Stevie Carroll (stevie_carroll) wrote,
Stevie Carroll

On the Balance Between Overuse of Words and Purple Prose

This one's more of a question for readers than a discussion on writing.

While checking a story against style guidelines, I found myself wondering how a balance can best be struck between using the same word (or sentence construction) so often that it jars and using multiple (sometimes obscure) words to describe the same thing in different ways.

Some of the rules that apply to these situations I wholeheartedly agree with, such as using 'said' for the vast majority of speech tags (I have an affectionate regard for 'continued' to avoid using 'said' twice in successive paragraphs, and occasionally it's necessary to make it clear that for example a question is being asked, or a warning is being shouted).

But likewise, when is it appropriate to use the same word repeatedly to document a repetitive action, and when should the word choices be more varied to hold the reader's interest?

An example, completely unrelated to anything I'm actually writing:


She turned the first dial, listening with utmost concentration until she heard the tumblers click into place. Then she turned the second dial slowly, slowly, until the click came again. The third one, she almost missed, turning nearly beyond the click, but just stopping herself in time.

One more to go.

She held her breath, turned the dial. Nothing, for what seemed like an eternity. Then the click.

She let out her breath slowly, as the safe door swung open.


So what do you think? Too much repetition, or a way of increasing the tension? What about other types of scenes? Where does repetition work, and where does it intrude?
Tags: on writing, word doodle
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