Repetitive Phrases: Are they always bad?

Posted: August 12, 2011 in characters, fiction, style, voice

Most writers will eventually hear the criticism “you’re using such-and-such (a phrase) too much”. You know, things like “{dialogue}, or so I thought.”  Or “He could have left it like that, I guess.”  There are thousands of examples, but let’s just say any group of words that are repeated throughout the manuscript.

But is it always such a bad thing? Well, I would say if it occurs like 238 times in your work, it’s probably excessive. But 50-60 times? It depends. In my opinion, the one place where you have to be really careful with repetition is in 1st person POV stories. While repeated phrases are generally not good, in 1st POV such phrases may be part of your character’s make-up. Or to be more precise, the “voice”. Like a person that says “you know?” at the end of most of their sentences (or at the beginning, as I did above). Sometimes it’s just part of who they are.

So, if you’re paring down those repetitive phrases in your 1st person POV novel, be careful not to strip the “voice” from your MC. Find a good balance, one that minimizes but doesn’t sanitize. Try to stay true to your character.


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