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In previous posts I've addressed my tendency to overuse certain words, phrases, or gestures, for example she bit her lip and she walked home slowly. To solve the problem I use the "find" option on Microsoft Word to catch the over-usages before my manuscripts go to the copyeditor. Some still slip through, but I'm getting better.

For words and expressions that are common, repeating them on occasion over the course of an entire novel is not a problem. For example:

  • She opened the door.
  • He fed the dog.
  • They ate dinner at home.

It's the uncommon ones that are problematic when repeated, because they are memorable. For example, using any of the following more than once in a novel would not go unnoticed by your readers:

  • She covered her face with her hands and began sobbing hysterically.
  • To celebrate, he jumped up and did splits in the air.
  • As she looked at him, her eyes flickered with curiosity.

While it's fine to sprinkle the same common gestures here and there over the course of an entire book, be careful to space them out. Last week I began reading a novel in which the following appeared in the span of just two pages in the first chapter:

  1. Kristen rubbed my arm, yanking me back to the present.
  2. Kristen rubbed my forearm. "Please talk to us."
  3. Kristen pushed out her lower lip. She rubbed my forearm.

If those sentences had appeared fifty pages apart, I doubt I would have noticed them, but their proximity made them leap off the page. As a result I stopped thinking about the story and instead found myself wondering how neither the author nor the copyeditor had noticed the repetition. Annoyed, I also gave up on that book and moved on to another one. That's not what you want to happen to your readers, right? So be careful! We all have our "crutch" words. What are some of yours?

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Maria Murnane is a paid CreateSpace contributor and the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Have questions for Maria? You can find her at

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1,179 Views Tags: self_publishing, books, authors, writing, grammar

Jun 6, 2017 12:26 PM Lorem_Ipsum    says:

Here's my pet phrase: "He nibbled grass alongside the dog and then regurgitated it on the deck."


It's a common beat, overused by many authors, so I limit its repetition to only twice per novel. Three times, tops.

Jun 11, 2017 12:05 PM 4thlakewizard    says:

I find this to be very true Maria. It is the same when several people are having a conversation iat the same time in a book. I always switch back and forth for things like, "He said/she said". I try to watch that the most and usually say ( the persons name ) said or said (so and so ). That takes the repitition out of it. I also can't stand it when an author gives an extremely long description of someone or something or somewhere. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Nov 19, 2018 7:03 AM AnnaMid    says:

In the following page you may learn more about college essay writing. Have a nice day!