I’m the kind of word nerd who would keep a list of unusual words on a blank piece of paper at the back of a novel and look them up later in the dictionary. I like big words with three syllables that are flagged by computerized testing programs as being too com-pli-ca-ted for the average reading level (seriously, television was identified as too tricky to read). While writing my debut novels, I’ve uncovered another word-nerd not-so-secret secret that I didn’t know about previously: the word echo list.
What is a word echo list?
The echo list is the list of words an author uses too often. Don’t ask me how many times I used the word “but” because I won’t tell you that it was over 300. Oops! Let that slip out, didn’t I? Obviously, I hacked at the manuscript and the count is much better now!
Of course, a word echo list also identifies words that stick out when used more than once like behoove and obstreperous. I like $10 words as much as the next logophile, but I have to be careful. If I repeat a phrase or word that is very unique, without it serving to move the plot along, then it becomes wholly noticeable to the reader, therefore distracting.
Several words are frequent offenders on anyone’s word echo list, including said, look, drop, and practically anything to do with the physical movement of body party. Dealing with repetition becomes very trick in a book with similar actions, like fighting or snogging.
How does a writer correct an echo list?
Why bother worrying about little words? Sometimes removing the echoed word makes a sentence more impactful. Consider the inconsequential, and oft unnecessary, “the”:
The warm sunshine became the only hug I needed.
Warm sunshine became the only hug I needed.
Who needs that little word, the, bogging down a word count? Swap out word on your echo list for metaphor, except for the scenes where too much metaphor slows action.
What words are on an echo list?
When writing a first draft, I’m not focused on making sure every phrase is distinct from the next. That’s part of the joy of being a “pantser”…. and the struggle, too. In the moment, creative energy is high and my academic tweaks take a back seat. After my first couple of passes, and following the directions in my editor’s once-over, I concentrate upon pesky details like my echo list. Every writer has one, whether or not it’s physically written down.
Do your characters “cry” a lot? What do you write when they “stand,” “sit,” or “lie down”? As I worked through the MS, I jotted words down. Some hit the over-used discount bargain bin in a big way (although none more than “but”). “Filled” came in at a striking 39, which still isn’t as horrible as the number of times I used but.
How Does a Writer Fix a Word Echo List?
Author Kayti Nika Reat visualizes her list with Wordle. I type the word or phrase into the FIND bar of my word processor. Then I have a count of the offending culprit, with the ability to jump to the section in question for re-write.
Tip: To get rid of that echo word, use a thesaurus, or cut it out entirely!
I also check my manuscript for similar sounds near to each other, and derivatives of the same word.
sounds like: rain – restrain, abstain, refrain, again, strain, etc.
derivatives of slip: slip, slipped, slipping, slips
Or shout: shout, shouted, shouting, shouts
If within in the same paragraph, instant poof-o-rama! One of the words gets chopped. Death also comes swift for those near each other in the chapter.
Proper names are an exception to this rule, but only marginally. Viper is immortal, hence, I’d call her “the immortal.” She’s also known by other names. I’d flip around as it suited me, or to break up the constant use of “Viper” or “she.”
Word Echo List and Blogging: SEO
I find SEO, Search Engine Optimization, a tad limiting as a writer. Don’t get me wrong, I love the challenge of phrasing my blog posts “just so” and hitting the first page or two of a Google search (because who the hell goes through all of the search pages?). However, one of the tenants of SEO is repetition, or high key word density. Wonder why I use the phrase word echo list so much in this post? You got it! I want Google’s spiders to see my post if a writer enters “how to fix a word echo list” on a search. See how it’s counter-intuitive?
What words are on your echo list?