Improve Story Paragraphs by Addressing Echoes and Overused Words

Image by Jarkko Mänty from Pixabay

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. — Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Learn more at the end of the post.


After I’ve performed my own edit of a scene, I use ProWritingAid’s Echoes and Overused reports for an added look. 

The Echoes option highlights exact words or phrases repeated in a paragraph or nearby paragraphs. Since many Echoes are not a problem, I look for the underlined words or phrases that pop out. I’m surprised I didn’t notice them on my personal edit.

Overused words are more often words such as: then/just, could, would, feel, believe/think, maybe, knew/know. Unlike Echoes, any form of the Overused words is underlined. This ProWritingAid report suggests how many uses of each Overused word to remove.

Improve Dialogue

People say sentences like, “I think you should do that.” We also think: Well, I thought it was a good idea. The ProWritingAid reports often tag I think and I thought as Echoes or Overused. They are usually unnecessary.

Examples of common echoes and overused words in dialogue:

Original:

 “I think I was just scared he would dump me, and I would feel alone. I need to feel better about myself. And I would be able to feel better if I took a class on building confidenceI need to search online for a class. I think that would help me in my relationships, don’t you? Then I could just get on with my life in confidence.”

I ran this paragraph through ProWritingAid’s Echoes and Overused reports.

Echoes:

I think

to feel better

I need to

a class

just

confidence

would (I added this one.)

Overused:

feel/feels/feeling/felt (suggested removing 2 of 3)

just/then (suggested removing 2 of 3)

believe/think (suggested removing 1 of 2)

would (I added this one.)

Better:

“I was scared he’d dump me, and I’d feel alone. If I took a class on building confidence, I could learn techniques to have faith in myself. I’ll search online for a course. Don’t you think a workshop on self-assurance will help me in my relationships and in becoming a happier woman?”

Improve Narrative and Reflection

Editing narrative and reflection is a good time to click on repeated words and bring up your word-processing thesaurus. 

Image by Mirko Kaminski from Pixabay

Example of echoes:

Original:

Grady stepped toward the parking lot, shaking his head. Jill kept pace with him. Maybe it was better they kept walking. If he gave the reporters a bite, they’d circle like sharks and follow him all the way to the parking lot.

A blonde stepped in front of Grady and thrust a mic toward his face. “Was the crash pilot error?”

He kept walking with a slight limp. The reporters and cameramen followed. They weren’t going to leave him alone. And Grady’s determined gait might damage his stitches. Not good.

The ProWritingAid Overused report found no overused words. Here are the results from the Echoes from review. 

Grady

stepped

toward

the parking lot

kept

kept walking

(The report didn’t note follow and followed because they are not exact matches, but we could address them also.)

Better: (I’ll underline replacements.)

Grady limped toward the parking lot, shaking his head. Jill kept pace with him. Maybe it was better they continued walking. If he gave the reporters a bite, they’d circle like sharks and trail him all the way to her Jeep.

A blonde stepped in front of Grady and thrust a mic inches from his face. “Was the crash pilot error?”

He trod forward with an uneven gait. The reporters and cameramen followed. They weren’t going to leave him alone. And Grady’s determined stride might damage his stitches. Not good.

So scan your dialogue, narrative, and reflection paragraphs, and search for the common overused words listed above and the repetition of exact words and phrases. Use a thesaurus to help you freshen your paragraphs.

What are other common overused words?

BUY NOW

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Prologue: Yea or Nay for My Story?

Image by Markus Spiske from Pixabay

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

Learn more at the end of the post.


My purpose isn’t to tell how to write a prologue, but to aid a writer in deciding whether a prologue should be included. 

What is a prologue?

It’s an initial scene or chapter with a beginning, middle, and end that occurs usually at a time different than the current story. Like any scene or chapter endings, the prologue should leave the reader hooked to know more.

The prologue could involve current or different characters whose brief story affects the current story in an essential way. The characters can be from a different era or within a current character’s lifetime. 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Here are suggestions of edits to hunt for.

Questions to Ask Ourselves Before Including a Prologue

When a Prologue Is Not a Good Idea

  • Am I looking for a place to dump information I want the reader to know because I don’t feel like creatively weaving necessary information into the story? This is a poor reason for a prologue.
  • Can my prologue fit elsewhere in the story? If yes, then it should be worked into the current story.
  • Do I want to tell the story of the protagonist’s wound so the reader will know why she acts like she does? This is not a good enough reason by itself to include a prologue. 
    • writer needs to know the protagonist’s past wound story and how it affected the protagonist, but it’s not always important for the reader to know.
    • A skillful writer will show the effects of the wound by hinting at the protagonist’s greatest fear, his inner goal, and his outer goal in the beginning of the story, and then feed in the wound story little by little in later chapters.
    • Or the writer may strategically treat the wound story like an element of suspense, leading the reader along, and then revealing it in the middle of the novel to bolster a sagging middle.
  • Do I want to build the story world up front so I don’t have to add a bit at a time in the current story? Long description paragraphs can be boring in the current story. Why make the reader read a prologue that’s a long description? Usually, we need to do the work to show the world as people move and act in it.
  • Am I being lazy, or am I unsure how to weave backstory into other chapters?Search internet articles or books on the subject or attend a writing class.
  • Will the prologue delay the reader from getting into the current story too long, causing them to skip it or put the book down for good? The prologue better be necessary, well-written, and garner the reader’s interest. If not, remove it.
  • Am I unwilling to put the time into crafting a great prologue that grabs the reader and makes them want to read more? Skip the prologue.

