July 29th, 2013

What is an “Echo?” Tips To Axe These Repeat Offenders

By Sharla Rae

One of the things we’ve discussed in our critique meetings is the tendency all writers have to repeat certain words and phrases. “Echoes” is a term I’ve heard applied to frequently repeated words.

Read your chapter out loud, and that’s exactly what they sound like.

Common Causes of Echoes:

  • Using lame and boring “to be” verbs. When used, they often produce not only echoes but also wordy constructions.
  • Many echoes are subject oriented. For example, let’s say that in one chapter a wagon plays a big part in the action. Echoing “wagon” may be your repeated offense. Subject oriented words are sneaky. At first, they seem absolutely necessary. A closer inspection proves otherwise.

Helpful Echo-Zapping Sites

Laura Drake found a website that counts repeated words: www.wordcounter.com/

The writer simply copies his/her chapter then pastes it into the provided box. The program allows a list of 25 to 200 repeated words. I chose the whole 200 because some words should never be used more than once in a chapter.

Another echo finding website is SporkForge.

I like this one a lot as it lists both repeated words and phrases. (And yes, you will find repeated phrases.) This site also provides the average amount of words per sentence, number of question marks, exclamations, quotes etc. Why is that important? Editors hate multitudes of exclamation marks and long convoluted sentences.

In using these sites, I discovered my own set of echoes. Surprisingly, this same set remained consistent throughout my work. I became a maniac, checking my entire manuscript.

In this process, I made an interesting discovery.

When I reconstructed the sentences to eliminate echoes, the material read better. Even the action scenes were energized. Everything became more clear and concise without “sterilizing” my writing style.

Speaking of sterilizing your writing style — don’t. It’s possible to edit your voice right out of your writing. Sometimes words need to be repeated for affect, especially in dialogue.

Like any editing program, these sites are only a guide. Use your better judgment. The sites also make note of every she, he, the, and character names. For the most part, these can be ignored.

Should these tools be used for every chapter?

This is your choice to make. My recommendation is to run your current work through the tool and study the results. Most writers, no matter how experienced, are “repeat” offenders. In time you’ll become so attuned to your personal echoes that avoiding them becomes automatic.

Below I’ve listed echoes I’ve found in my own writing and my critique partners’. You might be surprised at some of them. (We were!)

I suggest you make your own list, or add to this one down in the comments.

The words in bold font below are the “bad boys.”

  • The number one word that is most abused is “you.”
  • “But” runs a close second.
  • Body parts are almost always repeat offenders. Don’t leave a lot of these lying around. (Sorry, I just had to say that.)



Do you have echoes in your manuscript? What tools do you use to get rid of them? Which word (or words) above do you struggle with? Do you have any great editing tips to share?

All of us here at WITS are answering today, as Sharla is traveling. Let’s build up a ton of comments for her to see when she returns!

~ Jenny

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