Sunday, September 18, 2011

A word count question for you guys

Happy Sunday to all of you.

I'm here for a quick question.  So I know there's probably no official number, but I was wondering what you guys think is the accepted number of times a word can appear in a manuscript before getting too much?

We had a chat a couple of posts ago about Really! Very! Pretty! and the words we overuse but it got me to thinking, how much is too much?



  1. Tricky question. It depends on so many factors. If the word is unusual or distinctive, then it's likely to stand out more so I'd use it fewer times (2 or 3 max - widely spread). For something more common, I don't think it matters if the story reads well. Phrases are different. I pick up this type of repetition often in YA fiction, but that might be because I'm attuned to it!

  2. Those words are overused because they are qualifiers...unless it's used in speech as a habit that defines character. I have a personal rule of no more than one or two eye rolls per MS, but again that could be broken, for the right character. If a word is unusual slang, then you have to use it MORE to make sure readers get it from the context and don't forget it throughout the MS.

    The only rule is to write something awesome (and listen to your crit partners). :)

  3. Yeah, it really depends if it's a word that stands out... like, if every chapter, the word "fastidious" shows up... that's going to leap out at me.

    Also, stuff like eye rolls, biting lips, etc, I don't mind if it's the same character rolling their eyes all the time, or biting their lip when they're stressed... but it always annoys me when every character is showing the same physical ticks. I basically pick one tick per character and no one else can do that one thing.

    Oddly enough, I tend to overuse the word "fierce" :)

    What specific words are bothering you?

  4. If you have something you are working on right now and wonder, do a find/search thing for the mss. type in the word you think you might over use--like "very", or "suddenly". If you find you are being brought to the same page more than once for that word, that's way too much. If you are finding it once every page, this might also be too much. Suggest words such as these should not become very common in your mss. She's very pretty--how pretty is she? Suddenly he jumped out at me. Okay. How about He jumped out at me. That's enough.

    1000th monkey is right about the eye rolls--I found myself doing this way too much and took a few out. This can become annoying to a reader.

    Also suggest reading you mss. aloud and if you can into a recorder or to someone to have them hear things you might miss.

    Okay. I'm done now.

  5. All of you have some valid points.

    I'm busy with rewrites and one of my CPs pointed out that I tend to use one or two words. That's fine, as I'm working I fix what she mentioned and what I noticed. Thus far, no other words jump out at me except those.


    I entered my MS into Wordle and saw the amount of times I used every sing word. And that's what prompted this post.

    I'm not panicking or anything, I was honestly just curious.

  6. I agree with the others, if it's an unusual word, not more than once or twice.
    But, even for the more common words (most authors have their own pet words) it is worth keeping a list of these and being aware as you write/edit.

    One think I hate when reading is when an author has deliberately tried to find a hundred other synonyms instead of just using the same word - it's a fine line, but trying too hard can be offputting as well.

  7. Ha ha, this made me laugh as I put mine through wordle as well and rapidly did some rewriting afterwards. I think there are some words that will always need to be looked at - 'that', 'really', 'just', 'very' to name just 4. I find wordle really helpful for working out which words I use to much though.

  8. Claire, that's definitely something to keep in mind. Overused synonyms. Thanks.

    Rebecca, Wordle is what started this post in the first place. It's a wonderfully evil, wonderfully good thing. I'm putting my MS through it once I'm done with the rewrites.

  9. I think for unusual words one or two times. But it depends if you use look for example every second paragraph it might be too much. That's why CP are good they spot those. I think we all have pet words we use.

  10. Oh, I use BUT a lot.
    But (*coughs*) I talked to an editor about it and she said BUT is a necessary word and, though we should pay attention, there's no way to avoid using it too much.

    I agree with Ladonna. Unusual words are the ones we should try to avoid repeating.

  11. Juliana, while I was busy with the 1st rewrite I had to delete a butt load of buts.

    Thanks everybody. This was helpful.

  12. Like others said--the more memorable a word is, the more distinct, the less it ought to be used.

    When I got copy-edits back recently, the editor pointed out a word where it appeared at the beginning of the MS, and a hundred pages later, it still stuck with her enough that she asked for one of them to be changed.

  13. Kelley, that's good to know and interesting to hear. I like the different aspects of this.

  14. I'd just like to second (third? fourth? lol) what a lot of people have already said. I don't really notice if certain words are repeated a lot unless they're extremely uncommon, or occur several times in, say, the same sentence or paragraph.

    What really drives me nuts are when phrases are repeated (I read a recent book where one character asked another character a question and sort of repeated it in other chapters and scenes), or when the author uses the same metaphor more than two or three times and it's even worded the same way. Those are the kinds of things that I typically notice.

  15. I love your blog's new look, btw! :)