Echo Words

One of the benefits of putting my cozies into audio has been hearing my writing. I usually do an editing pass where I have the computer read the entire book out loud to me, but it doesn’t deliver the same experience as trying to narrate the book.

Now, unfortunately, those books are already done, so I just have to live with what I’ve written. (Yes, I could probably technically edit them as I narrate them and publish new versions with tweaks, but that is the road to ruin and many a wasted hour that really, truly doesn’t move the needle.)

Hopefully, though, the experience of narrating those books makes me more aware of subtle issues in my writing.

One thing I’ll probably do less of in the future is include any sort of dialogue tags. I tend to be pretty subtle with them in the first place, I think. I don’t write lines of dialogue that are “he said”, “she exclaimed”, “he muttered”, “she replied”.

I might have one he said and she replied and then let them talk and move and trust the reader to keep up and have the actions indicate who is speaking after enough lines of dialogue that a reader might drift a bit.

But I think going forward I’ll probably do more physical action than dialogue tags. (Although that’s a different rhythm because it takes more words generally to include an action over a dialogue tag, so who knows.)

The other issue, though, that I’ve noticed in my writing is what I’m referring to as echo words. I’m sure there’s an official term for it somewhere, but I don’t know it off the top of my head.

It includes repeated words. I tend to use a word again shortly after I’ve just used it because it’s front of mind. But I also catch those in edits most times.

What I don’t catch all the time are the rhyming words. So I’ll have “lay” end part of a sentence and then “say” end the entire sentence or the paragraph. If they were in different positions in the sentence it wouldn’t be a problem, but when you create an A-B-A rhythm in the endings withing a paragraph it’s noticeable when spoken out loud unless the narrator breaks that somehow.

And I don’t catch as often words that are similar but not identical. I can’t think of a good example right now, but there have been a few times where I’ve read two paragraphs that didn’t repeat a word or have the rhyming issue but where words “echoed” one another, unintentionally.

If I deliberately used that as a literary technique it could maybe be genius. (The number of times in Spanish AP Lit class that we discussed those sorts of techniques in the writers we read…) But it’s not deliberate. So it sets up a dissonance rather than a resonance.

And, again, it’s subtle enough that it took narrating the text to notice it. I didn’t notice it the half dozen times I read the stories in my head or the one time the computer read it out loud. But when narrated for audio? By me? Oh, yeah. It was there.

So. If you have a story that feels off somehow and you can’t figure out why, try narrating it. Read it aloud, not in a monotone, but as a narrator. As the person telling the story. I expect you’ll find little blips like that if you do so.

It’s also good for dialogue if you’re trying to make sure it sounds like what a character would say.

That fast-speaking character probably isn’t giving one-word answers all the time. And the gruff and reserved guy probably isn’t going to talk for half a page. If you put yourself in the shoes of those characters and try to say what they’re saying on the page, you’ll get that in a way that reading in your head doesn’t do.

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is an author who has been published under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at]

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