Why word repetition is ok really

As a teenage writer I learnt that it’s good to avoid repeating the same words too often. It became my number one rule.

Compare these two examples.

The park is my favourite place. Of all the places in London it’s the place I like to visit the most. When friends say they want to go someplace, I say “I know a place” and I take them to the park.

The park is my favourite place. Of all the sites in London it’s the one I like to visit the most. When friends say they want to go somewhere, I say “follow me” and I take them to the park.

The second paragraph is better because it has a more varied vocabulary.

What teenage me didn’t know is that “always avoid word repetition” shouldn’t be a fixed rule.

Repetition does have value. Technical instructions for a washing machine would be impossible to understand without reuse of “drum” and “cycle.” In medical documents, you have to use specific words to communicate scientific information.

In poetry, rap, speeches and written prose, we can employ the same vocab over and over for rhythm and to emphasise a point.

She went out in the dark of the night
The night’s darkness hid her,
the night’s darkness bid her,
“put out your dark, dark soul.

She went out in the dark of the night
Away from the light, away from the light.”

 

bora-bora-french-polynesia-sunset-ocean.jpg

 

Trying too hard to avoid repetition may cause problems. Look at this wonderful short story, written by me and a thesaurus.

The youngster in the seagoing craft

I don’t like sailing in storms. The high winds whip up the waves and the boat rocks badly. The first time I went out in a tempest I was just a boy, in 1998. My father said “don’t worry lad, it’s only a squall.”

The gale pushed our vessel from side to side. I felt so nauseous I said to my dad, “I’m going to be sick.” He replied, “go on deck and vomit in the sea.”

I remember the terrible feel of the bark when the strong currents caused it to undulate. I staggered over to the edge, fighting the moving air. I recall how the brine splashed my face, and I lost the urge to throw up.

Now I wonder why my papa, took a child like me out on the open water in such horrible weather. He must’ve seen the meteorological forecast on the television. Why take a youngster out there in a tub?

The End

Can you see how I lost control of the language?

I tried too hard to avoid repeating storm, winds and boat. This is a story about a boat in a windy storm. There’s no shame in using those key concepts more than once.

Writing the story was like driving a car with a thesaurus wedged in the steering wheel.

1. My ability to express ideas was limited by the alternative words I could find.
2. My ability to control the tone of the language was similarly limited. The alternatives were a real mixture. Tub is old-fashioned slang; meteorological is modern formal; rock is an everyday modern word; undulate is very formal; brine and bark are archaic; sick is boy’s language but vomit and nauseous are grown-up.

The lesson of my seagoing story is we should choose words for their meaning, and not just to avoid repetition!

I should have prioritised words that a 21st-century man might use when remembering an outdoors experience with his father. Tempest, bark and brine are too old fashioned and poetical for a boyhood tale set in 1998! The story needed the plain words of a child.

My advice is, be aware of the overuse of certain words, but don’t let fear of repetition lead you by the nose. Avoiding word repetition should not be any writer’s number one rule.

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