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Phrase Frequency

phrase frequency

Actions and gestures are an important part of any fiction story; they break up dialogue, help show rather than tell, and can demonstrate a character’s personality or state of mind.

But gestures and actions can become extremely noticeable to readers if you use the same ones too many times.

For example, in one of my manuscripts, I realized my characters were always nibbling—nibbling on cheese, nibbling at lunch, nibbling on a cookie after dinner. Yikes—it was like I was writing about mice.

Similarly, my writer friends complain that their characters are always nodding, gazing out the window, staring at the ground, or twirling a strand of hair. In our search for actions and gestures, we seem to subconsciously reach for the same actions over and over again.

It’s not always easy to find a new gesture or action—and even harder to recognize when we’re using the same one over and over. Thankfully, that’s where AutoCrit comes in.

To come up with new actions and gestures, think about who your character is. Actions and gestures are as much a part of your character’s personalities as their interests and ideas. Let character's personality guide you. For instance, if your character is an anxious person or conflicted about something, she’s more likely to do things like pace, bite her nails, lie awake at night, or make lists.

Another great strategy is to people watch—take a notebook to the mall or coffee shop for an hour, and take notes on all the actions people do. This will help you find fresher, realistic actions or gestures to use in your work.

Related areas to look for in your manuscript

If AutoCrit finds you’re using too many of the same actions or gestures, check out the Repeated Words and Repeated Phrases analysis.

The Phrases Frequency Analysis gives you a big-picture perspective about how often you’re using the same phrases throughout your manuscript.  But the Repeated Words and Repeated Phrases analysis offer an eagle-eyed microscopic perspective, helping you spot areas in your manuscript where you repeat the same words or phrases within a few paragraphs.

The exception to the rule

Sometimes you do need repetition.  Let your story and characters guide you.  For example, if you were writing about a character with obsessive-compulsive disorder, showing repetition would be a crucial element of characterization.

Or if the murder weapon in your mystery novel is a vial of poison, you’d occasionally want to repeat that phrase vial of poison to subconsciously plant it in the reader’s mind.

The bottom line

Sure, sometimes repetition works. But most of the time, it’s better to eliminate those repeated phrases, especially when it comes to characters’ actions and gestures. Your readers will thank you.