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Archive for February, 2011

Frequently Used Phrases in Your Work

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Last week, I found out about a tool that will show you the most frequently used phrases in your work.  Though designed for small documents, I pasted my current version of my manuscript in and found the tool needed only a few seconds.

The WriteWords Phrase Frequency Counter is designed to help writers identify their most frequently used phrases.  This way, you can look at each use to ensure you’re not overusing the phrase.

In my manuscript, I found that I used the phrase “for a moment” 45 times–almost once every four manuscript pages!  By understanding the phrases I overuse, I can change them to alternatives so that I don’t bore my readers.

The tool defaults to using two word phrases.  I think that’s too short, so I used a minimum of three words as my boundary.  This returned much more useful results.

What other tools do you use?  Do you find that you overuse certain phrases?  How do you avoid doing so?

How and When to Flashback

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Flashbacks can be a powerful tool in a writer’s arsenal.  Used well, they can show hidden aspects of characters, add interesting plot twists, or explain how something came to be.

Done poorly, they’ll distract, bore, or confuse your reader.

Flashbacks require special scrutiny.  Many stories and television shows use them, but writers should consider whether they’re really needed.

I generally recommend that you use as few flashbacks as possible within your story because they slow down the action, can confuse your readers, and may be better shown when it actually happens in the story.

Reasons to use a flashback:

  • There’s something vital related to the next event
  • To replace conversing about a memory for too long
  • When the benefits outweigh slowing down the current story
  • To give depth to a character (only when relevant)

Reasons *not* to use a flashback:

  • There’s something you’d like your readers to know that isn’t vital.  Instead, use an alternative method (like reordering your story) or cut it out.
  • To explain how a piece of technology works (usually–there are exceptions here, but they’re rare)
  • You’re already in a flashback.  Flashbacks within flashbacks rarely ever work.

What do you think?  What flashbacks do you find gratuitous?  What strategies do you use to ensure that your flashbacks are relevant?

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