This blog was featured on 09/19/2017
Watch out for Repetitive Gestures in Your Writing
Written by
Maria Murnane
September 2017
Written by
Maria Murnane
September 2017

In previous posts I've addressed my tendency to overuse certain words, phrases, or gestures, for example she bit her lip and she walked home slowly. To solve the problem I use the "find" option on Microsoft Word to catch the over-usages before my manuscripts go to the copyeditor. Some still slip through, but I'm getting better.

For words and expressions that are common, repeating them on occasion over the course of an entire novel is not a problem. For example:

  • She opened the door.
  • He fed the dog.
  • They ate dinner at home.

It's the uncommon ones that are problematic when repeated, because they are memorable. For example, using any of the following more than once in a novel would not go unnoticed by your readers:

  • She covered her face with her hands and began sobbing hysterically.
  • To celebrate, he jumped up and did splits in the air.
  • As she looked at him, her eyes flickered with curiosity.

While it's fine to sprinkle the same common gestures here and there over the course of an entire book, be careful to space them out. Last week I began reading a novel in which the following appeared in the span of just two pages in the first chapter:

  1. Kristen rubbed my arm, yanking me back to the present.
  2. Kristen rubbed my forearm. "Please talk to us."
  3. Kristen pushed out her lower lip. She rubbed my forearm.

If those sentences had appeared fifty pages apart, I doubt I would have noticed them, but their proximity made them leap off the page. As a result I stopped thinking about the story and instead found myself wondering how neither the author nor the copyeditor had noticed the repetition. Annoyed, I also gave up on that book and moved on to another one. That's not what you want to happen to your readers, right? So be careful! We all have our "crutch" words. What are some of yours?



Maria Murnane writes bestselling novels about life, love and friendship. Have questions? You can find her at


This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2017 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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  • Rebecca M. Douglass

    I keep a list of my over-used words and search for them in the last stages of editing. But you make me think I need to look for gestures and behaviors and see if I fall back too often on some of those. Once you know you tend to do something, you can search for it, but it may take a good outside reader to spot the sort of thing you are talking about.

  • Lisa Thomson

    I noticed in one of my stories, my characters "sighed" a little too often, LOL. Not cool. Had to cut those out and left only one or two times. Great post, thanks for the reminders.