When a Prologue May Be a Good Idea

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay
  • Will the prologue improve the current story? Dose the past event bring about the inciting incident in some way? If the past event is too big to have a current character either discover a document revealing it or a current character briefly telling the event, you may need a prologue. 
    • Perhaps aliens landed in the 1600s and buried something that would aid them in settling on earth on their next alien visit, but an avalanche killed them before they activated it correctly. Now, it’s worked itself to the surface and activates itself in a way the aliens hadn’t intended. How it got there isn’t important to the current story, but the current story will be believable to the reader because they know the prologue.
  • If the reader skipped the prologue, would their understanding of the current story be impacted? If yes, the prologue may be necessary.
  • Do I want a non-protagonist character to give his perspective on the events that’s different than the protagonist’s, but I want him to appear only once? Would a prologue be a good place for his perspective? If the non-protagonist’s perspective is important to how the reader might view the event, this could work, since he’s not going to be part of the current story.

What do you think is a good or bad reason to include a prologue?

BUY NOW

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Want to Spend Less on Your Pay-by-the-Hour Editor?

Image by Philip Uglow from Pixabay

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

Learn more at the end of the post.


The only way we’ll spend less on editors who charge by the hour is to give them less to address. We can have fun with this if we treat the process like a game. 

If we’re multi-published authors, we can make it our mission to pay our editor less on our current book than we paid on our last book of similar size. To do this, we must pay attention to the edits our editor repeated in Track Changes on our last book. (If this is a first manuscript, play the game with critique partners’ past edits.) 

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Here are suggestions of edits to hunt for.

High Level Problems

  • Incidents need more tension or were covered too quickly.
  • Threads have some holes.
  • Endings could use more punch.

Medium Level Problems

We mention a seemingly important secondary character once.

Where’d she/he go?

Character’s action is too out of character. 

We want our characters to surprise our readers by doing something risky, humorous, or bold, but don’t give them an action they’d never do. 

Example: We have portrayed Ellla as a person who cares deeply about children, then she lifts a child to shield herself from pies thrown her way. 

A word is beat to death. 

With each book we write, it seems we have a unique word we think is the right word to use a hundred times. For one of my books the word was nice. In another manuscript, it was good. So, do a search.

If you use Scrivener, select the text you want to check for overused words, go to Project in the main horizontal menu, click Statistics, then click Word Frequency at the bottom of the box.

Wordy sentences.

This is a good one for cutting editor payments. Using an advanced writing tool, such as ProWritingAid, can help.

Unnecessary phrases. 

This is another helpful one to lower editing costs. Here’s an example:

Janet set two mugs of coffee on the table. “What did Ethan say?”

Belinda picked up her mug from the table and took a sip of coffee.

The reader knows Belinda is picking up the mug from the table and knows coffee is in the mug. Better possibilities:

Belinda picked up her mug and took a sip. Or: Belinda sipped her coffee.

Not the best word used for what’s portrayed.

We must constantly click on words that niggle us and bring up the word processor’s dictionary/thesaurus. We need to be careful in dialogue. The chosen word may be a good word, but not one our character would say.

Words misspelled. 

We must give attention to our word processor’s helps, but we don’t blindly accept its prompts.

Nitpicking Level Problems

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
Words repeated in close proximity. 
  • Starting three or more paragraphs in a row with the same word or name. 
  • Using the same word or a form of it three or more times in a paragraph when it has usable synonyms. 

Example: Jen waved her hand to get Tim’s attention. He walked over and handed her the newspaper sporting a photo of her slapping the senator. He asked how she planned to handle the situation. She planted a hand on her hip and promised she’d expose the senator’s underhanded behavior.

Rewrite: Jen waved to get Tim’s attention. He walked over and brandished the newspaper sporting a photo of her slapping the senator. He asked how she planned to manage the situation. She planted a fist on her hip and promised she’d expose the senator’s underhanded behavior.

Missing or extra quotation marks, periods, spaces.

A period should be a question mark.

What problems does your editor or critique partner spend time pointing out?

BUY NOW

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Newsletter Signup

Please subscribe to my newsletter, Zoe’s Zigzags, and receive a free short story.”

Author Zoe M. McCarthy Newsletter Signup

Follow Blog Via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,851 other subscribers
-211Days -17Hours -46Mins -40Secs

American Christian Fiction Writers

American Christian Fiction Writers

Pin It on Pinterest