Writing Is A Bad Habit: She did that, then she did this. She did those too. a.k.a. Repetitive Sentence Structures

Usually, the simplest way to say something is the best.  I know, I have little room to speak, as I love to turn a phrase just to do it.  I’m addicted to big words and I cannot lie?

Still, even though I have that tendency, it doesn’t mean I don’t know that simplicity is king (or queen, depending on your outlook).  There is a problem that can arise from trying to simplify your writing style however.  That problem is the curse of repetition.

I don’t mean repetitive word use, though that often co-habits with today’s writing foible.  I speak more of repetitive sentence structure.  As the simplest way to describe action is in the form of <subject> <verb> <object>, someone trying to write in such a fashion can run into a rut of almost identical sentences flooding a paragraph.  This becomes especially prevalent in a first-person narrative (THE ATTACK OF THE ‘I DO’ SENTENCES!) or in a narrative with few actors or long stretches of a solo character doing things.

Such a string of ‘he does, he did, he ran, he looked’ sentences reads more like an early-readers book for children or a sing-song poem than literature.  It can lead to disinterest, boredom, or skimming, as the reader searches for something different to catch their attention.  These are all patently Bad Things ™ to have happen to your book.

Also, less obviously, a rut of repetitive structure can take away from sections of the narrative where you may intend to purposefully repeat structures to emphasize a point.  There are plenty of positive uses of repetitive structure to drive home a point, highlight a thematic note, or point out an odd speech pattern, but those are lost if repetition is the norm in your style.  Highlights are obvious because they are used sparingly, after all.

The obvious way to avoid this is to examine your structures and try to be aware of potential ruts.  Moving the position of phrases and clauses, finding a proper pronoun balance, and creative style choices can all help avoid the curse of repetition.  If you do suspect a bout of repetition, you can always confirm that by using basic Find functions to show you all the uses of a particular set of words, something that can be good for rooting out repetitive words as well as structures.

In the end, though, there is no special tricks here.  Diligence and attention to your wordsmithing are the only reliable ways to stay out of this rut.  Reread your words and never forget to listen to your beta readers!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!



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