That’s how many times the word “said” appears in the first draft of my latest book.
Sweet baby rays, that’s a lot of repetition. Granted, this is still the rough draft and my editor and I are in the early stages of de-suckifying things, but still. 530.
By comparison, the next closest offender in Paranormal Chaos is “turn”, which pops up a whopping 262 times. “Nod” is used 186 times and “look” 179 times.
What’s interesting is that my use of the Mega Offending Word is actually an improvement. The first book in the Shifter Chronicles, Undead Chaos, clocked in with 748 “said”s. So Paranormal Chaos is a significant improvement by comparison.
Mathematically, however, both numbers shouldn’t be a big deal. At the moment, Paranormal Chaos is a little over 97,000 words, of which 530 are “said”. That means that 96,470 words aren’t. That’s a decent number of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters.
Yet “said” still reads repetitive.
By all standards, I like to think of myself as a fairly imaginative guy. An author almost has to be to write in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre and all its many sub-genres. You’d think that, by now, I’d have learned new and exciting ways to say “said” without actually saying it.
On the other hand, if I start using semi-synonyms like “counter-postulated”, my writing will sound ludicrous.
So, what’s a writer to do?
To answer this dilemma, I turned to the principles learned from my chorus. There is a surprising amount of repetition in singing because many folks believe that to make a song more interesting, more exciting, you need more notes. What we’ve learned over the last 67 years, however, is that, at certain levels, it’s not about adding elements, it’s about removing distractions. You don’t need more 7th chords or bigger dance moves, you need a beautifully streamlined song that ebbs and flows with emotion.
Writing is no different. Many writers feel the need to toss in a lot of “stuff” to make a story. Sub-plots, backstory, metaphors, you name it. But sometimes what’s called for is less distraction. Sometimes we simply need to trim words so the plot flows.
A first draft isn’t the place where that normally happens. First drafts are where we toss in the over-emotions, the pages of backstory, the epic monologues. It’s getting words on paper so that we have a completed product ready for the chopping block.
And that, gang, is the beauty and agony of editing. It’s taking something in a raw, unpasteurized state and refining it over and over again. It’s smoothing the rough edges and removing the repetition. It's molding a square box into something sleek and aerodynamic. Because in the end, it’s not a question of he said, she said, it’s a question of whether or not those 530 “saids” help or distract from the story.
You know mine, so what are your Mega Offending Words?
Joshua Roots is a car collector, beekeeper, and storyteller. He enjoys singing with his a cappella chorus, golf, and all facets of Sci-Fi/Fantasy. He's still waiting for his acceptance letter to Hogwarts and Rogue Squadron. He and his wife will talk your ear off about their bees if you let them.