
So valuable. I don't think an author can afford to do without it.

Katherine Hyde said...

Oh, Terry, don't get me started!

Yes, repeated words bother me. And I AM the grammar police, so any sort of mechanical error or typo drives me nuts.

Bigger things that have tempted me to leave a book unfinished:
Telling the reader what the writer has just finished showing.
Telling us all through the book that the protag has some big, horrible secret, and when it's revealed it's really not that big a deal. For that matter, I'm not crazy about protags keeping secrets from the reader at all.
And of course, pulling endings out of a hat.

Valerie Comer said...

That's one of my pet peeves, too, and one of the main reasons I read my own work out loud to myself. And when I'm critting, I just highlight the repeats when they start annoying me. No need to comment on each one!

Linda Glaz said...

Valerie, I'm with you. The best thing a writer can do is read their work out loud and catch all those irritating mistakes. Thanks for stopping by all and adding your two cents. Wait, there's inflation to consider. Thanks for the dime's worth.

Deborah Dee Harper said...

Yes, yes, yes! :-) Sorry, couldn't resist.

I know what you mean, though, and I've seen it time and again in books by established authors--authors who (supposedly) have readers and editors whose job it is to catch those errors. Drives me nuts to see these glaring errors in published books--don't they realize their readers aren't dummies?

Thanks for a great post!

Normandie Ward Fischer said...

You probably don't want to get ME started on the things that make my skin itch and my fingers twitch.

Repeats, of course. But how about this from a mult-published author--"James, Bill, and me went off on our own." And the me shows up in each book, from each protagonist, so I can't blame it on the voice of character. Where, oh, where was her editor? And what about folk who are so excited to hear they should avoid adverbs that they drop the "ly" and pretend it's an adjective? Modifying a verb?

I could go on. And on. But someone out there must have studied the basics -- I mean, mere basics, not the twitchy issues such as antecedent agreement -- of our language! Especially if the hat sits on an editor's head.

Carrie Fancett Pagels said...

I have a couple of theories about how that happens. One is the time rush that most people have these days. I have had crits range from nothing but punctuation correction to the thoroughness of catching my "it" repetitions. The eye tends to skip over the "its." I have read that publishers have decreased their editing staff. Less staff means more work or freelance editors trying to help keep up.

Terry Burns said...

Thanks for commenting, Katherine, but it wasn't me. The Hartline agents take turns blogging but I have all the Hartline blogs set to automatically post to my facebook and twitter to get them more exposure. We try to remember to have the agent put their name in the title to reduce confusion but don't always do it.

Oh, and one of the most common 'echoes' is the word 'that.'

Linda Glaz said...

Carrie, I think you hit part of it when you say staff has been reduced in most places. All the MORE reason, authors need to be sure their work is combed over meticulously before they send out to anyone. And yes, Normandie, I had to laugh about the adverbs becoming adjectives in the wrong places. Caught myself doing that the other day, as it's become so common, it actually sounds better now. How weird is that? Just like the "It is I" really has become so outdated and sounds funny to the ear. Wonder how long before it goes from the norm to the correct? Ah, fun with words...

Suzanne said...

Overuse of anything bothers me when I read, whether it'a particular word, phrase construction, or internal monologue. Overuse of participial phrases particularly jump out and slaps me, probably because I see this SO much in my critiquing (once it was around 200 of them in an average length chapter!).

Davalyn Spencer said...

My irritant word is "strode." A great word, except when every character does it every time they walk across the room/lawn/pasture/beach, etc. I have it once in my current project, and my goal is to keep it that way. I've also used a wonderful little feature called "navigation" or "search" to highlight a word. Ask it to search for your particular irritant, and it will highlight the word every time it's used. A great visual.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Too many em dashes. Janette Oke was famous for this in her first ten books or so. Drove me nuts!

Every author within a million miles of earth using a popular word. In the last few years it's been "resonate."

Replacing homonyms with the wrong word. Their for there, too for two, one for won, etc.

Overuse of quotes to empasize a word or phrase.

Three-word alliterations: frisky, frumpy frogs. Arrrrggghhhh!!! I'm biting a bulging biscuit about now.

Wow, I feel so much better now--we should do this pet peeves post more often. OOPS! Alliteration alert!!!

Heather Marsten said...

Let me hand it to you, when someone hands me a book, and I see that it has so many repetitions, I hand it off to the library's book sale. Sorry, couldn't resist :)

I think you are right that agents and editors ought to catch repetitious lines like that. In the crit circle I belong to, people point out words that I repeat, and I keep a list of them. When I get ready to edit my rough draft, I plan to search for those words and consider replacing.

One other thing that gets me is when paragraphs begin with the same word, usually the character's name. Switching it around is good.

Have a blessed day.

Diana said...

Great post Linda and Jen, we will do a few more pet peeves- great idea!

Terry Burns said...

I agree agents and editors should catch such as that but the reality of the publishing world as Linda pointed out is with the cutbacks and the economy they don't have the staff. What that means is if one book is a good book but needs a lot of line edit like that and another may not be quite as good but is really well edited and doesn't need much guess which one they will probably take.

Linda Glaz said...

Terry, you said it and very clearly. The final responsibility remains with the author. When we get that final chance to fix the last minute things, we ought to stop gazing at "our baby", oh how wonderful to see it in print, and actually look it as an editor would. With very tough eyes. Read it out loud, read it to ourself, and pick it apart line by line. THAT is the book that will please an editor AND a reader. Thanks everyone for all the awesome comments. What great things to think about.