Disclaimer: This is a recurring and random series of posts. I'm currently enrolled in a basic writing/editing class and felt that my notes might be helpful to others. Please note, I am not an editor. I'm just an author trying to learn more about the craft to improve my own work, while sharing the things I learn along the way. Enjoy.
What the heck is an echo?
An echo happens when you use the same or similar word in close proximity. The echo is one of the easiest things to do in writing. You will do unconsciously echo many words in your first draft, and may not even see the echo when you start revisions.
(see how I snuck in a quick example? Echo is the "echo" word. How many times did I use it in those three sentences?)
This is something you want to avoid doing whenever possible. When you're tempted to use the same word twice, think of ways to reword or restructure the surrounding sentences.
Example 1 (echo)
I surveyed the café, noticing that two strangers had sat down at one of the card tables along the painted mural wall. They didn't seem like the type that frequented coffee houses, especially not a vintage café like this.
See the echo here. The word cafe is used twice in close proximity.
Example 2 (revised)
I surveyed the café, noticing two strange men sitting down at one of the card tables along the painted mural wall. They looked too clean cut, definitely not the type who would frequent a vintage place like this.
The simple fix to echoes it to get out your thesaurus and see if a synonym will fit in the echoing word's place. However, that doesn't always work. In those cases, sometimes a little reword does the trick. Take a look at the sentences where the echo is occurring and try to recast the sentence (or sentences) so that you can omit one of the echoing words.
You're never going to get rid of them all, but you can snip out quite a few by doing this. It will make your writing look and feel more polished.
Now, the biggest culprit of the infamous echo happens when we write what a character is doing.
In first person, it comes out I, I, I, I, I.
In third person, it comes out he/she, he/she, he/she.
It's so easy to fall into the, I or He/She trap. You're probably saying, "Well, how the hell am I going to tell you he did something without saying he?" The trick is to reword and rework sentences to that you stretch out the gaps between words so that the reader doesn't hear the echo so prominently.
Let's look at some examples.
I knew it was inadvisable to walk around the streets alone at night, but I did not have a car so I was forced to do it anyway. I carried my keychain of pepper spray, for defense, just in case I ran into anyone dangerous. I naively believed in its ability to protect me from any attacker.
Do you see all the I's? It's like an annoying drum beat after a while. I, I, I, I,...
Revised First person
It was inadvisable to walk the streets alone at night. I knew this but didn't have a car, so there was no other choice. For defense, I carried a key chain of pepper spray, naively believing in its ability to protect me from any attacker.
Remember what I said above about reworking your sentences? Sometimes it is necessary to remove unnecessary I's, or bury them inside the sentence where they are less noticable.
Sasha downed her drink. She winced as the liquid burned her throat. A warmth was building in her stomach. Two shots down in less than twenty minutes. She knew she needed to pace herself or this night wasn’t going to go very far. She knew Tequila was a dangerous alcohol. She'd heard stories of people doing crazy things when they drank a little too much of it. She made a quick mental note, not to have another drink for a while.
See all the she's?
Revised Third Person
Sasha downed her drink, wincing as the liquid burned the back of her throat. A warmth slowly built in her stomach. Two shots down in less than twenty minutes. Sasha knew she needed to pace herself or this night wouldn't go very far. Tequila was a dangerous alcohol. She'd heard stories of the crazy things people had done after drinking too much. Setting the glass down, she made a mental note not to have another drink for a while.
Mixing in her, with she, and the character's name helps to smooth out the echo. You'll never completely avoid it, but by reworking the sentences you can make it a little less noticeable.
The rule of thumb with the I's and She's is to make sure that you don't have two sentences in a row starting with that specific character reference. Widening the gap by at least a sentence length will help to smooth out the echo and will make the story flow a lot better.