Have you ever read a bunch of books in a short period and discovered that they’re somewhat related? This happens to me frequently. Sometimes I read several historical novels focusing on the same time period, or whose protagonists are similar. Other times, during the course of a month or two I find myself reading a series of nonfiction books about the same subject. And none of this is ever planned.
Here’s what happened to me on a plane I took a few weeks ago:
For a couple of years, I’ve been looking for the book Hidden Figures, which is about three black, female mathematicians who worked at NASA in the ’60s – all of whom ended up integrating the upper, white echelons of the organization. Now, if you remember, in my last email I told you that I was reading Warriors Don’t Cry, which is about the first group of black students who integrated a Little Rock, Arkansas, high school in 1957. So at the same time I’m reading Warriors Don’t Cry, which movie is offered on the plane? Hidden Figures! Although the book didn’t drop into my lap, the movie sure did. How about that for a modern twist on the “same-book” phenomenon?
And by the way, the movie was terrific. I encourage you to either get the book or check out the movie. Here’s some more information about the story.
Make every word count
Last week, my husband was asked to translate a letter and review a book.
The letter was written by one of my favorite authors. He’s brilliant, even in translation. It was very simple and very short, but my husband said it was a pleasure to both read and translate. By contrast, the book he was asked to review was long and complex, but was written poorly. He was appalled that this book saw the light of day without a good, strong edit, and amazed at the difference between it and the short letter.
Here’s an excerpt from what he wrote on Facebook:
It was just a letter, the content of which was fairly prosaic, but it was a complete pleasure to pick up on the artistry involved. From a different source I was given a book to look over. The thesis was a good one, but it was written like a high school report, which made the reading tedious, even if I enjoyed much of the content. Just reinforced the importance of good writing.
Thanks, hubs, for this important insight!
We authors can’t afford to mess up even an email, so make even your short letters or articles a pleasure to read. With regard to longer pieces, what a pity for people to miss out on a great story or book simply because it’s written too poorly for anyone to bother with it.
The department of redundancy department
Let’s end with a writing tip.
It’s not uncommon for writers to use the same word over and over again in the space of only a few sentences or paragraphs. Don’t do this, unless you’re going for some sort of effect. (And even then, be careful.)
Repeating words looks – and is – unprofessional, and of course makes your prose not as interesting for the reader. I still bless the author who pointed this out to me in my own writing over 30 years ago.
Unfortunately, many semi-professional, self-published authors are guilty of this. In fact, I just finished a book I got on my (free) Kindle Unlimited subscription (I’m trying to read as much as possible before the “free” turns into “paid,” at which time I’ll cancel). It was embarrassing how many times the author repeated words and phrases within a short space.
Here’s a winning example from the book. It comprises less than 3 pages:
- Working out who killed Vera was important, but finishing her book was important, too
- Her detective had made a lot of assumptions. Because of those assumptions, he had not followed up
- Her detective was just about to follow up on some of the clues he’d neglected to follow up on because of the assumptions he’d made
- She had neglected to follow through on some clues
- She’d neglected to follow up on her suspicions
- Yes, I do think some extra checking is in order. The whereabouts of every family member must be checked
- To follow up on the whereabouts of the other family members
One way to avoid repeating the same words in your prose is to read your piece out loud after you finish the first few drafts. Hopefully, you’ve gone over your work a few times and have already located repetitions, but reading aloud is a great way to clean up any last mistakes or issues. I call this “Aural Reading,” and I discuss it in this post.
Comedy grammar video
I got the most hilarious video from my good friend Anita the other day. You can view it here. You will be on the floor. Enjoy it, and don’t forget,