Word Echoes – what they are and why you need to get them out of your story

Sydney knelt at the edge of the stream, rubbing her fingers to get the dead girl’s blood off. The water was colder than she expected, almost icy. Winter was coming fast this year. Lifting her hands to her face, she inspected her short nails. No mud remained visible under them.

Next to her, Bonnie stood up, water dripping from her fingertips.

“That’s good enough.” Bonnie wiped her hands on her jeans. “You can scrub up better when you get home. We’re just trying to be clean enough so we don’t get picked up on the way there.”

WORD ECHOES.

What are they?

Word echoes are when you re-use a word too soon, repeating it in the story too closely to its first occurrence.

In the above example, I have two girls washing their hands. The original version had the word hand or hands appearing a little too often for smooth reading. Repetition is close to boring, and boring will un-immerse your reader from the story. That’s death.

Instead of saying “hands” each time, I made sure I alternated a synonym or another word. Fingers, for example. (I could have gone further and said something like digits, but that’s too exotic for this story. That would be distracting.)

HERE’S THE ORIGINAL:

Sydney knelt at the edge of the stream, rubbing her hands to get the dead girl’s blood off. The water was colder than she expected, almost icy. Winter was coming fast this year. Lifting her fingers to her face, she inspected her short nails. No mud remained visible under them.

Next to her, Bonnie stood up, water dripping from her fingertips.

“That’s good enough.” Bonnie wiped her hands on her jeans. “You can scrub up better when you get home. We’re just trying to be clean enough so we don’t get picked up on the way there.”

Not a big deal, but you can see I’m alternating hands and fingers/fingertips. When I got to Bonnie’s actions, I felt like the water would drip off her fingers, or more precisely, fingertips. That’s a little too close to the prior sentence where I also use “fingers.”

It wasn’t awful, but we just used fingers. Twice. So inserting a 3rd one so soon would be a bad idea.

So I switched it.

That started a little chain reaction…

I went with fingertips for Bonnie, and switched the prior ones in succession: hands, fingers, hands, fingers… Finally, we get Sydney rubbing her fingers to get the blood off them, and I thought, that’s better than having her rub her hands. It’s as if she already got the bigger stuff off and was now concentrating on the detail work. That’s better. She rubbed her hands, then her fingers, then inspected her nails. (Rubbing the hands isn’t stated but I think it is implied.)

I also think it ads to Sydney’s possible fear of what she’s done. She’s trying to get ALL the dead girl’s blood off.

Bonnie seems to not care anywhere near as much.

The contrast heightens the scene, ever so slightly.

These are the little things that help a story read as smooth. Things most readers never hear about, and would probably never notice if they weren’t redone, but which might make them feel as though one story were a little more polished and professional than another. Over the course of a book, that can add up to quite a lot.

***

Want to read the rest of the story? If you preorder Spellbound and email me a copy of your receipt, I’ll send it to you. Quantities limited and this will probably be a pre-editing draft. This story will appear in Wings & Fire, a horror anthology with 20 stories form 15 authors, which will be available around January 15, 2021, but you get to see it now because you read my blog.

Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 50+ titles published in more than 120 countries and over a dozen languages.

6 thoughts on “Word Echoes – what they are and why you need to get them out of your story

    1. Really, once you start seeing them, it’s hard to not see them. If you read a story out loud to yourself, you will spot them instantly.

      After that your eye is just more aware and you corrected yourself but even then one or two still slip through!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi Dan, I just pre-ordered and will attach a screenshot. Something I’d like to ask you. Since I’m not proofreading anymore, may I beta read your books? Or even read the ARCs? Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Renee! Of course you can beta read! We need all the help we can get. You have my email, but if you sign up for the readers club, very soon I will be asking for beta readers, and that’s where I do it. Thanks for joining the team!

      Like

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