One of the greatest tips an editor taught me: don’t fear deliberately repeating words
(what’s Usain Bolt got to do with writing….read on, Macduff!)
Journalists often fear repeating words and I often see what I consider to be unnatural examples of writing caused by this fear.
Broadcast writing should be conversational – using everyday words you’d use in conversation,
I recently subbed one script where the writer tried to find other words to avoid repeating FIGHT. Most alternatives were acceptable but then the writer used melee.
Maybe you use melee in everyday conversation – but most people I know don’t – and I argue most viewers of commercial TV new don’t either. So I changed melee to fight even though fight was used earlier in the script. In my opinion: it’s O.K. to repeat words – especially if the repeated word appears a few sentences apart on the second reference.
HERE’S GOOD REPETITION:
A work colleague wrote this intro I thought used repetition artfully in a story about Usain Bolt:
He is..the greatest.
On the greatest stage of the greatest theatre in sport..Usain Bolt gave the world what it wanted…
This intro uses repetition confidently and deliberately. Repetition works well in threes – a tricolon. Our news reader delivered this intro so well too. Good writing helps good delivery!
So I repeat: don’t be afraid to repeat words.
The Bard used repetition artfully.
I still remember (and I’m paraphrasing) one of my favourite Shakespeare lines from Macbeth I learned at school.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps life at its petty pace.
The actual line is: Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day. To the last syllable of recorded time,
You can see the effective use of repetition – the repetition reflecting the repetition of days that seem repetitious.
Anyway, you get the idea. Shakespeare’s words were written to be spoken – another reason why he’d write great broadcast breaking news.
Hi, I’m a ‘word nerd’ and I’m lucky to make a living from doing what I love – writing, sub-editing, and teaching others how to write. Yes, I’m a ‘Shakespeare and Hemingway and Kerouac nerd’ – but hey, this nerdiness and knowledge comes in handy – even in the busy world of breaking news!