Repetition: The Handmaiden of Boredom
Take a look at this paragraph:
The thing about working in a cubicle is the boredom of it, the way everything looks the same way. If things were different in the surroundings, the day might go by faster. Way back when, the way people worked in offices was different, the setting was different.
The idea is clearly stated and the sentence structure is logical. So, why does this read like a pre-first draft? For the same reason that the writer above finds cubicles less interesting than offices with doors, windows, and walls filled with color: lack of variety. Monotony, repetition.
Part of being interesting is sounding interesting. What makes for interest? Variety. An article, say of five paragraphs long, of the above drivel would have the same bland effect as a five course dinner of the same soup. Rephrasing with fresh words and structure go a long way toward holding attention.
Use a thesaurus
A hard copy is a good start, but to be more efficient, put a thesaurus on your computer. A handy piece of software I use is Wordweb. It’s free, simple to install, and easy to use.
Now, a caution about using a thesaurus. The writer needs to be aware that English contains no synonyms, per se, nor, probably, does any language. No two words mean exactly the same thing. If that situation developed, one would disappear from usage, e.g. – forsooth (now indeed), ere (before), and twixt (between). Words come with contexts. And two words which appear to have the same meaning will have subtle, important differences. This means we can’t simply substitute the word “serpent” for “snake” or “village” for “town.” “Serpent” has overtones of power, while “snake” leans more toward “treachery.”
Rephrase flat sentences
What can a thesaurus do for us then? Looking at a list of “synonyms” will suggest ways to rephrase the monotony of that well-meaning, logical prose into sentences which hold interest. In the sample opening paragraph, “way” is used twice and “(every)thing(s)” three times within two sentences. Any reader knows just what the writer means, but understanding and enjoying, as we all know, are often worlds apart.
So, how about . . .
The monotony of a working in a cubicle results from bare walls and the unbroken white landscape, everything from the overhead florescent lighting to the linoleum floor. Variety, which some see as distracting, would allow relief for the eyes as well as the mind.
Notice two features of this simple re-write. First, no important words are repeated. Second, this was accomplished through the use of details. These details supplanted the word “things,” saving us from using it at all. Conversationally, beginning with “The thing about working …” is acceptable, but that’s the limit for this hollow word.
Writing is work
And the above shows why. Remember the adage by Thomas Edison: Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. Successful writing? Maybe raise the 10% to 30%? That still leaves us the task of rethinking what we’ve just put to paper or monitor and then coloring our article with images and description.
The result of this effort will be interesting, even lyrical, prose, made enjoyable by virtue of its variety, detail, and originality. Instead of sounding as if the lines were lifted from a chat room,