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The tall figure was overwhelmingly tall. It stood in the corner of the room. The skinny figure right beside him sat on a chair. It wasn't moving at all. The tall figure moved to the opposite side of the room and started palpating the wall as if it was looking for something. The skinny figure then started crawling and palpating the floor as if it were looking something. The tall figure then started laughing loudly and clapping his hands as if it were overjoyed. The skinny figure hearing this started doing the same.

How do I minimize the amount of repetition? Is there a way of doing this without changing drastically the sentences? What would you suggest? As you can see, I used "it" immediately after using the adjective-noun pairs but, when I switch person, I have no choice but to use the appropriate adjective-noun pair.

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    Hey repomonster, I'm really glad you liked my answer. I will encourage you though to hold off on choosing a "best answer" for a day or two. This gives other people a chance to answer too, which is of course your goal, to have as many answers as possible. You have enough rep now that you can upvote it, which I hope you will do instead. If you still like my answer best in a couple days, I'd be pleased if you choose it as "best" then. Thanks! – Cyn says make Monica whole Jan 24 at 1:31
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    It's only been an hour. I know that's forever on the internet but :-) Don't worry, it's okay to take your time choosing. But upvotes are always welcome. And you can upvote all the answers you get if you want. Do go ahead and choose a best answer eventually, for those questions you ask that have one you think is worthy. That will pop you up a couple points too. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jan 24 at 1:35
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    For an excellent example on how to make such an interaction not-boring, see Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road". There are only two main characters, referred to as "the boy" and "the man", and most of the book is just dialogue between the two and their lonely journey across post-apocalyptic America. – Fixed Point Jan 24 at 22:46
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    @FixedPoint I don't think The Road is a good example - it's a novel that seems to polarise opinion, and its bleakness, repetitiveness and quite limited dialogue no doubt lead some readers to find it's very boring. I personally think it's cleverly written, and the very things others find boring are to me a deliberate artistic representation of existential doom. – Reinstate Monica Jan 25 at 3:48
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    i love this question – DeerSpotter Jan 25 at 14:04
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You have a few choices here:

1. You can group each person's actions together more (I've also edited a couple errors).

The tall figure was overwhelmingly tall. It stood in the corner of the room then moved to the opposite side of the room and started palpating the wall, as if it was looking for something. Then it started laughing loudly and clapping its hands as if it were overjoyed.

The skinny figure sat right beside the tall one on a chair. It wasn't moving at all. It then started crawling and palpating the floor as if it were looking for something. When the tall figure was laughing and clapping the skinny figure started doing the same.

2. You can name the characters. If you don't want to use real names, try the characteristics.

Tall was overwhelmingly tall. It stood in the corner of the room. Skinny right beside it sat on a chair. It wasn't moving at all. Tall moved to the opposite side of the room and started palpating the wall as if it was looking for something. Skinny then started crawling and palpating the floor as if it were looking for something. Tall then started laughing loudly and clapping its hands as if it were overjoyed. Skinny hearing this started doing the same.

3. You can make them different genders. Instead of making them both "it" (with some accidental? "he" in there), make one "he" and one "she."

The tall figure was overwhelmingly tall. He stood in the corner of the room. The skinny figure right beside him sat on a chair. She wasn't moving at all. He moved to the opposite side of the room and started palpating the wall as if he was looking for something. She then started crawling and palpating the floor as if she were looking for something. He then started laughing loudly and clapping his hands as if he were overjoyed. Hearing this, she started doing the same.

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    I've used all of these techniques, and they feel like good techniques, so I've voted for this answer. But I'd still like more options to handle this situation if feasible. Sigh. – Ed Grimm Jan 24 at 2:35
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    @EdGrimm I'm not sure I have any. I have a scene in my novel where my main group of characters meets the other group and I use descriptions ("the woman with the blue headscarf") before anyone knows their names. It's a little awkward but the important thing is to be brief. The other alternative is not to care who does which action, just to leave it open. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jan 24 at 3:23
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    I agree on the being brief bit - the pressure caused by this issue is almost always the strongest driver to having the characters introduce themselves. However, it makes introductory fight scenes really awkward, because I don't typically like chit chat during a fight and I also dislike resorting to describing characters by their class. I mean, I accept others doing these things as I understand the pressures that prompt them, but I hold myself to a harder standard. – Ed Grimm Jan 24 at 3:53
  • Personally, I'd only use 2 if I'm writing from a character's perspective, in which case the names would reflect their impressions of the characters - Tall might be "Tall, Dark, and Handsome" and "skinny" might be, idk, "Miss Granola". – Tin Man Jan 24 at 18:45
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    Helpful post, it was greatly appreciated. – repomonster Feb 19 at 1:38
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You can look for other ways to identify the characters. For example:

