Monday, 19 August 2013

Stop repeating yourself! When pesky repetition plagues your manuscript.

Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

Count Rugen: Stop saying that!

Ever have this problem? You read the same repeated line over and over again in a book and you find yourself wanting to shake the character and tell them to stop saying it! Or perhaps you want to slap the author to remind them that they wrote the same words, the same way 5 pages ago and on page 23 and page 8! Well maybe that's going a little far... slapping an author... I mean.

But there is some truth in it. As writer's there is a certain need to be artists even if we are trying to be true to life. Sure, in real life, we do tend to repeat ourselves... we repeat the same words, we use the same sentences... maybe tell the same jokes or stories over and over until we drive our friends crazy. In writing we need to be careful of such repeats... we hardly want to drive our readers up the wall.

Here's the problem..

It gets boring ; sad but true. A great sequence of events does not need to be rehashed in the retelling of the story by one character to another. It was exciting the first time, the reiteration not so much... I mean we were there after all... Bob's friend Darrel wasn't... Darrel needs to hear about it, but not us. Therefore there can be an explanation that Bob sat down with Darrel and told him about his harrowing ordeal... but reliving is not required. It just unnecessarily fills up space and slows down the story.

It sounds a little like Deja vu; reading the exact same sentence again can give the reader a feeling of having already been there in the story. 'Didn't i read this already?'

It looks amateurish; We may be amateurs in the writing game but we certainly don't want to look it... and lets face it repeated sentences or use of the same word to describe an action or thought kind of looks like we lack a knowledge of better words or are limited in our vocabulary. Quite frankly we shouldn't be, the thesaurus is a wonderful reference tool. Lacking a better word? type it in and see what comes up. I find, sometimes only a certain word will come to mind and when reaching for a better word, my mind decides to turn off and go blank... so I turn to my trusty thesaurus... usually ...and find that pesky word I was searching for. But a word of warning... be careful, not all words, while similar,  mean exactly what you are trying to convey.

It doesn't read nicely; Having a paragraph that describes an ornate window frame but uses the words window frame five times throughout, is kind of repetitive. What about framework or pane, trim or border? (yep just found these in the thesaurus after looking up window and frame) Mix it up a bit. Then again we know we're taking about the window frame... using 'it' a couple of times probably wouldn't hurt either... better than the window frame this and the window frame that. It will read much nicer that way.

 Things to keep in mind...
 Readers DO remember stuff... Hey i rely on the fact that my husband forgets a lot of what I tell him (perhaps he doesn't listen the first time) so I feel I can rehash old stories every now and then. You will have readers perhaps that forget something and end up confused... it happens to me when I put down a book for a couple of weeks, then pick it up again and ask 'what was that about again?' Well that's my own fault and I can look back a few pages and reread it if need be... but its not up to the author to make that provision for me. Readers are intelligent beings and certainly don't want to be reminded of things again and again, unless its absolutely important and crucial to the story but err on the side of caution.

People do repeat themselves... As i mentioned earlier, we've all heard people repeat stories and jokes more than once. We have all smiled and nodded as we've stood there hoping that this time the rendition will be the short, short version (unless it is your fav story grampa tells with all the hand gestures and facial expressions for a correct telling). So yes your character may have stories he repeats... but the reader doesn't need to hear the full version each time. The first time yes... and afterwards just the leading sentence that tells the reader... here comes the story again... without them having to read it again. Or maybe just the suggestion of it... and then he waffled off into his seafood conversion story for the fiftieth time.

There is a time and a place for repeats... Characters (especially eccentric ones) may have a particular word or sentence they say a lot as part of their personality... this is quite appropriate... and is something that may endear you to that particular character... something that when in quotations without any other information there is instant recognition from the reader as to who said it. I like that... its kinda cool.
Inigo Montoya's line killed my father etc... (I wont repeat) was endearing and quite iconic in The Princess Bride. As he repeated it again and again in the final action scene against his mortal enemy Count Rugen, it gave him some kind of power and even after getting a blade to both shoulders managed to get up and defeat him. The constant phrase becoming almost a chant of encouragement. It was brilliant.

So in conclusion... repeating oneself, at least in story form... not such a good thing... unless it is for a good reason where it makes sense and adds to the storyline or character development but in all other instances should be avoided.

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