Do You Hear What I Hear?

In the craft of writing, there's lots of potholes to avoid. Many of them have to do with distracting the reader. One of the things I have to watch out for in my writing is the echo.

Ever heard of that? I hadn't, until a writer friend started pointing them out.

Echoes are when you use a word repetitively in a short block of text, or even words that sound similar. While an echo can be used to make our work stronger (as in repetition for effect or emphasis), it can also weaken the work when used without thought.

So check your writing! Look for common sounds in a paragraph, or the same word used a few times. Then break out the thesaurus and find a new word! :-)

Here's a link for more information.


Terri Tiffany said…
Wonderful point. I tend to do that with my favorite phrases or words and in the final edits-- I read it aloud and find them hopefully!
Unknown said…
Um yeah...thanks for getting Christmas music in my head! was my best friend while writing my book. But even with that, I must have written my book in an empty room because there was some massive echoing going on.

Great point!
Echoes? Cool!

I never heard them called that before, but, yes, I do check for repetitive words/sounds.
Katie Salidas said…
Funny you should post this. I was just given a crit on one of my chapters and the comment was, "You need to change up some words, I see the word, "nag" too often in this chapter."

It's so easy to fall into the comfortable word trap.
anita said…
Great post, Jessie ... Jessie ... Jessie ... Jessie...


A good way to find echoes in your writing is to read your scenes aloud. Not only does this catch the same word being used again and again, but it will also catch words / phrases that sound the same or are off balance due to rhyming or rhythm anomolies.

Still, IMO, there's nothing that can touch a second opinion and a read from a writing pal or crit partner. After all, what writer wants to pass up the opportunity to have someone else read their stuff? Not me, as you very well know! :-)
I have a problem with "just" and "that". Knowing what to watch for helps, too.

Lynnette Labelle
Jaime Wright said…
I have an echo? Oh no! Is that so? I will forgo with my echo. Thanks for the heads up, now if I can just recognize one when I see one ... so?
Hi Jess -

The echo is not only words repeated in the same paragraph, but sprinkled throughout a book. We all have favorites we use over and over again.

Pick a word and do a search/replace command. For awhile, HGTV had a rash of the words, "eclectic and whimsical." Mom and I would roll our eyes and keep count. We sure don't want our readers reacting like that to our words.

Excellent post, Jess.

Susan :)
Stephanie said…
I second (or third...or however many...) reading your stuff out loud!! I find so many things when I do that!!! And echoing (never heard it called that either) is something I really really hate and try not to do in my own writing When I critique other people's writing, it's one of the things I look for.
Jody Hedlund said…
I'd never heard them called echoes either! But I really like that! I'm sure I have a ton!! I just hope I can pick them all up! Sometimes a more critical eye can help us with that.
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Terri. Me too. I'm so bad with pet phrases. Thank goodness for other writers who help us, right? LOL!
Jessica Nelson said…
Sorry MaryBeth. :-) That was actually the song in my head too, but after I posted this I wondered what it really had to do with echoing. I think I had the wrong song in my head, and was actually thinking of that other one.
Nice analogy!
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Eileen,
I hadn't heard them called that either, until my lovely friend Anita read my work and started highligting stuff and in her bubble she'd write, "echo". And I was like, what??? What is that? LOL
Thanks for posting about this; it is one of my pet peeves! I even see published books with this, and wonder why the editors didn't catch it.
Happy Day,
Jessica Nelson said…
Hey Katie,
It sure is easy. Nag is a strong word. Makes me wonder what kind of characters you have going on! :-)
Jessica Nelson said…
Snort! Anita, it's not like I pass up these opportunities either. *snicker*
Thanks for teaching me this, though. I knew about using the same word, but I had thought of checking words that SOUND similar.
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Lynette. Those are both my pet words. I'm revising this manuscript and I think I found more than ten "just"s in ONE scene! It was crazy.
Jessica Nelson said…
Jaime, you're hilarious! :-) Forgo it girl, or your writing will take a downwards swirl.