The tall figure stood in the corner, towering over the unmoving skinny figure in the chair beside it. It moved away from the seated figure to the opposite side of the room and began palpating the wall as if looking for something. The other figure crawled from the chair and began palpating the floor. (etc)

In this example, "towering over" avoids repeating that the tall figure was very tall, "unmoving" avoids saying that the skinny figure wasn't moving, and once you know the identity of one you can refer to the "other". The riskiest thing in my version, clarity-wise, is who moved away, because the "it" could be ambiguous. That's why I said it moved away from the seated figure; that tells you who's acting by process of elimination.

I've stuck with your sparse description here, but if you had described the figures more, you could make use of that too -- referring to someone's lanky legs, blond locks, frayed cloak, or whatever.

You can identify characters in ways other than the noun phrases you used to introduce them.

  • Useful post, it was greatly appreciated. – repomonster Feb 19 at 1:38
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I think you can achieve a lot by just replacing the “was” sentence by making it an attribute in the following sentence, and making use of terms like “the first”, “the former” and “the other”.

The overwhelmingly tall figure stood in the corner of the room. The skinny figure right beside him sat on a chair. It wasn't moving at all. The first figure moved to the opposite side of the room and started palpating the wall as if it was looking for something. The other one then started crawling and palpating the floor as if it were looking something. The former then started laughing loudly and clapping his hands as if it were overjoyed. The skinny figure hearing this started doing the same.

Note that I refrained from making any other changes to the text, so the impact of my suggestion can be seen in isolation.

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How about something like this:

An overwhelmingly tall figure stood in the corner of the room. Beside him, a skinny figure sat motionless on a chair. Suddenly, the tall figure moved to the opposite side of the room and started palpating the wall, the other then started crawling and palpating the floor, both acting as if looking for something. The tall figure then started laughing loudly and clapping his hands as if he were overjoyed. His companion, on hearing this, started doing the same.

Notes:

I didn't like the "tall figure was tall" construction in the first sentence, so lost one of the talls. The description of the skinny figure is also compressed.

I've used an adverb to emphasise a break between the initial description of the two figures and when they start moving. "Suddenly" might not be the right choice for what you have in mind.

I really didn't like "one did this as if looking for something, then the other did that as if looking for something." Way too repetitive. So I pull the "looking for something" bit into a separate sentence.

Although I've left it in my version, I'm not crazy about using "palpating" (especially twice!). It's a very technical term which doesn't properly apply to walls or floors. I'd consider looking for two suitable synonyms: "One started searching the wall, then the other started examining the floor." If you must, leave one figure palpating but choose a different verb for the other. I think, if you pick two more suitable verbs, you might not need to add the "as if looking for something" bit at all.

Is the tall figure a "him" or an "it"? You use both pronouns in your short passage: "The skinny figure right beside him sat on a chair. [...] The tall figure then started laughing loudly and clapping his hands as if it were overjoyed!" I've gone with "him" in my version.

I swapped "the skinny figure" for "his companion" in the final sentence to reduce the repetition. The only repeated phrases left are three "tall figure"s (which I think is OK), and two "palpating"s (which I don't like - see above).

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This is an easy problem.

After a brief description of the unnamed Tall Figure, you can simply refer to it as "Tall" henceforth.

Similarly the skinny figure can be referred to as Thin

And then until you reveal their name, you can simply refer to them as Tall and Thin

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    I believe that's @Cyn's #2 suggestion? – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jan 24 at 15:16
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    I believe mine is a more useful and concrete version of cyn's suggestion. And I tihnk Cyn made some assumptions regarding the figures. The way I read the original text, I am getting the sense that the OP's figures aren't necessarily even human. – ashleylee Jan 24 at 15:30
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    @ashleylee How is that any different than Cyn's second option? It's literally the same thing: naming the figures Tall and Skinny, or Tall and Thin (in your case). I really don't see how that changes anything – Patrice Jan 24 at 16:28
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    he said: "You can name the characters. If you don't want to use real names, try the characteristics. " I said: call them Tall and Thin. The difference is as stark as "zombies" and "Zombie Redneck Torture Family"... – ashleylee Jan 24 at 16:38
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    Cyn actually provided an example of how to do this using the paragraph provided in the question. I don't see how this is more "useful and concrete" than that. – F1Krazy Jan 24 at 18:43

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