I've been working a lot on my book the last few weeks. I'm about halfway through the manuscript, and my reading partners seem to like it well enough. One thing I'm very aware of as I write is word choice. My friend Sue pointed out that I used the word "palatable" three times in one chapter. I haven't gone back to edit it yet (it's still handwritten in pencil on a legal pad), but I'll be thinking about what I was trying to say and how I can change up my words so they won't stick in the reader's awareness and pull him or her out of the story.
When you write a book of 200 or more pages, naturally you're going to repeat a lot of words. The trick is not to repeat words or phrases in a way that readers notice. For instance, if you use a really unusual word, such as fungible (which describes commodities that can be traded to satisfy a contract), it makes sense to use it once and then find another word. Of course, since I was reading a thriller that involved embezzlement when I encountered that word several times, perhaps there wasn't another choice, but it really stuck out and subconsciously, I was almost counting how many times the author used it.
Phrases are something to be aware of, as well. I have a tendency to pick up words and phrases that I hear other people use, and I'll use them for a while until something newer and shinier catches my attention. When I'm writing, I try to be aware of repetition, so if I say someone looked like she'd swallowed her tongue, the next time I'm trying to describe a character's expression of shock or surprise, I'll be scouring the wordwork for something that says the same thing a different way.
On a recent drive back to Georgia from Naples, FL, my aunt and I listened to Evermore by Alyson Noel. Nearly every time the main character reacted to something, Noel used the phrase, "I pressed my lips." The first few times we heard it, it was pretty funny, but that phrase grew to be painful before we reached the end of the last CD. This was not the only thing the author repeated. Every time the heroine asked the hero a question he didn't want to answer, "he shrugged." Those two phrases really worked my nerves. I don't know if my reaction would have been different if I'd been reading the story rather than listening to it, but I suspect not, because that's the kind of thing I tend to notice. At any rate, much as I enjoyed the story itself, I could not bring myself to read the second book in the series.
Another peeve of mine is when authors use the wrong word. If someone does something on purpose, they did it purposely, NOT purposefully. I've seen that one a lot lately, and boy, does it grate. I also hate when authors spell celebrities' names wrong. Two I've seen lately are Steven King and Stephanie Meyer. (Should be Stephen and Stephenie.) And why, oh, why cannot people get the use of me vs. I straight? Billy and I went to the store. Mom gave the candy to Billy and me. If you're not sure which one to use, people, for heaven's sake, take out the other person and you'll know which pronoun to use. It's really simple.
Writing is not always easy, I'll be the first to admit that. A little extra work on the writer's part, however, will make it a lot more rewarding for the reader.