Weeding Our Repetitive Words

Yesterday I took a webinar with Natascha Biebow on self-editing your picture book manuscripts. If you get the chance to see the video recorded by CBI, take it. This was a top-notch webinar in which she discussed both big picture edits, which she calls micro edits, and small picture edits, or micro edits.

One of the most important things in a picture book is to get rid of repetitive words. Face it, if your entire manuscript is 400 words or less, you don’t want to use the same word time and time again without good reason.

I’m a visual learner so I was dreading picking through an entire manuscript word by word. Don’t get me wrong. I have done it and I will do it again. But there are times that I still miss repetition. Way back when I started writing, one instructor had us create a file of every word in our picture book. Use it once, add it to the list. Use it again, add two checkmarks after the word. Use it again, add a third and so on. I’ll do it but I’d love to find a more visual way to do this.

Biebow suggested that we generate a word cloud. Hmm. I noodled this one over for a while.

Surely in a nonfiction manuscript about mountain lions, “lion” would be the most often used word? That would make sense. But what if I was to run my manuscript and the most often used word was “that” or “begin” or some other filler word? I ran my mountain lion manuscript and got a bit of a surprise. The most often used word wasn’t “lion” but “mountain.” Then I saw that both “lion” and “lions” were also used fairly often. That made sense. Sometimes it is plural and other times it is singular.

Just for fun, I also ran my fiction picture book Baby Browz. This one held a few surprises just because I was surprised that I used “nano” more often than a more common word like “can’t.” But I also noticed some ho hum words – tell, quality, and movement. I will definitely be re-evaluating this manuscript to weed out weak and repetitive words but only after I take a closer look at possible macro edits. There’s no point in sending this out until I’ve made it as good as it can be.