Jessica Nelson said…
HI Susan,
Great advice. Also, those words are unique, so they're more likely to stand out. I've heard that if we're going to use a strong, unique word, we should only use it once or twice in the manuscript, or it'll start to stand out.
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Stephanie,
You're smart to read your own writing out loud. I'm very bad at that (maybe why Anita finds all my echoes, lol).
I notice it in others' writing too, so I try to change my words up. I find that reading things hard copy helps too.
Jessica Nelson said…
Very true, Jody. I think that's why a crit group is so helpful. Different people crit different ways. Some are detail/craft oriented, others are bigger picture types. Both are needed for a rounded, objective view with our writing, imo.
I know, cool word. Echo sounds so much better than repetitive. LOL
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Jen,
I see it too, but I think once an author has a fan base and has proven themselves, editors may become more lax. They're human and it might be easier to skim through an author's manuscript, esp. since the editors are so swamped with work.
I think after I get published I'll still be keeping my crit group (if they'll have me, lol) so they can keep me sharp. :-)
Unknown said…
Great advice. I'm a culprit of using JUST and FINALLY too much. But now I will look for echos too. :)
Jessica Nelson said…
Good luck, Karen. They're elusive little suckers. Snort!
Cindy R. Wilson said…
Great tip. This is one thing that is sometimes hard for me to find in my own work, which is why having critique partners or someone to read your work over is so helpful.
Lynnette Bonner said…
I love my critique partners! I get one word stuck in my head sometimes and don't even realize I'm reusing it.

Once you learn what your pet words are, it is wise to go through your ms at the end with the find feature and search for those specific words.
Oh, I'm hearing ya, I'm hearing ya! lol I definitely am a "that" girl!

I was wondering though. What if our character's have "pet" phrases or words they use. Do you think there is room for that in your story? Or would that get old?
Kristen Painter said…
If a word is really good, I try to only use it once per book. Really good words stand out too much.
Jessica Nelson said…
True Cindy. I'm so thankful for my group!
Jessica Nelson said…
Me too, Lynnette. That feature is truly wonderful! LOL
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Sherrinda,
I think it would be fine, so long as these attributes/phrases/habits are balanced and add to the scene, rather than being a distracting, in-your-face type thing. As long as it's not overdone, I don't think it would get old.
Jessica Nelson said…
I've heard that before too.
Danyelle L. said…
Never heard of them termed like that before, but I like it. And yes, those echoes usually get obliterated during revisions. There are some I use on purpose, for stylistic reasons, but the others get deleted. :D

I have something for you here:
Jessica Nelson said…
Echoes are great for style. I'm glad you pointed that out. They can really lend to a scene when used properly.

Thanks for the blog award! I'm heading over now!!
Awesome! Thanks. I'd been thinking that if I use the thesaurus then I may overdo it.

Jessica Nelson said…
Hey Larie,
Just make sure you choose the right word to take the place of the word you're deleting. Sometimes a synonym doesn't have exactly the same meaning. :-)
Tana said…
I always catch the echo's on my first edit. In the back of my mind I find myself saying, is there an echo in here or is it just me? ;)
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL T. Anne! It's not just you, unfortunately. Heheee
Angie Ledbetter said…
We all have our tic words to watch out for. It is jarring to see words used several times closely together on the page. There's some website somewhere that checks your word overusage. Hmmm, gonna have to find that.
Jessica Nelson said…
Hey Angie,
I think I heard of that website! If I remember right, you can download quite a bit that it'll check. And I think there are writing programs out there that check for this too, as well as cliches.
Oh, I know that I am guilty of these! The worst is when I find myself using the same word twice in the same sentence! That always earns a forehead smack.
Kara said…
Ohhh, the echo. I know I am guilty of this, but not as bad as I used to be. I learned about this in a writing class...never heard of it before that!
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Kate! My forehead is dented from all the smacks. Glad you're a fellow smacker. Heeheee!
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Kara,
So you took a writing class? That's cool. I did too, and it was mostly about poetry, but for some reason the teacher didn't mention this.
Warren Baldwin said…
Good suggestions, as always. wb
I've always called it echo (my crit partners know that I signify it by a wavy line underneath the word--very technical!). On the full edit I just finished for a client, she used the word "basked" a few times. Maybe only three times in 300 pages, but it jumped out at me. Sometimes words don't have to be THAT unusual or long to have big echos.

Great tip!
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Christina,
That's cool. I'd never even heard it called that before this one friend of mine. A wavy line, huh? LOL

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