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I just noticed that I do this a lot:

We continued marching and marching. The forest seemed endless. Either that or we were going in circles.


Up and up I went, biting back the growing pain in my knees, blinded by sunlight that flashed through the twisted branches. Up and up and up until I was high enough to feel vertigo.

Is this a sign of bad writing? Maybe the repetition doesn't say much about how far the character have gone and where he/she's currently located?

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Like most stylistic choices, I don't think this is a problem unless you're doing it a lot. The repetition in your second example seems find because it's a deliberate echo, not an accidental one, but if you're using repetition over and over (see what I did there?), you may want to tone it down.

(In the first example, I'd say the "continued" is redundant, if you use the repetition. "We marched and marched," seems like it would work more smoothly?

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  • Yes. Like many stylistic techniques, if you did it twice in every sentence, it would quickly become tedious. But now and then, it can be quite effective.
    – Jay
    Jul 30 '15 at 20:15
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There's really very few unequivocal 'signs' of bad writing when it comes to word choice. It's simply not that easy. Depending on the character, age, education, temper, exhaustion, voice etc of the narrator, 'we marched and marched' may be a great choice.

The key word is choice. If you're just noticing you do this a lot, then it probably is a sign that you need to treat examples of it in your writing as a flag. The fact that you noticed it is commendable. It's a good catch.

Reading books on the subject of careful writing helps me tune into my own opportunities for improvement. I recommend The Careful Writer by Bernstein, Making Shapely Fiction by Stern, and On Writing Well by Zinsser.

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It's not bad writing, but it is a common technique and has only light impact. So, writing with a current weakness. Consider your above examples: "The forest seemed endless." This has roughly the same effect as the previous line with the repetition but is more effective. You only need one of those lines, really.

In the second example, take out the 'up and up' sentences/clauses and you're left with much more vivid and effective prose. Delete the repetitions and it's an instant improvement. Just because you haven't stated the idea you have in mind - he climbed for a long time - doesn't mean you haven't suggested it strongly (because you have). Really, what is more interesting? Feeling the character's exhaustion with them, or registering the subjective idea that he is exerting significant effort?

In a poetry class I was told that nouns are the key to description. Nouns are the most direct way to an image or sensation. Another way to interpret that observation is that specificity comes from something to focus upon. Nouns are subjects, adjectives are mere modifiers. So for example: if the characters are marching through a forest, a very specific, moss-covered trunk growing over a large stone is a sight the characters can encounter a second time in their marching. When perceived along with their throbbing backs and strained knees, they realize their lack of progress and can only help but stop for a despair-soaked break. Sensory details and characters reacting to a specific stimulus tell as much or more then describing the intended impression.

In a way, by repeating words you are focusing too much on 'telling' the idea you want to confer to the reader, instead of focusing on an image of stimulus that suggests that idea, aka 'showing.'

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