How about "skyline" or "in the distance"...
September 17, 2010 4:19 PM   Subscribe

When a book is reviewed by an editor, do they look for words that are repeated too much?

I'm reading a novel, and the author uses the word "horizon" often enough that it's distracting, when it seems like other good options would have been available. Was this an oversight in the editing process?
posted by SpacemanStix to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It might have been an oversight (I check for things like this), or it might have been a case in which the author overruled the copyeditor.
posted by theredpen at 4:20 PM on September 17, 2010

Best answer: When I review things (admittedly, it's either nonfiction or my own stuff) overused words are a big "fix this" thing. I just sent a note to a legal assisting student for using "therefore" and "not" too much ("not" was showing up in every sentence, often two or three times, for eleven pages.) I consider it as big a problem as inconsistent tone, but not as bad as an actual technical error like switching between first and third person at random.

I also pride myself on having a very high level of word diversity - my last NaNo novel had 4500 unique words in a 50,000 word manuscript, and around 3900 showed up just once, which I sometimes brag to myself beats out Shakespeare (43% of his words appear exactly once, though the comparison is unfair, since you're looking at all his works together.)

Lots of published authors overuse words, though. A lot of them seem to go through phases where the same word or words show up again and again in a particular chapter or book. On the other hand, people (including me) say Rowling overused "surreptitious" in the sixth Harry Potter novel, and it appeared 6 times in, what, 700 pages? If it's distracting you, I'm guessing it comes in at more of a once per page, and that does sound like sloppy editing or a lost fight.
posted by SMPA at 4:52 PM on September 17, 2010

Best answer: Among other things I typeset books, and at my job the copyeditor checks for things like that but the editor or author can overrule.

The copyeditor checks the manuscript before it it typeset for grammar, facts, style, repetitive words and phrases, and general sense-making. The editor shapes the story and the writing—and thus may check for repetitions—but does not do grammar or style. At least where I work.

So in conclusion, yes. It was an oversight in the editing process.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 4:56 PM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There's really nothing general to be said about this topic. Publishers' practices vary wildly, both in terms of end-of-production-rush and how much they will pay for their copy editors (or how well they are able to pick good ones). Sometimes you have to find all the bloopers yourself, only for the typesetters to add some more gunk that you will have to find and eliminate in the last night before the utter deadline; sometimes you are being given a fantastic and patient editor who walks you sentence by sentence through your convoluted prose with fantastic suggestions for improvement.

That said, unless "horizon" in your example is some kind of artsy trick, and horizons are becoming somehow very important or symbolic or whatnot later in the book, I guess that, yes, someone should have reacted to that.

Then again, in the highly popular Twilight series - so successful that costs cannot possibly be an issue - the word "demand" (for example) is used a zillion of times, instead of "said", asked", "argued", "'mumbled", "grunted", "spat", "hissed" and what else. Apparently the author at one point decided that it was a witty and dynamic shortcut for all other "said" substitutes; for the reader however this concentration it is unbearable. ("Why?!" I demanded. Yuck)
In other words, a copy editor can only do that much in counteracting a writer's lack of invention. (on preview: "lost fight", yes, but with what...)
posted by Namlit at 4:57 PM on September 17, 2010

Best answer: My editors point out repeated words. Then my copyeditors do. Then the second copyeditor, who goes through the typeset pages, does as well.

Good copyeditors will also make sure that like words don't get stacked on top of other like words in a paragraph.

I'm sure some houses are less stringent with the editing/copyediting process. And as the author, I *could* stet all of them (tell them not to change any.) And individual copyeditors vary wildly in their skill.

So... maybe someone was aware of it. Or maybe the author stetted it as a style/storytelling issue. Or maybe someone wasn't aware of it.
posted by headspace at 5:28 PM on September 17, 2010

Best answer: There's a couple different manifestations of this problem, and yes, a good copyeditor should keep their eye out for both. The first type is the overused pet word or phrase that pops up throughout the book at what we might call a statistically improbable frequency. I frankly don't see this all that often, but when I do, I correct it and point it out to the author in my editorial notes.

Second, and quite common, is a word that is repeated too often in close proximity over the course of a paragraph. Everyone's got their own level of tolerance for that sort of thing, but if I can find a way to reword things, I will. I'm especially loathe to see the same word used twice in the same sentence, though of course in my own unedited internet ramblings I often find myself making this very same gaffe.
posted by drlith at 5:45 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just for fun, are you going to tell us what book it is?
posted by CathyG at 6:21 PM on September 17, 2010

trivia: a recent featured article in Wikipedia was The Ormulum, which had a great deal of intentional repetition. (Like Joseph Heller, I reckon).
posted by ovvl at 6:22 PM on September 17, 2010

Response by poster: That's great, thanks for the inside perspective everyone.

Just for fun, are you going to tell us what book it is?

I did consider this, but I've found that there are people who lurk and post here who I don't always expect, and I'd hate for this to get back to the author as a substantive criticism. It really is a good book otherwise.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:09 PM on September 17, 2010

Just nthing everyone else really - I am a copy-editor and proof-reader (subtle difference between the two which I won't bore everyone with!) but whichever I'm doing, I will point out a repeated word if it's very close, and a favourite word / sentence / sentence structure. But it's down to the author in the end.

OR... it wasn't copy-edited / proofed AT ALL! It happens. Too frequently. Gah!

Hi to all the other picky people out there!
posted by LyzzyBee at 1:59 PM on September 20, 2010

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