If you write for long enough, you’ll find that certain turns of phrase show up in your work with disturbing regularity. You might not notice it yourself. Not at first. It’ll sneak up on you like the Predator, all clicks and grrrs and shimmering photosensitive camouflage, with the neon green blood and the shoulder-mounted laser and…
I’m getting a little off-topic here.
In any case, it may take someone else pointing it out for you to become aware of it, or you’ll go over an old piece of work and find certain phrasings cropping up over and over again.
There was one book I read where the writer was constantly comparing things to bullets. It happened almost every other chapter (at least, I remember it happening every other chapter. It was probably more like four or five references across an entire book).
One or two bullet comparisons would have been fine but when it kept cropping up it became distracting, and you started to wonder how closely the editor had been paying attention (which is itself an unfair sentiment; the editor may well have pointed it out and the writer may have rejected any suggested changes).
When I wrote my first manuscript, I noticed certain words repeating themselves enough times that I cobbled together a phrase that used them all; “slowly spiralling towards an ocean of stars”. I used this phrase as a reminder that I shouldn’t lean on these words and pieces of imagery too much. And this breaking of bad habits continues to this day; my editor and I are currently going through Vanguard Prime: Wild Card, and it was pointed out to me that I had to watch my use of the word “however”.
But in addition to that, I also noticed my overuse of the word “cannon” – not just in this book, but across all the Vanguard Prime books I’ve written so far. And that’s where the real challenge lies. Avoiding repetition in a single book is relatively easy, if you pay close enough attention. Avoiding repetition across a series of books? Across an entire body of work? It’s a daunting prospect that can almost paralyse you. You become so anxious about avoiding not only established cliches but your own cliches, while also not straying into purple prose, that you risk your writing becoming little more than the records of a court stenographer.
These are the things that are on my mind as I put the edit for Wild Card to bed and start to focus again on writing Book 4. It’s the kind of neurotic writer nonsense that’s generally better off left to midnight fever dreams and stress binging…but what’s a blog for but to provide cheap therapy?