I thought I had a good post on this topic, but I’m not sure I do. There isn’t one specific improvement situation that I feel like I can speak to just now. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff I’m constantly working on, but nothing in particular is sicking out in my mind. So, instead of banging on about what I’m stuck on today, I think I’ll ramble on about a couple of things I’m constantly working on. The first is starting sentences. One of the things I try to do when I write is NOT start subsequent sentences, or even sentences in the same paragraph, with the same word. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but most of the time it’s not. Even then, I still find myself being repetitive in this manner. Perhaps the first question one might ask is why bother? Well, it’s because it reads better that way. If I truly understood why this was, I wouldn’t be in writer’s improvement hell.
If you look at my last paragraph, you’ll notice that none of the sentences begin with the same word. The first draft had several repeats, but once it was revised to specifically eliminate these, the flow of the paragraph got better. I’m not going to try and claim it’s a golden example of how to write anything, but it does read reasonably well. Had multiple sentences started with the same word, it would feel repetitive, and that never reads well. Again, there are times when it just makes sense to repeat, so keep that in mind. An interesting side note here is when developing a presentation, I take the same approach. This tends to make the presentation seem more dynamic and less scripted. To make this work though, you need to kick in throw-away words. In the case of paragraph 1 of this blog post (for lack of a better example just now) The second sentence starts with ‘Sure’. This is absolutely unnecessary, the sentence could have just started with “there’s”. If I had done that though, it would have felt a little repetitive. Granted, not so repetitive that it would have sounded awful, but it seems better to me.
Having gone through that, there is a second writer’s improvement problem to be dealt with. That first paragraph still has a problem as far as readability is concerned. It’s the type of thing that drives my sister nuts (I’m not sure she reads these with any regularity, if so: Hello KDW and congratulations on your test!), the word ‘I’, in various incarnations, is repeated WAY too many times. This sort of repetition is probably not necessary. When writing in 3rd person, you get stuck using ‘him’, ‘his’, ‘he’, ‘her’, and ‘she’ a little more often than feels comfortable, but I couldn’t claim I’ve got an easy rule of thumb or remedy for that. There is, however, a remedy for paragraph #1. And here it is:
I sat down thinking there was a good topic for this post rolling around in my brain. Turns out, there wasn’t a specific situation I’m working through right now worth speaking to. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff I’m constantly trying to improve upon, but nothing in particular is sicking out in my mind. So, instead of banging on about today’s sticky points, I’ll ramble on about a couple of things constantly causing me heartburn. The first is starting sentences. One of the things I try to do when writing is to NOT start subsequent sentences, or even sentences in the same paragraph, with the same word. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but most of the time it’s not. Even then, this sort of repetition creeps into my writing. Perhaps the first question one might ask is why bother? Well, it’s because it reads better that way. If the technical reason was clear to me, I wouldn’t be in writer’s improvement hell.
In the second incarnation of the first paragraph, the word ‘I’, in various incarnations, is repeated a total of six times. The first paragraph has it repeated that many times in the first two sentences. Holy crap! Is that strictly necessary? –Probably not. Now, the best part of this whole post is the fact that the issue illustrated here is something I’m constantly struggling with, and often get wrong. On the bright side, I do recognize the problem, and more than anything else, that will help me to fix it.
Speaking from the reader’s perspective, repetition typically makes me feel as though the author is circling an idea without ever getting to the point. This is not true in every case—sometimes repetition can be a good thing—but more often than not I feel as though I am retreading the same path. Depending on how the text is typeset, sometimes I even have to re-read the same group of sentences several times because the repetition causes me to lose my place from line to line.
Consequently, I applaud your efforts to refine the flow of your story from sentence to sentence. I suspect that this exercise will elevate your writing in the end.
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