The woman said as she pulled a small coin out of a small wallet ... The woman said as she pulled a small coin out of a small box she opened/used earlier.

I am wondering if "opened" or "used" is perfectly fine here, because the action used is vague when it shouldn't be (she took her wallet out of her pocket, she then retrieved a coin out of it), but using the right qualitative phrase would make the sentence more awkward than need be.

The woman said as she pulled a small coin out of a small wallet ... The woman said as she pulled a small coin out of a small box she retrieved a coin out from earlier.

So what would you suggest doing. I am quite undecided on what's the best thing to be done in this situation.

  • Are these two descriptions appearing close to each other, and in the same scene? Or are you wondering which phrase is more appropriate? – Grace Sep 30 '19 at 23:48
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    If you can use: She pulled a coin from her wallet that might suffice. – DPT Sep 30 '19 at 23:53
  • They're separated by a paragraph or two. – woxim Oct 1 '19 at 0:30
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    Welcome to Writing.SE woxim, glad you found us. We have a tour and help center you might wish to check out. – Cyn says make Monica whole Oct 1 '19 at 3:09

Case 1: The opening of the wallet is irrelevant to the story

You have already established that the woman has a small wallet from where she pulls out small coins. You can skip all subsequent restatements of this fact.

Any further repetition of the action can be reduced to

The old woman pulled another small coin from her small wallet

or, if you want to stress that the action has already occurred in the past:

Again, the old woman pulled a small coin from her small wallet

or, if the small wallet is irrelevant to the story:

Once more, the old woman pulled out a small coin.

Case 2: The opening of the wallet is crucial to the story

In this case, you may want to further expand on the action and stress that it is being repeated.

Once more the old woman reached for the small wallet and pried it open with her wrinkled fingers. etc...

A side note: avoid repetitions

The repetition could be a copy-paste of the "old woman pulled out a..." sentence, as well as having "small ... small ..." in the same sentence. This stylistic device may be welcome in fairy tales, and some form of poetry, but it breaks the flow of text in other types of writing.


If you are going to refer back to something that a character used earlier in the story, give it some significant characteristic that will help the reader identify it when it comes up again later. Thus is if you want the reader to remember a box that the woman took something out of earlier, give it a significant memorable characteristic and use that to refer to is next time.

The woman took a small coin out of a green sandalwood box. ... The woman took another coin from the green sandalwood box.

Essentially, you are providing the reader with another way to remember the box other than the fact that she used it earlier.

(There is a reverse correlation to this, BTW. Don't ascribe exotic properties to minor objects that are only used once. Doing so simply overloads the reader's recall system and confuses them about what is significant in the story.)

  • Well I generally agree, I'd quibble that giving descriptions to transient objects might serve a purpose if they help to establish the setting or the character. Like saying that the heroine keeps her money in an elaborately carved sandalwood box could be a part of an overall description of many exotic objects that she owns and cherishes. But as I say, I'm quibbling. The general point is good and valid. – Jay Oct 1 '19 at 18:04
  • "giving descriptions to transient objects might serve a purpose if they help to establish the setting or the character" Yes, it might. But it will also have to effect of confusing the reader about what it important in the story. One of the things that made writing so difficult is that the thing you do to achieve one effect also has other effects that you may not want. Side effects complicate literature just as they complicate medicine. – user16226 Oct 1 '19 at 18:23

My first thought on reading your question is a tangent: I find it distracting that you use the word "small" twice in such a short space. Is it important that the coin and/or the wallet is small? If not, you might just drop one of the "small"s. "The woman pulled a small coin out of the wallet." Or replace one with a synonym. "The woman pulled a tiny coin out of a small wallet." Etc.

But to the point ...

Give as much detail as is relevant to the story or as is interesting. Don't be afraid to leave out the obvious. Like, it is almost surely not necessary to say that she opened the wallet before taking out the coin. Unless she is pulling the coins out through a hole in the wallet or she has some magical powers or something, then of course she must be opening the wallet to get coins out.

Is it important that this is the same wallet that she took coins out of before? If between the two scenes she went home and got a different wallet, would that change the story any? If not, then it's probably not necessary to bring up the fact that it's the same wallet.

Likewise, is it important that she took the coins out of a wallet? As opposed to, say, having loose coins in her pocket? Again, if it doesn't matter and bringing it up is making the text awkward, then just drop it.

On the flip side, if it IS important and relevant that the coins are coming from a wallet and this is the same wallet she used before, then don't be afraid of adding some extra words to make this clear.

  • Indeed, figuring out what not to say is often harder than figuring out what to say. Art has the concept of negative space, what you see in the spaces between things. The same concept, or something closely analogous to it, applies to writing as well. – user16226 Oct 1 '19 at 18:28

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